Editor’s Note: Jimmy Carter is former President of the United States and founder of the nonprofit Carter Center, which works to advance peace and health worldwide. The views expressed in this article are solely the author’s. View more opinion articles on CNN.
The Sudanese people’s overthrow of their former government opened new opportunities in the country for democracy, peace and economic development. Today, Sudan’s transition is at a fragile moment. To succeed, it needs urgent international support.
In August, the leaders of the protest movement and the military signed an agreement establishing a three-year transition period, during which the country is headed by a sovereign council, with authority shared between military figures and civilians. A civilian prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, was also chosen to lead the technocratic government.
The Carter Center has been involved in Sudan and South Sudan for decades. We have helped prevent Guinea worm disease in both nations while also supporting democracy and trying to avert and end wars. A team of Carter Center staff recently visited Khartoum and met with top government and civil society leaders to discuss Sudan’s steps toward peace and democracy, and the Carter Center’s work in Sudan.
The ongoing transition government cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past. It is important that the long-neglected peoples of the peripheral regions of Sudan, such as Darfur, the Blue Nile, and eastern Sudan, participate fully in crafting the country’s new constitution and democratic institutions.
President Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan of the sovereign council, Prime Minister Hamdok and other leaders have committed to inclusive governance and have taken positive steps, such as publicly supporting religious freedom and meeting with Christian minorities.
Sudan’s internal wars have not ended. Sudan’s friends in the international community should emphasize the need to address the root causes of the country’s conflicts, such as the historically unfair distribution of resources between Khartoum and other regions, rather than pursuing power-sharing deals with select rebel leaders. Women, youth, unions, traditional and religious authorities and others should have meaningful input in the negotiations between the armed factions.
Sudan’s economy is in extreme difficulty. Inflation has skyrocketed in the last 24 months. There are lines for gas and a national scarcity of food — and of cash. The country, however, is not eligible for international financial support because it remains on the United States’ list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism” (SSoT).
That label is misleading. Sudan supports US counterterrorism efforts, and in 2017 received some sanctions relief, but its presence on the SSoT list means Sudan cannot receive urgently needed assistance from the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund — or debt relief.
Sudanese citizens cannot use the international banking system or benefit from foreign investment. Other countries cannot aid Sudan without incurring US sanctions. As a result, desperately needed medicines are absent from pharmacy shelves, and critically needed medical equipment is impossible to import.
President Donald Trump’s administration should work with Congress to remove Sudan from the SSoT list immediately and give democracy there a chance.
Without such a step, Prime Minister Hamdok’s government will remain vulnerable. Peaceful demonstrations calling for democracy toppled former President Omar al-Bashir, but continuing economic deprivation may lead frustrations to boil over once again. Hamdok needs to demonstrate that the civilian government can improve people’s lives.
Instability in Sudan would have negative impacts across the Horn of Africa and increase tensions in a Red Sea zone already roiled by the war in Yemen. It would also provide a ready reason for opponents of the transition to disrupt the country’s encouraging steps toward peace and democracy.
For decades, Sudan received international attention because of wars and terrible suffering. Today, thanks to the courageous and nonviolent efforts of the Sudanese people, a more promising path has opened.
Given the risks to this fragile transition, it is not the time for the international community to wait and see. We must act now to help Sudan enter a new era.