Sudan Task Force

The Sudan Task Force—co-chaired by Atlantic Council Vice President and Africa Center Director Dr. J. Peter Pham and Atlantic Council Board Director Ambassador (ret.) Mary Carlin Yates, former special assistant to the president and senior director for African affairs at the National Security Council, as well as chargé d’affaires of the US embassy in Sudan—proposes a rethink of the US-Sudan relationship to better serve US interests and to improve the lives of those in Sudan, both goals that task-force members believe to be mutually reinforcing. The task force also includes: Ambassador (ret.) Timothy Carney, the last senate-confirmed US ambassador to Sudan; Ambassador (ret.) Johnnie Carson, former US assistant secretary of state for African affairs and ambassador to Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Uganda; Dr. Jeffrey Herbst, expert on African political economy and former CEO of the Newseum; Cameron Hudson, former chief of staff to the US special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan; Ambassador (ret.) Princeton Lyman, former US special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan and assistant secretary of state for international organizations; and Zach Vertin, visiting lecturer at Princeton University and former director of policy for the US special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan. Kelsey Lilley, associate director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, is the task-force coordinator.

Following sustained progress on a “five-track” engagement plan, on October 12, 2017, US President Donald Trump permanently lifted significant and long-standing economic sanctions on Sudan. The Atlantic Council’s Sudan Task Force applauds US efforts to promote positive domestic changes in Sudan, while recognizing the obstacles to full normalization that exist. The reforms necessary to drive real change—improvements in governance, rule of law, human rights, and political participation—are well known and must remain a centerpiece of US-Sudan engagement; they should not take a back seat to narrow counterterrorism concerns. But administration officials would be prudent to also consider Sudan’s strategic relevance in a wider regional and global context. Failing to seize the opportunity at hand could risk pushing Sudan into the arms of global competitors.

To advance the dialogue on the US-Sudanese relationship in a way that could benefit both Americans and Sudanese, task-force members traveled to Sudan in January 2018—the third delegation in two years—to research three critical topics: governance and political reform; economic reform and impediments to investment; and prospects for greater US cultural engagement. While in Khartoum and in the Darfur region, the group sought out a diverse range of perspectives, speaking to government, civil society, business, youth, and artistic communities. That trip formed the basis of three issue briefs: “Sudan: Politics, Engagement, and Reform,” “Sudan: Prospects for Economic Re-engagement,” and “Sudan: Soft Power, Cultural Engagement, and National Security.” Each brief proposes concrete measures that the US and Sudanese governments should undertake to continue advancing the bilateral relationship and to maintain momentum on addressing longstanding issues of mutual concern.

This three-part series that continues the work of the task force’s July 2017 report, Sudan: A Strategy for Re-engagement—authored by Ambassador Yates with Lilley—which detailed the costs to both the United States and Sudan of the status quo of strained relations. That report found that the decades-long US policy of isolation toward Sudan had not yielded significant changes in the country’s governance, to the detriment of US policy objectives as well as the Sudanese people.

The content and recommendations are the result of task-force collaboration and represent a majority consensus among participants. Nothing implies that the lead authors or every participant agree unequivocally with every finding and/or recommendation. Individuals served in their personal capacity.