Khartoum, Sudan — On Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump issued an enhanced version of his administration’s travel ban and barred all travel to the United States from seven countries that, according to the current administration, pose a threat to national security, indefinitely. Trump retained the majority Muslim countries of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia, as well as adding to the list North Korea.
Then, in a surprising move, the Trump administration removed Sudan from the travel ban list and added the Central African nation of Chad in its place. A move that has baffled and shocked many within U.S. foreign policy circles as well as the Chadian government.
The United States and Sudan have always had an “on again, off again” type of relationship. Both parties derived pleasure from their time spent together, but both just couldn’t trust one another to commit to a politically monogamous relationship.
The United States’ relationship with Sudan started like most do, with a Bush.
In 1972, Sudan was coming out of its first bloody civil war and was looking to become competitive in the import/export business globally as well as courting foreign investors to jump-start its failing economy. At the same time the U.S. oil company, Chevron and their geologists tapped into NASA’s newest LandSat geospatial mapping satellite program and found evidence that Sudan were sitting on several massive oil deposits nestled within the Blue Nile and South Kordofan regions of Sudan.
Chevron jumped at the chance to gain exclusive rights to the large deposits of black gold lurking under the Sudanese ground and arrived in Sudan with oil contracts worth millions of dollars promising to turn Khartoum into the “Dubai of Africa,” to entice the Sudanese government into signing the deal.
The Chevron deal was enthusiastically backed by Texas oilman turned politician, George H.W. Bush, who was the then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under the Nixon administration. Both Bush and Nixon saw the Chevron deal as a highly lucrative venture for the U.S. and its interests, and as a strategic one as it provided the U.S. an ally inside Africa to counter the spread of communist expansionism by the Soviet Union and China in the East and Horn of Africa region. As well as an alternative oil supply due to increased tensions arising between the U.S., oil rich Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States after the U.S. threw its support to Israel during the Yom Kippur War.
Of course Khartoum signed the 990 page oil exploration and drilling contract with Chevron and the oil company trudged onward through some of Sudan’s roughest terrain and began drilling for oil in 1974. The U.S. government also invested heavily into Sudan as well and during the Ford administration, set up a CIA station in Khartoum along with supplying U.S. weapons and a military training program to the Sudanese military.
U.S. military and economic aid increased 300-fold during the Reagan administration making Sudan one of the largest beneficiaries of U.S. military and foreign aid in all of Africa. Things were going great for Chevron, the U.S., and Khartoum for years until one night in the spring of 1984 a group of southern Sudanese got sick of fighting over the table scraps Khartoum was doling out while hoarding the lions share of Chevron’s oil deal for itself. They took up arms and encircled a Chevron base camp with the intent on taking several Americans hostage.
That plan quickly descended into chaos as something spooked one of the rebels and in his fright sprayed a burst of automatic gun fire into the tents housing both American and Sudanese Chevron employees. This of course set off a chain reaction from the other rebels who followed suit and after the cacophony of AK-47 fire died down several Chevron employees lay dead or wounded.
Chevron concerned over the safety of its employees halted oil production and sent emissaries to Khartoum to demand better protection of its oil refinery sites and exploration base camps. Khartoum answered bluntly that it would guarantee no such thing and in response, Chevron ceased doing any business with Sudan and nullified its contract with them. The U.S. government decreased its interests in Sudan as well yet not in the totality that Chevron displayed.
This left a huge financial gap in Sudan’s aspirations in becoming the “Dubai of Africa” and went looking for other suitors, to which they found a very happy country with deep pockets willing to filled that void left by Chevron, China.
U.S. relations further soured in the late 1980’s and into the early 90’s as yet another civil war broke out in Sudan. The Chinese seem oblivious to the carnage happening within Sudan as their state-owned oil corporation, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) slipped right into Chevron’s oil plots and began pumping out crude in record numbers. The Chinese government also assisted in CNPC’s smooth transition into Sudan’s oil fields by supplying both financial aid on top of a large weapons package.
China seemed to care little about Sudan’s bloody genocidal civil war and supplied both sides of the conflict with weapons and equipment under the agreement that neither group would attack or harass its oil refineries or pipeline construction crews. The relationship between the U.S. and Sudan waxed and waned throughout the ordeal until the mid-1990’s when through the due diligence of various CIA operatives discovered that several international terrorist groups had been running training camps operating within Sudan.
To include al-Qaeda front man Osama bin Laden having a rather large compound on the outskirts of Khartoum itself, which was discovered and placed under near 24-hour surveillance by none other than the Green Beret and paramilitary legend Billy Waugh himself. The Clinton administration at the time didn’t deem bin Laden that much of a threat, yet publicly denounced his presence and that of the other terrorist camps within the region, designated Sudan as a state sponsor of international terrorism, and threatened sanctions against Sudan if they didn’t rectify the problem. To which the Sudanese government, broke up businesses operated by the bin Laden Group, seized over $30 million in assets, and then expelled bin Laden and his al-Qaeda group from Sudan in 1996.
Two years later, al-Qaeda would go on to bomb two U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania which in response, the Clinton administration would launch cruise missiles into Afghanistan and Sudan targeting suspected terrorist base camps in both countries.
The 2000’s saw the United States focused mainly on its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan following the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist attacks of 9/11. With the U.S. priorities falling onto its newly coined Global War on Terror (GWOT), China slowly increased its support to Khartoum and expanded its influence heavily into surrounding African nations.
Fast forward to the mid to late 2000’s where the Obama administration began to refocus some of the U.S.’s efforts in the GWOT back to Africa, and specifically Sudan itself. Sudan had joined the International Convention for the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism, and had proven a strong ally to U.S. efforts in ridding threats of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State from Africa and the Middle East.
In fact one of Obama’s last orders of business, before leaving office, was to sign an executive order which would lift most, if not all U.S. sanctions on Sudan due to their willingness to partner with the U.S. counter-terrorism efforts. Everything about Sudan’s actions in countering the terror threat looked great on paper. That is until a United Nations Security Council investigation into Sudan’s continued civil war and genocidal human rights violations in 2016 revealed that Sudan had paid $6.4 million dollars to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) for high-grade military hardware such as GPS missile guidance systems, air-to-ground guided missiles, and long-range ground-to-ground guided missile batteries through a North Korean arms dealing front, or dummy corporation known as Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID) in 2013.
That seemed to not phase the Obama administration as the outgoing president signed an executive order in January 2017 with the intent on lifting U.S. sanctions on Sudan. Donald Trump took office at the end of that same month and was widely expected to uphold the Obama executive order only to announce that they would be delaying the order by six months pending a review of Sudan’s terrorist dealings. Then in March the Trump administration issued their first executive orders, with such being the travel ban decreed on countries known to harbor or provide material support to known terrorist entities. Sudan was on that list.
In July, Trump then issued another executive order extending Sudan’s review period by another three months with the State Department saying that Sudan has shown great progress in its information sharing of known terrorist groups along with curbing its financial and material support of those groups. Yet President Trump just wasn’t convinced Sudan was fully on board with his foreign policies and therefore wanted to extend the review.
In a press briefing by the State Department a senior State Department official made it very clear that Trump was well aware that Sudan had purchased weapons illegally from North Korea adding that the “efforts to stem North Korean missile proliferation and financing activities, is a top security priority for the President. He’s said this many times. We have made our position clear with the Sudanese Government, they must abide by the UN Security Council resolutions with regards to North Korea.”
Then on Sunday, just one week shy of the end of the three-month extension, the Trump administration issued an enhanced update to its Executive Order (EO) 13780, Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, moving Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia from the 90-day travel ban to the indefinite banned list. Meanwhile it notably dropped Sudan from the list saying that they had greatly improved their communications with the United States and bafflingly adding the long time U.S. counter-terrorism ally, Chad in its place.
The Trump administration has made no excuses for its hard-line approach to North Korea and its nuclear arms program it is desperately trying to complete. Trump has declared that any country that does any sort of business with North Korea will face harsh U.S. economic sanctions, yet why did Sudan get a pass? That question has left many Africa experts shaking their collective heads and flatly saying, “I don’t know,” leaving them no other choice than to wander around confused like the rest of us.
Feature image courtesy of Associated Press