My first trip to Sudan was in January 2008.
At the time, George W. Bush was in the final year of his second presidential term, and then-Senator Barack Obama was making a play to be the Democratic Party presidential nominee. He had just stunned Hillary Clinton by defeating her in the Iowa caucus.
Work took me back to Sudan three times in 2009, and Senator Obama was now President Obama. Enthusiasm for his presidency ran high in Khartoum–the mood was buoyant. In June of that year, Obama delivered a speech in Egypt entitled, “A New Beginning,” aimed at repairing US relations with the Muslim world. In that speech Obama said:
“I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
Sudanese tuned in closely and took notice.
Fast forward to my latest trip to Sudan in 2012, and much has changed. To start, the Sudan I visited last in 2010 is now two sovereign nations: Republic of the Sudan and Republic of South Sudan. (I was visiting the former, a primarily Muslim nation.) In addition, the change in North Africa has not been limited to Sudan: Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt are also politically transformed.
But that rich sense of possibility that Obama inspired is tempered. Many Sudanese I spoke with wished for more from an Obama presidency. The enmity between Israel and Palestine continues to grow, Iran is made to answer to the international community, and the geographic division of Sudan into two halves has brought economic inflation that in turn has a significant impact on the Sudanese.
In other words, many Sudanese are still waiting for change they can believe in.