Yesterday marked the launch of the Paris Conference, which was attended by a large number of representatives of countries, international institutions, and businesses. The conference was organised to support the democratic transition in Sudan and encourage international investments and partnerships.
It aims to encourage public and private international investments in Sudan after its removal from the USA list of state sponsors of terrorism (SST) and to establish investment partnerships with the international community to contribute to debt relief for Sudan as it currently has US$60 billion worth of foreign debt.
The conference participants were addressed by French President Emmanuel Macron, Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok, and Chairman of Sudan’s Sovereignty Council Lt Gen Abdelfattah El Burhan. A number of representatives of international organisations and international financial institutions and Sudanese activists also addressed the conference in the presence of heads of states.
As Radio Dabanga reported yesterday at the start of the conference, three sessions were planned. The first session is concerned with presenting the new Sudan and a review of economic reforms in Sudan. An opening video that shows the beauty of Sudan was shown.
The second session dealt with the modernisation of banking services in Sudan. The third session included round tables on investment opportunities in four main sectors: infrastructure, agriculture, energy and mining, and information and communication technology.
The French President also held a joint press conference with Chairman El Burhan and Prime Minister Hamdok in the evening.
The conference seemed to bear fruit as several countries and international institutions, such as the African Export Bank, pledged financial support to Sudan to invest in its economy or clear its foreign debt.
In his speech, El Burhan thanked France for taking the initiative and hosting the conference as this provides an opportunity for Sudan to ‘re-launch’ after 30 years of isolation.
El Burhan said that the change that has occurred in Sudan is “historical and real”. He described it as a change towards democratic transformation, legal and economic reform, achieving peace, and establishing fruitful partnerships.
He further expressed his hopes for support from the international community to implement the Juba Peace Agreement and stated that the support of the international community helps to move in the right direction.
Prime Minister Hamdok said in his speech that the people want real change after the success of the December revolution. He explained that Sudan needs more support to successfully complete its transitional period and establish a sustainable peace by reforming the economic and security sectors.
Hamdok further expressed Sudan's aspiration to attract international investment and ease its foreign debts, which currently exceeded US$60 billion.
UN Secretary-General on debt relief
António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, also held a speech through a video message in which he called on the conference participants to “invest in Sudan’s peaceful and sustainable future”.
"We have a responsibility to help Sudan consolidate its democratic transition, rebuild its economy, and deliver sustainable peace and development for its diverse society” – António Guterres, UN Secretary-General
He said that the international community has a responsibility to help Sudan consolidate its democratic transition, rebuild its economy, and deliver sustainable peace.
Guterres commended the Sudanese government for undertaking the difficult economic reforms and for its peacebuilding efforts with the signatories and non-signatories of the Juba Peace Agreement.
He further stressed that “continued support from Sudan’s friends and partners is critical”. “If financial assistance and investments are not forthcoming, the continued dire economic situation could severely affect Sudan's transition, with negative consequences for peace and stability in the country, the region and beyond”, Guterres explained.
French President Macron on the revolution
In his speech at the opening of the Paris conference, French President Emmanuel Macron said that what is happening in Sudan in terms of historical development can be summed up in three words: freedom, peace, and justice.
Macron said that remarkable progress is being made in Sudan since the fall of the former regime. He also hailed the “unprecedented role” of Sudanese women in the December Revolution.
The president announced France's full support for the transitional process in Sudan and called for transparent elections. He also called for the continuation of the “courageous economic reforms” undertaken by the Sudanese government.
Macron added that the Sudanese revolution toppled a dictatorship that used Islam as a political cover and said that that hundreds of casualties in Darfur as a result of the violence of the former regime helped to uproot this regime.
Yesterday morning at the start of the conference, France pledged to provide a bridging loan of US$1.5 billion to assist Sudan to clear its arrears to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Other conference partners on support and debt relief
The Vice President of the World Bank for Eastern and Southern Africa, Hafez Ghanem, revealed a US$2 billion grant to support Sudan and its Samarat family support programme, combat the Coronavirus pandemic, and support its energy sector, especially solar energy.
Ghanem also pointed to the positive effects of economic reforms on development in Sudan in a short period of time.
The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that it had taken a decision to cancel all bilateral debts to Sudan as part of its efforts to support the democratic transition. The ministry said in a statement that it would contribute to settling debts within the framework of the International Monetary Fund.
The ministry further said it strives to maintain a high level of aid, making Sudan a major recipient of the Norwegian development aid, and stressed that the international community must continue to show solidarity with Sudan.
The German Ministry of Foreign Affairs also expressed its willingness to participate in the debt relief process through the Paris conference. In a statement, it indicated its willingness to cancel Sudan's arrears with the IMF or exempt it from bilateral debts.
Benedict Oramah, Director of the African Export Bank, praised the Sudanese government's efforts to pursue economic and political reforms in order to rebuild Sudan. He described these as “important efforts for the African continent” and stressed that the bank will stands by Sudan during this rebuilding process.
He further revealed a US$700 million fund from the African Export Bank to finance energy and telecommunications projects in Sudan and noted that the bank provided US$1 billion in contributions and assistance to Sudan.
Sudan’s foreign debt
The Al Bashir regime (1989-2019) has left the country with a collapsing economy and a shocking lack of hard currency needed for the import of basic consumer goods. Inflation is soaring and the Sudanese Pound continues to fall, despite the levelling of the official forex rates with those at the parallel market in February.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) reported in February that most areas of Sudan will face acute food insecurity this year. A study of Sudan’s National Council for Child Welfare last year revealed that one in three Sudanese children is stunted because of malnutrition.
The government of Hamdok has taken tough measures such as subsidy cuts and introduced a managed currency float to qualify for an IMF debt relief programme. These unpopular measures were necessary to move towards debt relief by the end of the year, the PM said.
On the dame day, the IMF approved a financing plan that "will help mobilise the resources needed for the IMF to cover its share of debt relief to Sudan". The UK announced on Wednesday that it would provide a £148m bridging loan to help Sudan clear its African Development Bank arrears.