PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron this week hosts African leaders and chiefs of global financial institutions for twin summit meetings that will seek to help Sudan into a new democratic era and provide Africa with critical financing swept away by the Covid-19 pandemic.
A conference Monday attended by several heads of state will aim to rally support for the Sudan government under Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in the transition after the 2019 ousting of longtime strongman Omar al-Beshir.
This will be followed by a summit Tuesday on African economies that will try to fill a financing shortfall of almost $300 billion caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Both meetings, held in a temporary exhibition centre under the shadow of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, will be a chance for Macron to show himself as a statesman on Africa whose influence goes beyond the continent’s francophone regions.
With some two dozen African heads of state due to attend Tuesday’s summit, it will be one of the biggest in person top level meetings held during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It should also see a rare visit to France by Rwandan President Paul Kagame as Paris presses for reconciliation with Kigali after a historical report made clear France’s failings in preventing the 1994 genocide.
Hamdok told AFP in an interview ahead of the meeting he hopes Sudan can help wipe out a $60 billion foreign debt bill this year by securing 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 $60 billion 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,” he added.
Hamdok and his government have pushed to rebuild the crippled economy and end Sudan’s international isolation under Bashir, whose three-decade iron-fisted rule was marked by economic hardship and international sanctions.
Sudan was taken off Washington’s blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism in December, removing a major hurdle to foreign investment.
But many challenges still lie ahead.
His government has been pushing to forge peace with rebel groups to end conflicts in the western region of Darfur as well the southern states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.
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 — although the human catastrophe in India shows it is way too early to sound the all clear.
But the economic cost is only too apparent, with the International Monetary Fund warning in the autumn that Africa faces a shortfall in the funds needed for future development — a financial gap — of $290 billion up to 2023.
A moratorium on the service of public debt agreed by the Paris Club and the G20 in April last year was welcomed but will not be enough on its own. Many want a moratorium on the service of all external debt until the end of the pandemic.
“We are collectively in the process of abandoning Africa by using solutions that date from the 1960s,” Macron said last month, warning that failure would lead to reduced economic opportunity, sudden migration flows and even the expansion of terrorism.
International financial leaders attending will include IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva as well as World Bank managing director of operations Axel van Trotsenburg.
Serge Ekue, the president of the West African Development Bank (BOAD), told AFP that Africa needed much longer loan maturities that went beyond seven years and interest rates that were 3 percent rather than 6 percent.
“In West Africa, the average age is 20. You walk in (Ivory Coast’s biggest city) Abidjan and there is incredible energy,” he said, noting that Africa had seen growth rates of 5-6 percent in the last years.
“The issue is therefore not so much a moratorium as obtaining low rates. Because it is better to issue new, cheaper and longer debt than to obtain a suspension,” he said.