US Tech Sanctions In Sudan Are Empowering The Regime, Tamping Down Opposition

from the policy-in-reverse dept

We’ve already talked somewhat about how the United States’ sanction policy, with regard to a couple regimes whom we designate as bad actors, can be best described as having the opposite of the intended effect. While we can have a separate argument over whether or not American should be using sanctions at all as a method for shaping global politics, any discussion about the current use of sanctions should be based around their merits or lack there of. That groundwork laid, when we move beyond the more general analysis of our technology sanctions against several regimes and the impact on online educational systems like Coursera, and dive a bit more into the specific impacts of tech sanctions on a single nation, the failure of our policy is laid bare.

Take Sudan, for instance, where President Omar al-Bashir’s NCP party is largely run by conservative Wahhabi Muslims, whereas the opposition parties in Darfur and elsewhere tend to be more liberal and of less-strict forms of Islam. Al-Bashir and the NCP have long been the target of human rights groups and the American government, leading to a sanctions policy against Sudan that’s as strict as could be imagined. The goal is to either get the government in Sudan to change, which is unlikely to happen as a result of the sanctions, or to get the Sudanese people to change their government entirely. Unfortunately, our sanctions policy appears to be having the opposite effect, empowering the government and creating barriers for any popular resistance.

Caught in the middle are U.S. sanctions. Initially designed to put pressure on the government, these technology restrictions have become outdated, and some of the provisions inadvertently aid the regime by blocking access to critical personal communications tools—to the detriment of the Sudanese people. Companies like Yahoo and Samsung, unsure whether they can legally make their products available and afraid of the risk, often err on the side of overcompliance when blocking their products in Sudan and other sanctioned countries.

“The U.S. sanctions have empowered the government security agencies against the activists online, because there [are] few anonymity tools available for them, and many of them are not tech savvy. Not being able to update your software makes you an easy catch for the highly trained security officers,” Anwar Dafa-alla, a Sudanese activist and founder of Nafeer IT, told us in an email. And Helena Puig Larrauri, who works on peace-building initiatives in Sudan, writes, “The embargo has a particular effect on anyone trying to use technology for the social good.”

The lesson to learn is that censoring basic internet services as a method for sanctions does not achieve the goal of those sanctions and in fact puts us squarely in line with the dictatorial regimes we attempt to alter, who of course are also censoring the internet amongst their own populations. Beyond that, whatever your opinion might be on sanctions in general, preventing methods of communication and dialogue within other countries, and indeed between our countries, is about as perfect a negation of the democratic method as I can imagine. Meanwhile, the trodden upon are kept uninformed, unarmed, and unable to unify, all due in part to our sanctions, while the government that oppresses them goes about their business as usual.

Now, it should be noted that the United States hasn’t been ignoring this problem entirely. Our government has done sanctions reform before, most notably in the 1990’s, where the aim was reducing the unintended negative consequences of sanctions. Also, in 2010, the Treasury Department announced relaxed restrictions on certain forms of internet services. But, as seems to have happened too many times in the past, efforts to be clear on what’s allowed and what isn’t in nations like Iran haven’t been duplicated for Sudan.

The U.S. government has updated policies toward Iran several times since 2010. The most recent, General License D, authorized U.S. companies to export software, services, and hardware for personal communications purposes. But there haven’t been changes to the treatment of personal communications tools in the Sudanese sanctions. Sudanese civil society groups launched a campaign last week calling for the United States to change its policies.

And so al-Bashir’s regime continues on, despised as a matter of American policy, but also empowered by it.

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Comments on “US Tech Sanctions In Sudan Are Empowering The Regime, Tamping Down Opposition”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Of course the US would support dictatorial regimes

The last two US president have managed the country like african tinpot dicatators, simply obfuscating the embbezzlement of the ENTIRE economy to the dictator’s personal friends, just far enough beyond their average constituent’s ability to understand it, that not enough of the poor enough would even know how much they get fucked.

Sam Djjl says:

I agree sanctions are against basic human rights to information, technology and in extreme situations to prosperity and life. The USA is the only country that uses this dirty tactic to control and manipulate other nations into submission and uses its proxies EU, Japan, Australia, Canada and its other puppets to make sure it has full control.

But i would like to correct you on one thing. The NCP party does not follow conservative Wahhabi Islam ! It, like most Sudanese follow Sufi Islam which is known for its tolerance – Ask your American ambassador to Sudan who has just left Sudan. The only Wahhabi system on the planet are your terrorist exporting rich Saudi royal friends. I wish you Americans can once get your facts right and not be the ignorant people you’re known to be. Mixing facts – you’re no better than your government sanctions. Its Government policy, media propaganda and American arrogance & ignorance that fuels the suffering we see on the planet. Ask anyone non-American and you will see. Btw the rebels in darfur and not moderate – they are divided between liberals and extreme Islamists. If you knew anything about Sudan you would know JEM the largest & most armed rebel group is the military wing of Hasan Alturabi and had backing & support from Gadafi ! The few that ‘escaped’ to the US & claim to be freedom fighter & like any other economic refugees from around the world looking for any excuse to stay in the US.

Let me get your point – because some western trained puppet activists are not tech savvy and morons – you blame American sanctions on what? Boohoo sudanese dont have access to Yahoo ! Samsung actually work freely and so do other major companies in Sudan. Its American companies that are a loss. Sudanese use all devices and tech – google, Skype and many other social media with no restrictions from the government. Like any other country it only monitors trouble makers implanted to cause trouble in Sudan. I dont see you complaining about restrictions by China, Saudi Arabia and other despots you wouldnt dare challenge ! American cowards !

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

A new iron curtain drawn across the 49th parallel. Cut all diplomatic ties as we expel all American dignitaries, and issue a nation-wide travel advisory for any others left inside. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. The burned out shells of south-bound traffic lay strewn across a cold stretch of would-be interstate. Still visible below their charred remains: Pax Americana plates. Your stupid fucking laser-pucks were just the start. And while you may stand six full cubits and a span, we got a shepard’s sling and five stones in our hand and the battle of 1812 lives in our heart. We don’t care if we’re destroyed. We’ll never capitulate. We’ll take the whole fucking world down, down with us in flames. Just a speculative fiction. No cause for alarm. We got a good 15 years left till the United We Stand murals on West Broadway finally fade and we wave good-bye to such sad, childish refrains. Replaced with other stupid lullabies like “you can have my guns when you pry them from my cold dead hands”. Just a speculative fiction. No cause for alarm.

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