Macron hosts African leaders after extending $5 billion debt relief to Sudan

“Sudan can be a model for Africa and the Arab world,” said Macron.
Tuesday 18/05/2021
French President Emmanuel Macron, left, meets European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and African Union (AU) Commission Chairman Moussa Faki at the Paris summit, May 18, 2021. (AFP)
French President Emmanuel Macron, left, meets European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and African Union (AU) Commission Chairman Moussa Faki at the Paris summit, May 18, 2021. (AFP)

PARIS - French President Macron hosts Tuesday hosts African leaders and chiefs of global financial institutions for a summit meeting that will seek to provide Africa with critical financing swept away by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Africa has so far been less badly hit by the pandemic than other global regions — with a total of 130,000 dead across the continent.

But the economic cost is only too apparent, with the International Monetary Fund warning in late 2020 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 in April last year by the G20 and the Paris Club, a group of creditor countries that tries to find sustainable solutions for debtor nations, 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.

The summit gets underway at 1100 GMT and winds up with a 1600 GMT press conference with Macron and Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, whose country holds the rotating African Union presidency.

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 3.0 percent rather than 6.0 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.

The summit comes a day after a conference on Monday attended by several heads of state, that aimed at rallying support for the Sudan government under Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in the transition after the 2019 ousting of longtime strongman Omar al-Bashir.

‘Model for Africa’

Macron on Monday said France would cancel almost $5 billion in debt owed by Sudan, hailing the African nation as an “inspiration” in its transition after years of authoritarian rule.

The French leader made clear the biggest priority for making progress would be to rid Sudan of its “burden” of debt, which amounts in total to some $60 billion, adding that he hoped other creditors would follow suit.

“We (France) are in favour of an outright cancellation of our debt to Sudan” which amounts to “nearly $5 billion”, Macron said after the summit.

Hamdok called the summit a “major achievement in the right direction of our transition”, adding: “What we did on the debt front is marvellous.”

The head of Sudan’s civilian-military ruling council General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said “the people of Sudan will never forget this gesture” adding that it would open the way “for other creditors” to make similar moves.

Hamdok is pushing to rebuild a crippled economy and end the international isolation Sudan endured under former strongman Omar al-Bashir, whose three decades of rule were marked by sanctions and hardship.

“Despite the difficulties, considerable progress has been made since the fall of the old regime,” Macron said in his opening address.

Hailing Sudan’s transition as “an inspiration” and a “precedent”, he said that the international community has “collective responsibility” to realise its goals.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said ahead of the summit that a $1.5 billion bridge loan would clear Sudan’s arrears to the IMF.

“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,” he said.

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.

Macron praised the Sudan revolution that in 2019 ousted Bashir as “post-Islamist” and said it had been unique in the region in putting an end to a regime that used political Islam.

“Sudan can be a model for Africa and the Arab world,” he said.

“It is our duty to help you succeed and to accompany the courageous women and men who have put an end to obscurantism.”

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.

Both meetings, held in a temporary exhibition centre 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 mark a return to in-person top-level gatherings after the Covid-19 pandemic made video conferences the norm.

Among those attending both summits was 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 were Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Tunisian President Kais Saied.

Macron’s office said he met privately with Sisi for talks on the escalating conflict in Gaza, where Israeli forces again launched air strikes overnight in response to rocket launches by Islamist group Hamas over the past week.