A fresh start for Sudan

A fresh start for Sudan

The International Conference on Sudan has given the war-torn country a chance to recuperate, but not without peace reigning throughout the country

Haitham Nouri , Saturday 29 May 2021
French President Emmanuel Macron (R) welcomes Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in Paris, May 17 2021. AFP

(Ahram) — Khartoum is optimistic following its return to the international community, embodied by International Conference on Sudan, held in Paris on 17 May.

The economy of the war-torn country, which had been ruled by Islamists for decades, is ailing despite its rich natural resources and religious and ethnic diversity. Sudan is jubilant that the conference bore positive results, although it has seen a slight increase in the price of the dollar against the Sudanese pound in the past few days.

The International Conference on Sudan saw 20 countries converging on France with the goal of supporting Khartoum politically and economically. Seven regional and international organisations attended the conference, in addition to Sudan’s largest creditors, namely Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Sudan’s neighbouring countries, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan also participated, and so did a number of European countries including Germany, Italy and – of course – France.

The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the African Development Bank too participated in the conference, in addition to the European Union, the United Nations, the Arab League and the African Union.

French President Emmanuel Macron opened the conference by welcoming Sudan’s return to the international community, announcing the cancellation of Khartoum’s $5 billion debt to Paris.

Macron said the member states of the IMF had agreed to write off Sudan’s debts to the international financial corporation, paving the way to easing Khartoum debts, which reached $60 billion, according to Sudan’s Finance Minister Gebril Ibrahim speaking before he flew to Paris.

Ibrahim arrived in France with Chairman of the Sovereignty Council Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, along with a delegation of government officials, according to the French Foreign Ministry.

To clear Khartoum’s arrears to the IMF, Paris will offer the Sudanese capital a bridge loan of $1.5 billion.

According to the IMF, under the transitional government Sudan achieved a growth rate of 3.5 per cent in 2020, despite the inflation that had skyrocketed to 300 per cent.

The US and UK also provided bridge loans to write off Sudan’s debts to the World Bank and the African Development Bank.

The Sudanese media said Saudi Arabia cancelled $4.5 billion of Sudan’s debts. Kuwait, the largest creditor to Sudan, stated it supports holding talks to discuss relieving Sudan of its $10 billion loan.

China reiterated Kuwait’s sentiments, while Germany and Italy will collectively give Sudan a bridge loan of $1.8 billion.

These steps will pave the way for Sudan to try to clear its other debts, valued at $39 billion, in addition to its commercial debts set at $6 billion. This would allow Sudan to receive investments, especially in the fields of agriculture, infrastructure, communications and energy, increasing the economic capabilities of one of the continent’s most diversified and resource-rich countries.

Sudan accumulated huge debts, but it made strides in dropping the debts through the IMF and World Bank programmes for poor, indebted countries to facilitate access to the low-interest credit of which African countries are in need.

Sudan lived for decades under the rule of ousted president Omar Al-Bashir, who assumed power following a military coup planned and carried out by Hassan Al-Turabi, the leader of the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood. Islamists retained their support for Al-Bashir for 30 years until the army toppled him after nationwide demonstrations in 2019.

Throughout Al-Bashir’s rule, Sudan ailed under the weight of bloody wars that left more than 2.5 million Sudanese dead. The conflicts drove South Sudan to become an independent state in 2011.

Since 2003, the westernmost region of Darfur has been suffering armed clashes that left 300,000 people dead and a million non-Arab Sudanese displaced. Throughout the Darfur war, the Al-Bashir regime employed Bedouin Arab groups called Janjaweed to rape women, among other heinous acts.

The bloody events of Darfur pushed the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for Al-Bashir in 2009 for “masterminding” the war crimes and crimes against humanity the Janjaweed militias committed in Darfur.

In the 1990s, the Bill Clinton administration put Sudan on the list of countries harbouring terrorism and enforced sanctions that were tightened during the tenure of George Bush Jr. Donald Trump lifted the sanctions in December 2020 in return for Sudan normalising relations with Israel.

Besides the war and international sanctions, Sudan’s governmental and financial corruption, coupled with mismanagement, led to further deterioration of economic conditions.

In August 2019 Sudan signed the Constitutional Declaration, which allowed the formation of a transitional government a month later. In tandem, the Sudanese warring factions signed the Juba Declaration, which paved the way for inking other peace instruments. The government signed peace agreements with armed movements, and in March 2021 the transitional government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North signed a declaration of principles.

These developments made the international community more accepting of Sudan, which signed and ratified agreements to combat enforced disappearance and all forms of discrimination against women, and enacted a law to combat female genital mutilation as well as decisions to restructure the security forces and police.

Nevertheless, Darfur remains a source of concern following the bloody events in the city of Geneina, west Darfur, perpetrated by the Rapid Support Forces, mainly made up of armed gangs from Arab pastoral tribes who took part in the civil war in Darfur.

Sudan is also experiencing tense relations with Ethiopia due to the border conflict over Al-Fashqa region, which Sudan reclaimed after Ethiopia’s Amhara militias seized it in 2008, and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam which Ethiopia is constructing on the Blue Nile near the Sudanese border.

Meanwhile, the toppled Islamists are seizing every opportunity to make matters worse for the new Sudan that is currently standing at a crossroads.

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