Saturday, May 2, 2009

Should U.S. sanctions on Sudan be lifted?

This question is presumably something that the new administration is considering. The sanctions imposed in 1997 by President Clinton are very comprehensive in terms of limiting commercial involvement. Obviously humaitarian and development assistance have continued unabated. Al-bashir's expulsion of 13 large humanitarian organizations suggests that "entangling commercial alliances" create little leverage over Khartoum policy-making. These organizations had a large middle-class Sudanese professional staff, had wealthy Sudanese landlords for their headquarters in Khartoum, brought in tons of foreign exchange, etc. etc. Wishful thinking that commercial activity with "sweeten" the regime then should be dismissed.

So the relevant questions would be: (1) how much do sanctions hurt ordinary people; (2) what short-term benefit to the U.S. or its interests can be obtained with the carrot of lifting sanctions; (3) how can the deal be structured to be credible (i.e. Khartoum won't just walk away from the deal's commitments once the sanctions are lifted.

If current sanctions have little impact on ordinary people (because few other countries have qualms about commercial activity in Sudan), and in negotiations Khartoum offers nothing for the lifting of sanctions (because they are better negotiators and have no internal constituents pressing for the lifting), and our negotiators can't figure out a way to make an agreement credible (i.e. in the old days each side gave up a "hostage" to the other to make the agreement credible), then the lifting of sanctions is pure symbolism/spin. I hope it will be spun correctly.

But what if Khartoum really values the lifting of sanctions, either because some investors want to franchise McDonalds or Starbucks and make tons of money (America still sells very well, even after Abu Ghraib)? What should the U.S. ask for? Unfortunately so far I have no sense of U.S. administration policy towards Africa. So I'll venture three suggestions relevant to implementation of CPA. The U.S. was a guarantor of CPA, so the linking is relevant.
1) Formal, legal, big-deal acceptance of an Abyei boundary. This issue has to be resolved for a referendum to take place in 2011.
2) Availability online of census and electoral commission registries. Burkina Faso has online the voter rolls for the entire country, along with electoral outcomes. There is no reason Sudan could not do this. Electoral transparency is going to be key for peaceful transition in 2011.
3) Oil deals transparency. All oil deals should be made transparent and available online. The privacy concerns of the oil companies can be easily "purchased" by making future oil access conditional on current transparency. Paul Collier's team at Oxford should be able to figure out a way to implement this in short order. Again, how can a peaceful transition post-2011 happen if the division of the oil wealth is not transparent to the two sides and to outside mediators, let alone the general public?

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