PARIS: France’s President Emmanuel Macron (right) welcomes Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi upon his arrival for an international conference on Sudan which aims to provide financing breathing room for its Prime Minister as he pursues economic reforms in Paris yesterday. – AFP

PARIS: The French government promised yesterday to lend $1.5 billion to Sudan to help it pay off its massive foreign debt, kicking off an international summit aimed at helping the aspiring democracy emerge from decades of authoritarian rule. The conference hosted by President Emmanuel Macron aims to provide financing breathing room for Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok as he pursues economic reforms while paying off a foreign debt bill of $60 billion.

“Rebuilding an attractive and resilient market takes time, but today, I hope we will convince private investors that the fundamentals for business are fully there,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said ahead of the summit. “President Macron will confirm later today that France will provide the $1.5 billion bridge loan to clear Sudan’s arrears to the IMF,” he said. Several heads of state are in Paris to also discuss investment in Sudan, as is International Monetary Fund director Kristalina Georgieva, along with top European diplomats including EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

Hamdok is pushing to rebuild and reform a crippled economy and end Sudan’s international isolation under former strongman Omar Al-Bashir, whose three decades of rule were marked by economic hardship and international sanctions. Yesterday, a Paris summit on African economies will try to fill a financing shortfall of almost $300 billion caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both meetings, held in a temporary exhibition center near the Eiffel Tower, present a chance for Macron to show himself as a statesman on Africa whose influence goes beyond the continent’s Francophone regions. The meetings will also mark a return to in-person top-level gatherings after the Covid-19 pandemic made video conferences the norm.

Among those attending both meetings will be Rwandan President Paul Kagame in a rare visit to France as Paris presses for reconciliation with Kigali after a historic report made clear French failings over the 1994 genocide. Also attending is Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, making another journey to key ally France after his state visit in late 2020 enraged rights activists.

Macron’s office said he would also meet privately with Sisi for talks on the escalating conflict in Gaza, where Zionist forces again launched air strikes overnight. “France’s goal is to stop the spiral of violence and support Egypt’s mediation attempts,” an official at the Elysee Palace said.

‘Explore opportunities’
France wants the Sudan summit to send a signal of the help African countries can receive if they embrace democracy and turn their backs on authoritarianism. “The Sudanese transition is considered by us-but also by the entire international community-as an example of democratic transition in Africa and as such deserves special attention,” said a French presidential official who requested anonymity. The official said the summit aims to unite the international community around helping Sudan, in particular addressing its vast debt pile.

Hamdok told AFP ahead of the meeting that he hopes Sudan can secure relief and investment deals at the Paris conference. Sudan’s debts to the Paris Club, which includes major creditor countries, is estimated to make up around 38 percent of its total foreign debt. “We are going to the Paris conference to let foreign investors explore the opportunities for investing in Sudan,” Hamdok said. “We are not looking for grants or donations.”

Africa summit
Sudan was taken off Washington’s blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism in December, removing a major hurdle to foreign investment. But many challenges persist. Also attending will be President Sahle-Work Zewde of Ethiopia, whose country has been locked in a long dispute with Sudan over water resources that has sometimes threatened to erupt into open conflict.

Africa has so far been less badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic than other global regions-with a total of 130,000 dead across the continent. But the economic cost is only too apparent, and Tuesday’s Africa summit will focus on making up the shortfall in the funds needed for future development-a financial gap estimated by the IMF to amount to $290 billion up to 2023.

Around two dozen African leaders from across the continent will attend the meeting, including Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi whose country is battling a bloody Islamist insurrection in its north. A French presidential official said Macron and Nyusi would hold a bilateral meeting and the summit would also be a chance for the international community to coordinate efforts to help Mozambique. – AFP