Macron cancels debt to help 'inspirational' Sudan

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.

French President Emmanuel Macron reacts as he takes part in the Act-A videoconference meeting with the African Union board at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, on 3 March 2021. Picture: Yoan Valat/AFP

PARIS - President Emmanuel 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.

Macron hosted Sudan's new leadership and other key African figures for a summit in Paris aimed at boosting Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok's drive for economic reform and investment.

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.

'MODEL FOR AFRICA'

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.

AFRICA SUMMIT

On Tuesday, a Paris 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, 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 was Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, making another journey to key ally France after his state visit in late 2020 enraged rights activists.

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.

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 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.

Download the Eyewitness News app to your iOS or Android device.