France holds global talks to offer debt relief for Sudan

AP International News

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, welcomes Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok at the summit to support Soudan, Monday, May 17, 2021 at the Grand Palais Ephemere in Paris. French, African leaders and heads of international organizations are holding on Monday a conference in Paris to negotiate debt relief and raise global support for Sudan’s transitional leadership. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron announced the cancellation of Sudan’s $5 billion debt to France in an effort to support the country’s transitional leadership and help its crippled economy recovering, at a Paris conference gathering African leaders and international creditors.

Macron hosted the event Monday for Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, head of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council, and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. The heads of state of neighboring Egypt and Ethiopia were notably attending, as well as the International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva and African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat.

The conference aimed at marking Sudan’s reintegration into the international community after three decades of isolation. A popular uprising in the African nation led to the military’s overthrow of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir in 2019.

“We are in favor of entirely cancelling Sudan’s debt (towards France),” Macron said in a news conference. “We are expecting from other participants … to make a similar effort, which is the needed effort to free Sudan from the debt burden.”

Macron said a global process of reduction of Sudan’s debt should be formally launched by the IMF by the end of June.

France will also provide $1.5 billion loan to clear Sudan’s arrears to the IMF, he added.

Burhan hoped that “this will pave the way for other creditors of Sudan.”

Sudan’s transitional government has taken a set of measures in recent months to transform the country’s economy. That measures included a managed flotation of the Sudanese pound in an unprecedented step that led to hikes in the price of fuel and other essential goods.

The flotation was a key demand by the IMF, with which Sudan is expected to end in September a 12-month program to win relief on its foreign debt, which is at $70 billion.

Hamdok praised a “milestone, historic conference” and wished the conference will be a starting point for the return of private and international investments to Sudan in the wake of economic changes initiated by the transitional government.

Cash-stripped Sudan has for years struggled with an array of economic woes, including a huge budget deficit and widespread shortages of essential goods and soaring prices of bread and other staples. The country’s annual inflation soared past 300% last month, one of the world’s highest rates.

The country plunged into an economic crisis when the oil-rich south seceded in 2011 after decades of war, taking with it more than half of public revenues and 95% of exports.

Sudan was also an international pariah after it was placed on the United States’ list of state sponsors of terror in the 1990s. This largely excluded the country from the global economy.

Former President Donald Trump removed Sudan from the blacklist after the transitional government agreed to pay $335 million in compensation for victims of attacks carried out by Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network while the terror leader was living in Sudan. The removal also was an incentive for Sudan to normalize ties with Israel.

Dr. Suliman Baldo, senior advisor at The Sentry, a watchdog group, said the Sudanese transitional government continues to make “encouraging progress” but “this progress risks being undone unless it is rooted in a tangible shift away from the opaque and corrupt system operated for decades by the former regime.”

“The transitional government must deal with this legacy with more resolve than it has shown to date,” Baldo said.

On Tuesday, another summit hosted by Macron will focus on ways to finance African economies to help them recover from huge economic losses due to the pandemic.

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Samy Magdy contributed to this report from Cairo, Egypt.

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