Sudan experts downplay lifted US travel ban

The lifting of the US travel ban on Sudan has nothing to do with – as Sudanese government officials believe – the possible lifting of economic sanctions against the regime, an American advocacy organisation said.

The lifting of the US travel ban on Sudan has nothing to do with – as Sudanese government officials believe – the possible lifting of economic sanctions against the regime, an American advocacy organisation said.

Omar Ismael, the policy coordinator at the Enough project, said that the removal of the travel ban against Sudanese nationals is related to the internal policy of President Donald Trump, who election promises to voters included a limit on immigration to the USA, and to vet visa applications.

“At that time the Trump administration chose a group of Muslim countries, including Sudan, that have been vetted in the last four months,” Ismael told Radio Dabanga in an exclusive interview.

In January, President Trump stopped issuing new visas to nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries: Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Sudan. The travel bans by Trump were then challenged in court. No reasons were given for the current removal of Sudan from the list, but the Washington Post reported on Sunday that US officials pointed to Khartoum's cooperation on counterterrorism.

Sudanese nationals will again be able to travel to the USA from 18 October onward. The Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed the decision by Washington, considering it “an important positive development in the bilateral relations between the Sudan and the USA, and “a natural result” of “a close cooperation between the two countries in international and regional questions of mutual interest”.

However, according to Ismael, the decision has nothing to do with bilateral relations; let alone the possible cancellation of 20-year-old economic sanctions that the USA imposed on Sudan for being “a state sponsor of terrorism”. The decision lies with the Trump administration on 12 October. Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour arrived in Washington on 14 September, to make the case that a more cooperative Sudan deserves the sanctions relief.

“Sudan is still among the sponsors of terrorism. But the United States will lift the sanctions imposed on Sudan on 12 October,” Ismael predicted. “Yet, one cannot predict what Trump will do. He may decide something different at the last minute before signing the decision and twe must wait to see what will happen.”

Improved relations

Speaking from Khartoum, economic analyst and civil rights defender Hafiz Ismail asserts that President Trump's decision to lift the travel ban is indeed an indicator of the improved and developing relationship between Sudan and the United States.

“It was a collective punishment for Sudanese nationals, although Sudan is classified as a state sponsor of terrorism at its policy and official levels.” – Hafiz Ismail

“This improvement has begun since the agreement on the five tracks of which Washington has seen that Sudan has made significant progress in [for the possible lifting of sanctions, RD]. This progress led to the lifting of the travel ban.”

Speaking to this station on Monday, Ismail said that he looks at other developments that might follow the lifting of the sanctions. “Such as lifting Sudan’s name from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Also there might be an impact on other laws related to the current imposed sanctions such as the Darfur Peace Act, which resulted in sanctions.

“The Sudanese have no history in participating in terrorist operations. The ban, as declared, represents a collective punishment for Sudanese citizens, although Sudan is classified as a sponsor of terrorism at its policy and official levels. Ordinary citizens were not known to have any involvement in terrorist operations,” Ismail stressed.

“The greatest beneficiary of the revoking of sanctions is the US; not the people in Sudan.” – Faisal Awad

The problems people in Sudan suffer from will not be solved by the lifting of economic sanctions against the Sudanese government and individuals, Sudanese economist Dr. Faisal Awad predicted.

“There is a comprehensive structural destruction of all economic structures in the country, to the extent that people do not see the usefulness of lifting these sanctions,” he told Radio Dabanga.

Awad said that he is not a proponent of maintaining the sanctions either. “But I believe that the benefits of the revoked sanctions do not end up by civilians in any way. The US will be the greatest beneficiary of the lifted sanctions against Sudan.”


The USA imposed the sanctions in November 1997 after Sudan was accused of being a “state sponsor of terrorism”. The order blocked all Sudanese government assets in the USA and barred all trade transactions involving certain persons in Sudan.

At the end of 2016, the administration of former President Barak Obama began working on the criteria for partially lifting the sanctions for a period of six months (though Sudan remains branded a sponsor of terrorism), after which it would decide on a permanent lifting.

The five criteria under assessment include the ceasing of offensive military activities and providing more access to humanitarian organisations in Sudan, and it does not include the improvement of the human rights situation; a benchmark which dozens of US Congressmenhuman rights watchdogs, and activists find lacking.