World must aid Sudan transition or pay 'terrible price', UN warns

World must aid Sudan transition or pay 'terrible price', UN warns
Sudan has been embroiled in an economic crisis for years. The international community should help, a UN official has said.
4 min read
31 January, 2020
More than 250 people were killed during Sudan's youth-led revolution [Getty]
The international community will "pay a terrible price" if it fails to help rebuild Sudan's devastated economy as the country transitions to civilian rule, a top UN official has warned.

"The story of Sudan in year 2020 is not the story of the previous government," United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) administrator Achim Steiner told AFP in an interview during his visit to Sudan this week.

"It is the story in which waiting for too long to actually step in and support this [development] process may have a terrible price."

More than a year after the start of a nationwide protest movement that led to the ousting of longtime dictator Omar al-Bashir last April, Sudan continues to face a serious economic crisis.

Years of recession were a key trigger for the protest movement against Bashir's 30-year-old regime.

While Sudan inaugurated its transitional government led by a joint military-civilian council and a civilian prime minister in August last year, the country remains burdened with foreign debt of more than $60 billion, inflation of about 60 percent, soaring unemployment and chronic shortages of fuel and foreign currency.

Sudanese officials have called on the international community to facilitate the country's democratic and economic transition by enabling foreign aid, among other measures.

Steiner, the first UNDP chief to ever visit the country, has now joined those officials in urging international action.

"Here is a country in which the youth, and particularly the women, have not only managed to pull off a peaceful revolution in large part, but they actually have an agenda to build a developmental state," Steiner said.

"The international community must recognise how unusual and how extraordinarily helpful this is in a region that is otherwise providing more and more worrying news about political instability and about extremism."

Sudanese officials point to Washington's continued blacklisting of Sudan as a "state sponsor of terrorism", which makes international banking cumbersome and keeps overseas investors away. Crucially, it blocks Khartoum from receiving IMF and World Bank funds.

In October 2017, Washington lifted its 20-year-old trade embargo imposed on Sudan, but kept the country on the terrorism blacklist along with Iran, Syria and North Korea.

Removing Sudan from the blacklist is likely to take time, with Washington seeking assurances that Bashir's regime is being fully dismantled.

The US has also said Khartoum must dish out more than $2 billion in compensation for the victims to Al-Qaeda attacks perpetrated around the time the extremist group's leader was sequestered in Sudan - a hefty ask for the heavily indebted country.

Steiner said that for many, Sudan's blacklisting was no longer a crucial issue and he urged the US Congress to expedite the delisting.

He said the international community was taking Sudan "a little bit for granted".

"We are in danger of forgetting that Sudan... is actually a story that is more hopeful than it has been for 30 years. And are we missing an opportunity to actually lean in and support it?" said Steiner.

"We as UNDP... are certainly committed to increase our engagement. This is a win-win proposition."

Global financial institutions demand that Sudan launch widespread reforms to revive its economy, including cutting subsidies, which according to Steiner, should be done gradually.

"Our role and that of the World Bank, the IMF... is to come up with wiser and smarter advice than simply saying to Sudan 'Well, you are failing in your reform if you don't do x or y'," he said.

Sudan's transitional government has previously stated it will eventually remove fuel and other subsidies. With a cut to fuel and bread subsidies an initial trigger for the country's revolution and protest leaders refusing to endorse the move, Khartoum has so far been hestitant to commit to dropping subsidies.

Steiner lauded the new authorities for engaging in peace talks with rebel groups for ending conflicts in Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan.

Over the years, hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions displaced in fighting between Bashir's forces and rebels in these regions.

Steiner said it was up to the Sudanese people to decide what kind of society they now wanted, but they needed the help of the international community to build that society.

"When you are on your knees, when a previous government has raided the coffers of a nation for decades, you have to look to the international community to also be part of that recovery effort, and I think this is the story that is unfolding before our eyes in Sudan today," he said.

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