Sudan: COVID-19 under the US Sanctions

Three weeks ago, as a member of the steering committee of the Sudanese Civil Society Confederation, we started a discussion on our Whatsapp group on how Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) can respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in Sudan, as there is an urgent need for CSOs to coordinate their work and respond to the efforts fighting the pandemic. One member suggested conducting a meeting for all members of the confederation to discuss this issue. I suggested conducting a virtual meeting as we cannot bring tens of people to gather in one room. They all agreed and delegated me to make it possible.

I selected the most popular conferencing application these days' -Zoom. I discovered that we will be unable to use this application from Sudan because Sudan is under the US sanctions. Then I started to look for other options and I found that most applications are prohibited in Sudan unless you download the Virtual Private Network (VPN). Then I asked my friends on facebook if they know any applications that can be used from Sudan. Most of them advised me to download VPN but others told me there are other open-source applications that can be used regardless of their security measures such as Jitsi meet. I tried using Jitsi meet application with my office colleagues to see if it can work and it worked very well for a meeting for four persons. I told my colleagues at the confederation that now we can use Jisti meet for the meeting. We set up the date for the meeting and I shared the link on the Whatsapp group.

Only five persons were able to join the meeting because there were many difficulties that hindered the others to join such as bad internet connection, irregular power cuts, and other technical problems as many of them were not used to this kind of technology. The first thing we discussed in the meeting was how we can counter the US sanctions as civil society organizations taking advantage of the special situation of the Corona Virus in the world. Because we realized that these sanctions are impacting even our ability as civil society organizations to hold a simple meeting to discuss how we can respond to this pandemic other than important things such as elevating the collapsed economy.

Sudan has inherited a destroyed economy after the popular revaluation ended 30 years of the authoritarian regime. The newly appointed transitional government is struggling to meet the basic needs such as the flour for bread and fuel. The scarcity of basic needs reached its highest where you can see people queuing for a very long time to get bread or fuel from the petrol stations. The inflation rate is rapidly increasing, the Sudanese Central Committee for Census pointed out that the inflation rate has jumped to 71.36% in February 2020. Sudan was unable to benefit from the international funding institutions because of the US sanctions and Sudan’s presence on the list of countries supporting terrorism. Sudan is not eligible for the World Bank and IMF list of the countries that can benefit from the grants provided for developing countries to respond to the Corona Virus pandemic because of the sanctions and debt relief issue.

Last week, the Sudanese Minister of Health appeared on TV and explained the health situation in Sudan asking people to stay at homes as the only measure to protect themselves from the virus. He said, “our medical supplies will last for two weeks only, we don’t have enough masks and protection uniforms for the medical personnel, we don’t have enough testing kits”. Some reports indicated that Sudan has only a few hundred ventilators for around 35 million persons. The Sudanese in the diaspora are unable to mobilize the resources to send money because of the US sanctions on Sudan, they are however trying to coordinate with local initiatives in Sudan to send in-kind donations such as medical supplies which will take a long time to arrive.

As of the 5th of May, Sudan has 778 confirmed cases including 45 deaths. Al-Bashir’s regime was overthrown in April 2019 and until now, the international community does not want to support Sudan to get rid of its painful legacy. Removal of US sanctions which isolates Sudan and its citizens from the international banking system and denies it from much-needed debt relief is a good start to help Sudan re-integrate into the world.

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Mohamed Erwa, Programme Manager at FES in Sudan.

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