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Sudan's Prime Minister Is On A Mission To Show The World His Country Has Changed


For the first time in more than three decades, the leader of the government of Sudan is visiting Washington, D.C. His mission - to convince U.S. officials that Sudan is no longer the Islamic dictatorship, the haven for terrorists or the site of genocide the world once knew; to convince them that the street protests of the last year have produced real change; and that now, a newly created military-civilian transitional council will deliver the democracy that it promises.

One measure of how surprising all this is - the prime minister himself. Economist Abdalla Hamdok says he couldn't have imagined it even a year ago.

PRIME MINISTER ABDALLA HAMDOK: Well, not at all. I think, you know, the change that happened in Sudan surprised everybody, including political activists and all that. It was primarily led by young people, women, creating this momentous change. Puzzling - it's just exciting.

CHANG: I understand that you've also helped usher in many changes since you came into this role. One of the most recent is the decision to repeal so-called morality laws. These are laws that restricted women's freedom of movement, that regulated, say, the type of clothing they were allowed to wear. What message are you trying to send with these kinds of reforms?

HAMDOK: You know, the first thing we did when we started putting together the transitional government structures - we had in mind that our women should be represented not because we are giving them a gift or handout - because it is a just and well-deserved representation. They were part of this change. Over the years, we felt so sad to see those type of laws which - dehumanizing. And we've repealed it - rightly so.

CHANG: Are you willing to go farther with these kinds of legal reforms to change what you call dehumanizing aspects of the old regime? For example, flogging is still a legal form of punishment. Are you prepared to make more reforms?

HAMDOK: We are prepared and happy and ready. The sky is the limit for our ambition in observing the human rights of our people.

CHANG: One of the goals during your visit in Washington is to try to persuade the U.S. government to take Sudan off the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Tell me - what is at stake if Sudan does remain on this list?

HAMDOK: You know, the delisting of Sudan hold the key to so many processes. To start with, we inherited a mounting debt close to 60 billion. We will not be able to start any process of debt restructuring if we were not delisted.

CHANG: Because of the accompanying sanctions on Sudan that come with being listed as a sponsor of terrorism.

HAMDOK: Yes. The immediate challenge we are facing in this transition is the shortage of commodities, the very high inflation, which is in double digits. All this is creating very serious hardships to the ordinary citizens on the streets. So I think we would like to see decent companies from all over the world, but particularly from the U.S., to come and invest in our country that will create jobs. And all this can only happen if we are delisted from this list.

CHANG: OK. So you have explained why Sudan needs the help of the U.S. But tell me why the U.S. should help Sudan.

HAMDOK: Well, I think Sudan offered the U.S. huge opportunities in investment in every sector you can think about. But also, Sudan was a strategic position bordering seven countries. If we get it right in Sudan, this has an extremely strategic impact and effect in the entire region.

CHANG: Beyond the financial interests of the U.S.

HAMDOK: Yes, beyond the finance. And you'll see in the region full of misery. You look at it - Libya, Yemen, Syria, all these places. You have here a change that is peaceful, that will give hope to that region of the world, which created so many challenges and problems to the global peace and security and all that. So helping Sudan, which is going in the right direction - it will bring hope to the world, I would like to think.

CHANG: Well, one of the most critical concerns of the U.S. is whether Sudan can turn a corner to turn away from its past not only as a sponsor of terrorism, but also as an abuser of human rights. I mean, how can this transitional government convince the U.S. that Sudan has turned a corner, that it will turn a corner?

HAMDOK: Well, I guess they should just judge us from what we've done in the last two months. We started by repealing these laws. We put in place a condition that will create human rights. We have acted on unfettered access of humanitarian assistance and support from any organizations, whether it is across lines from the country or across borders from anywhere.

CHANG: But I'm thinking, for example, about Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who is a member of this transitional council that is ruling Sudan now. He runs a paramilitary group that has been notorious for years for atrocities across the country. Just this June, they violently broke up a sit-in in Khartoum. At least 87 people were killed. Why should the world believe that this is a new Sudan when there are elements of the old regime still in power?

HAMDOK: You know, what we are doing in Sudan today is what I would call a Sudan model of transition. It has the potential of addressing all these challenges, working together. In terms of the atrocities that were committed on the 3 of June, we have, actually - I'm sure you know that - established a well-distinguished, reputable committee that is going to investigate this. And I think we will get to the bottom of that.

CHANG: You believe that people will be held to account for what happened there...

HAMDOK: Absolutely.

CHANG: ...Including Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.

HAMDOK: Anybody. Anybody.

CHANG: Including a member of the transitional council.

HAMDOK: Absolutely. I think the committee will allow us and afford us the opportunity to get to the root of this, the perpetrators and who did it. So...

CHANG: Well, let's talk about accountability. The former dictator of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir - he's wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, for war crimes, for genocide. Those are far more substantial charges than he's facing in Sudan. Why not turn him over to the ICC to demonstrate that Sudan has really changed?

HAMDOK: You know, Bashir right now as we speak - he's also undergoing prosecution. And the list of the court cases are very long. In Darfur...

CHANG: But they don't rise to the level of genocide. The types of charges that he's facing before the International Criminal Court are far more serious...

HAMDOK: Absolutely.

CHANG: ...Than what he's facing in Sudan. So why not turn him over to the international community?

HAMDOK: Absolutely. All right. But this is a starting point. I'm saying the court cases could go into the tune of 20, 30, 40, starting from the Day 1, toppling an elected government, and all the way through Darfur genocide, through other atrocities. It's not only Darfur. There are many atrocities committed in so many parts of the country. We're working on establishing judiciary structures that is independent, credible. I think...

CHANG: Yes, prime minister, but how many decades do you expect it will take for Omar al-Bashir to account for his crimes against humanity?

HAMDOK: No, no, no. Actually, on this issue, our bottom line and yardstick is that justice has to be seen as served to the best, maximum satisfaction of the victims. They are the one who will guide us in this process, and we are happy to do anything that will satisfy them.

CHANG: Abdalla Hamdok is the prime minister of Sudan's transitional government.

Thank you very much for spending the time to speak with us today.

HAMDOK: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF AKIRA KOSEMURA'S "DNA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.