France’s Proposed Donors Conference To Salvage Sudan’s Economy And Support Humanitarian Needs – OpEd

From a global perspective and new geopolitical paradigm, France’s leadership efforts in organizing the next fund-raising humanitarian conference in mid-April for Sudan, highlights the significance and increasing role entire Europe could play in resuscitating the war-torn north African nation. This conference will serve as European model for cooperation. It will emphasize the benefits of diplomacy and promote far-reaching economic alliance over a hard side of geopolitics. It will primarily show the level of France’s commitment to and profound influence on socio-economic reconstruction and prioritized aims at strengthening cordial relationship with Sudan.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has already warned that the lean season during summer could trigger catastrophic levels of hunger. The United Nations is also stepping up closer at the humanitarian forefront. It has already set the alarm bells, urging well-to-do countries not to forget the civilians caught up in the war, appealing for $4.1 billion to meet their humanitarian needs and support those who have fled to neighbouring countries. Half of Sudan’s population – around 25 million people – need humanitarian assistance and protection, while more than 1.5 million people have fled to the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia and South Sudan, according to the United Nations. 

“It cannot become a forgotten crisis,” French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné told a hearing in parliament mid-February, fixing the conference on April 15. French diplomatic sources said the conference would bring together ministers from neighbouring countries, regional actors and stake-holders, Western and European countries  as well as UN agencies and non-profit organizations working in this specialized area. The conference talks will focus on the political situation, although the main warring factions were not due to be invited.

Analyzing today’s Sudan, aspects relating to politics, economy and socio-cultural and foreign relations, will be series of voluminous books. Notwithstanding that, during several years of the Omar al-Bashir administration, Sudan’s economy was largely shattered due to political tyranny, deep-seated corruption, extremely poor policies and lack of required development strategies. This largely resulted in nearly 80% of the population live far below the poverty line despite its boastful status of owning natural resources including huge oil deposits.

Omar al-Bashir era was shut after his long-anticipated removal from power. During the time of Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok, in June 2020, the United Nations, the European Union, Germany and Sudan convened an international conference, via video conference. It was, indeed, the first collective attempt to savage Sudan’s economy by foreign partners. It was a drastic step to support the political transition up to the elections slated in 2022. 

Some 50 countries and international organizations pledged more than $1.8 billion, while the World Bank Group offered a grant of $400 million. Berlin promised to make investments in areas such as water, food security and education. Germany urged the Sudanese government to invest in human rights, and further said it would contribute €150 million ($168 million) in aid to the sub-Saharan nation of Sudan.

Research for this article shows that Germany’s contribution was part of a total of €1.325 billion pledged by Western and Arab countries. The United Kingdom pledged €166 million and the United Arab Emirates €268 million. The EU said it would contribute €312 million, the United States €318 million, and France €100 million for various projects, among them cash transfers to families living in poverty, with the help of the World Bank, officials said at that online event.

“The people of Sudan have shown extraordinary courage and determination in their quest for change and peace,” UN Chief António Manuel de Oliveira Guterres said in a tweet at that time. “But unless the international community mobilizes support quickly, Sudan’s democratic transition could be short-lived, with profound consequences in the country and beyond,” he added, underscoring the financial help the new government needed to stay afloat.

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, in a compelling heart-touching address, called the conference “unprecedented” and said it laid a “solid foundation for moving forward” at least in the subsequent years. Sudan’s new transitional government has sought to repair the country’s international standing, but faced daunting economic challenges more than a year after Omar al-Bashir’s ouster. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) underlined the fact that Sudan’s economy “contracted by 2.5 percent in 2019 and projected to shrink by eight percent in 2020” due to the global coronavirus pandemic. Other challenges include galloping inflation, massive public debt and acute foreign currency shortages.

Taking cognizance of the current situation there on the ground, France is emphasizing the need for an early ceasefire and to begin post-conflict reconstruction. Generally, the European Union (EU) members are equally interested in establishing peace, ensure a return to political normalcy in Sudan. But EU still needs, to some considerable extent and in practical terms, to join forces in the country’s pursuit of political reforms and to make substantial economic leverage to the entire East African region.

By holding this collaborative humanitarian conference implies France’s diversity in approach towards raising Sudan’s development status, whose estimated population of 48.7 million (Jan. 2024) in abject poverty, and a large proportion scattered as refugees and homeless in the nearby countries, despite the huge endowed natural and marine resources. Sudan is situated in North Africa, with an 853 km (530 mi) coastline bordering the Red Sea. Sudan, under three-decade military dictator Omar al-Bashir, achieved little for the country.

After al-Bashir, from August 2021, the country was jointly led by Chairman of the Transitional Sovereign Council, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok, but that was abruptly brought to end due to political greediness and power-hungry military leaders. Abdallah Hamdok, an economist with experience at the international organizations, was dropped. In April 2023 – as an internationally brokered plan for a transition to civilian rule was discussed – power struggles grew between army commander (and de facto national leader) Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and his deputy, Hemedti, head of the heavily armed paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), formed from the Janjaweed militia.

First and foremost, who are these two military officers? General Abdel Fattah al-Burkhan is the Chairman of Sudan’s Transitional Sovereign Council (TSC) since April 2019, and is Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. He is described as a veteran soldier, and had long been one of Bashir’s reliable lieutenants – both literally and politically. Burhan and Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi are longstanding friends, though the Sudanese general has lifelong affiliations with the kinds of Islamist movements that Sisi has outlawed.

Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, widely known as Hemeti. Hemeti became leader of the Janjaweed, the Arab militias that brought death and despair to Darfur, and which have since morphed into the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). As head of the Sudanese Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces respectively, Burhan and Hemeti are both allies and rivals. Hemeti serves as vice president of the transitional military council, but his family and the RSF benefit enormously from their control of gold mines in Darfur, as well as from the patronage of the UAE and Saudi Arabia. 

Then again there were new worrisome developments. Both the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces are accused of committing war crimes, more than 5.8 million were internally displaced and more than 1.5 million others had fled the country as refugees, and many civilians in Darfur have been reported dead as part of the Masalit massacres. The two leaders have, however, made scathing remarks against these reports, constantly disparaging human rights organizations. Peace proposals have been turned down including those from the African Union.

But in reality, Sudan is not as poor as estimated. It has huge oil and gas resources. Reports say in 2010, it was considered the 17th-fastest-growing economy in the world and the rapid development of the country largely from oil profits even when facing international sanctions. According to the New York Times, Sudan’s GDP fell from $123.053 billion in 2017 to $40.852 billion in 2018. But still faced formidable economic problems poort to bad policies of the previous administration including that of al-Bashir and the current military officers without any economic-development-oriented aspirations.

Even long before the war began, Sudan has paid an excellent lip service to concepts like democracy, sustainable development and political sovereignty, while openly undermining them. Unlike its neighbouring leaders seriously engage in resuscitating their economy, and match words with actions, gun-twisting Sudanese leaders prefer war to peace, have grossly under-estimated peace initiatives (at least, power-sharing deals) that have been proposed by the regional bloc and the African Union.

Both sides have been accused of war crimes, including the indiscriminate shelling of residential areas, torture, and arbitrary detention of civilians. Several reports indicate that the conflict leaves millions in despair, over 700,000 children already suffer from malnutrition. And close to 18 million people are facing acute hunger. The war has killed more than 13,000 people, according to a conservative estimate by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data project. Some 7.5 million civilians have fled the fighting, according to UN figures.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Eastern Africa has suspended Sudan, after the Sudanese factions had utterly ignored adherence its efforts in achieving peace and security, and to fulfill commitments to stop fighting. Its renewed position, strictly based on a ceasefire as the critical first step. The Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council established the fact-finding mission in October 2023 with the aim of ensuring that those responsible for violations of human rights and international humanitarian law are brought to justice. 

Sudan’s armed forces headed by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan and the rival Rapid Support Forces, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who is known as Hemedti, have ceaselessly engaged in long-standing tensions, and have been fighting for control of political power in Sudan. Fattah al-Burhan seemingly kicked against the primary task to resolve the stalemate between political forces and the army, reshape the declaration towards the transition to the civilian government and political elections. 

Despite the above, the warring factions don’t care about the impact of their actions, sharp differences and positions on the country, and most importantly, the implications within the region. Condemnations have still and routinely flow in from the United Nations, the African Union, regional organizations and individual external countries. The African Union, European Union, and United States have consistently insisted on an immediate cease-fire and engage in constructive dialogue between warring factions in Sudan.

As always trumpeted, the global perception generally is that Africa remains as one of the world’s least developed regions, and deep-seated poverty despite its resources. In conclusion and for this argument, conflict resolution must be seen inextricably incorporated into pursuing development goals. The surest way is to adopt an African Solution to African Problems: Africa leaders must necessarily resolve to maintain peace and focus on sustainable development within the 2030 UN Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs) and the AU’s Agenda 2063.

Throughout its post-independence history, Sudan has had a troubled relationship with many of its neighbours. For example, Sudan and South Sudan have signed an agreement sharing the oil deposits, but both still have conflicts. With the emerging geopolitical changes which basically requires continental unity in Africa, and instead of adopting a more refined attitude, Sudan constantly pitches sharp differences with its neighbours. 

Sudan is located in northeastern Africa at the southern edge of the Sahara. It borders the Central African Republic to the southwest, Chad to the west, Egypt to the north, Eritrea to the northeast, Ethiopia to the southeast, Libya to the north. Sudan is a member of the United Nations, Arab League, African Union, COMESA, Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.