Few weeks ago Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) opened its first selling shop in Khartoum. It came on the heels of Pizza Hut and the two seem to be joining hands neighboring each other to provide an opening for the American culture long shunned under the deposed Ingaz regime
Last week the IT software giant Oracle Corp concluded a deal with Nile Bank to provide mobile banking platform. The agreement was “an example that the changes Sudan has achieved are not only in the political sphere but in the economy too”, a US embassy statement said
“Not only will the platform from Oracle improve efficiency and compliance for Nile Bank, but it will help make lending to small business and rural customers cheaper and more streamlined,” it added.
These developments provide an opening for the US-Sudan bilateral relations as it highlighted the most important aspect of any relations that is the economy.
Even before the collapse of the May regime led by former President Ja’afar Nimeiry, Sudanese-US economic relations got its biggest hit when the oil giant Chevron suspended its operations in Sudan back in 1984 following an attack on one of its camps by the rebel group, SPLM.
Though Nimeiry was overthrown through a popular uprising in the following year, but the newly elected government of Sadig El-Mahdi failed to make a breakthrough in the more or less stalled relations because of the continuation of the civil war in the country, then came the Ingaz regime through a military coup, which in itself restricts Washington from providing any economic help to a military regime that overthrows a democratically elected government. The toughest milestone came when Sudan was added to the list of states sponsoring terrorism (SST). Since then Washington kept looking at Sudan through the prisms of South Sudan and terrorism.
So far and more than three months after setting up the transitional government and two visits of Prime Minister Dr. Abdalla Hamdok, delisting Sudan from SST seems to be a long way to go.
But the new presence of American businesses in Sudan is welcome development that needs to be utilized fully along a strategy of looking for mutual interests. That strategy should be agreed upon by both Khartoum and Washington.
One of the first steps to be taken is to expand the list of exemptions provided by the US treasury in medical, agricultural, educational and other fields like technology as in the case of Oracle. Exemptions used to be made on case by case basis. What is needed is to have flat exemptions by making use of the new developing sympathy towards Sudan and its revolution.
More significant is to use the same mechanism to address the crippling issue of over-compliance by foreign banks in dealing with Sudan. Since deeds speak louder than words, an exerted effort to convince one of the US banks to open a branch in Khartoum will send the strongest message that will help overcome the hurdles of over-compliance. Citibank that used to have a branch before in Khartoum could be a good candidate, but needs a political and economic persuasion in a concerted effort to make it happen.
US policy towards Sudan has been influenced to a great degree by lobby groups namely the Black Caucus, the Evangelicals and human rights organizations. Those were concerned mainly with issues related to civil war, humanitarian access to those affected and minorities.
With the political change taking place in the country the emphasis should move to new priorities, namely the economy and how to put strong foundations for democratic transformation.
Sudan provides a good chance given its geostrategic location, with one leg in the Arab world and the other in Africa, its huge natural resources in addition to its rich experience. What is going on provides a chance to start a new socio, political and economic experience that combines human rights, democratic transformation and development that will hopefully add to stability and prosperity in the region.
And that is where the presence of institutions like Oracle will add value and help point the way to the new American presence in the country. One of the important issues for the US to take note of is that it has been absent from the scene for some three decades and has the minimal contact with the youth who spearheaded the popular uprising. And those represent the future that US needs to engage with.
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