France hosts African leaders, announces $1.5 billion loan to Sudan

Macron aims to highlight leadership on Africa during the two-day event, where African leaders including those from Egypt and Tunisia are expected to attend.
Monday 17/05/2021
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in Paris, France, May 17, 2021. (REUTERS)
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in Paris, France, May 17, 2021. (REUTERS)

PARIS--France said Monday it will lend Sudan $1.5 billion to help the African nation pay off its massive debt to the International Monetary Fund.

“President Macron will confirm later today that France will provide the $1.5 billion bridge loan to clear Sudan’s arrears to the IMF,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Monday at the opening of an international conference aimed at helping Sudan in its transition to democratic government.

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok is attending the Paris conference, seeking help in paying off a $60 billion foreign debt bill and also hoping to secure investment deals.

Hamdok is pushing to rebuild and reform a crippled economy and end Sudan’s international isolation under former autocrat Omar al-Bashir, whose three decades of rule were marked by economic hardship and international sanctions.

“Re-building an attractive and resilient market takes time, but today, I hope we will convince private investors that the fundamentals for business are fully there,” Le Maire said.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday hosts African leaders, diplomats and lenders at a summit aimed at helping Sudan after years of conflict-riven authoritarian rule and assisting other African nations deal with economic hardship and the effects of the pandemic.

Several heads of state will gather in Paris to discuss investment in Sudan and negotiate its debt to help the government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in the transition after the 2019 ouster of longtime strongman Omar al-Bashir.

Tuesday, a 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 centre near 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.

The meetings will both 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.

Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi is scheduled to attend the meetings making another journey to key ally France after his state visit in late 2020 enraged rights activists.

Also expected is Tunisian President Kais Saied whose country faces a serious economic crisis and needs to address a severe budget shortfall.

 French signals 

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 asked not to be named.

The official said the summit aims to unite the international community around helping Sudan, in particular addressing its vast debt pile.

IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva will be present as well as top European diplomats, including German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

Hamdok told AFP ahead of the meeting that 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, are 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.

A file picture shows French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire speaking in Geneva, Switzerland, April 1, 2021. (REUTERS)
A file picture shows French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire speaking in Geneva, Switzerland, April 1, 2021. (REUTERS)

On debt, the conference aims to deal with arrears to international lenders before moving on to bilateral creditors, a French presidency official said. Of Sudan’s bilateral debt, about half is with Paris Club members. Some 10-14% of its external debt is commercial debt, an unusually high proportion, an IMF official said.

China, a major creditor, has reduced and forgiven some debt and will push for the international community to do the same, said Hua Chunying, a foreign ministry spokeswoman.

Saudi Arabia, another big creditor, has also said it will press for a broad agreement on debt.

 French-African 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 still lie ahead.

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 France-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.