Sudan: Partnership Conference - From Berlin to the Future

Fourteen years ago Sudan's bid to chair the African Union was thwarted following objection from the bulk of the member countries. It was an unprecedented event given the fact that the summit's host country usually gets its candidacy endorsed.

And that is why last Thursday's Sudan Partnership Conference meeting hosted by Berlin is making a landmark shift, where 40 countries, two international organizations and 13 development funds have attended sending a strong message that Sudan is back to the international community after decades of staying out in the cold as a pariah state.

The Berlin conference was intended to provide political as well as economic support to the country during the difficult transition period. The track record of such conferences show that they usually end up with pledges far short of the actual needs of the country they intend to help; and that disbursements fall short of original pledges and that a good percentage is recycled back to the country that disbursed the money to pay for some logistics, salaries and so on.

Yet despite that one has to bear in mind two factors that have unintended negative impact: the long standing issue of having Sudan in the US list of states sponsoring terrorism (SST), which is restricting the flow of aid specially from international financial institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, where American delegates are required by law to veto any aid to a country on SST list. And the other the Corona pandemic that have locked countries around the globe curtailing their ability to help. No wonder that Berlin conference took the virtual format.

However, there were encouraging signs that ought to be taken into consideration. On the top of these is the move by some of those attending to double their contributions, which signals their readiness to exert more effort to help Sudan. For instance the European Union, which has budgeted 31 million euros this year, announced during the conference that it is adding another 29 million euros, in addition to 251 million for development, 93 million for family support programs.

Germany, the co-host announced too that it is allocating 118 million euros for development, up from 80 million euros announced back in February, and 32 million for humanitarian affairs and a promise to work with Sudan government in the issue of the debt relief. France on its part has increased its contribution from $10 million to $60 million, in addition to 100 million euros in form of bilateral aid. And along the same lines the USAID announced that it is doubling its commitment ten times from last year's level to $356.2 million.

Even the World Bank went out of its way and despite the multi-billion arrears and proposed specific steps to help Sudan, namely to provide $35 million emergency health response to the Covid-19 from the trust fund that the bank administers. Besides creating a family support program that member countries can contribute mitigate the impact of the economic crisis on the vulnerable families. It is also working on a $400 million pre-arrears clearance grant that could be approved by August by the shareholders, which could eventually unlock Sudan access to $1.7 billion in the coming three years and open the way for other financial institutions.

However, despite its meager outcome in terms of actual mobilization of resources, yet Berlin conference has laid the foundations for a future partnership that has yet to explore its full potential. Changing the name from donors' conference to partnership should be more than mere semantics into something more tangible and credible.

In this respect one can single out as unique the pledge made by the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD) to provide $1 billion over a 5-year time span, or $200 million annually to be devoted to the agricultural sector. It is agriculture that is where Sudan can excel given its abundant natural resources and at the time warning signs of an impending food crisis have started to group.

It is not the first time regional and world attention are focused on Sudan trying to tap its huge resources. The 1970s and early 1980s have accumulated huge experiences that need to be explored, draw lessons and add to a new menu detailing the hoped for future partnership.

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