Sudan Recovery Plan: The Forgotten Pillar in Peace-making Efforts
By Magdi Mofadal
Regional and international efforts to end the war in Sudan, instigated by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) rebellion since the 15th of April 2023, have intensified recently. In these appreciated efforts, a very crucial element for Sudan’s future is widely forgotten.
The importance of a comprehensive plan for economic recovery and reconstruction, cannot be overemphasized.
It is the second pillar of the country’s path to peace, alongside an inclusive national healing, reconciliation, and justice process, that was covered in my last week’s piece.
Sudan Versus Ukraine
The preparations for this crucial recovery plan should have already started paralleling the mediation efforts. They can even overrun them, as in the case of Ukraine, where the Ukraine Recovery Conference started before any peace talks.
It convened two sessions in July 2022 and June 2023. In the latter ,59 countries,23 international organizations, over 400 businesses and 130 civil society organizations participated, and pledged more than $60 billion.
In the case of Sudan, the recovery plan is even more urgent and crucial. The extremely complex situation in the country makes the situation in Ukraine looks like “a piece of cake”. This will be illustrated below.
The RSF rebellion has been concentrated in Khartoum State, the country’s economic heart, from which more than 70% of Sudan’s GDP is generated. The level of destruction in this war is unmeasurable and may reach two hundred billion Dollars, or more.
The rebels systematically attacked, sabotaged, destroyed, or burnt down most of the state institutions. Ministries, research centres, universities, hospitals, schools, museums, and power and water facilities have been badly impacted and are used as barracks. Banks, factories, shops, markets, and businesses were looted, sabotaged, or burnt down. Private homes have been looted and used for military purposes.
Before April 2023 Sudan was passing through the worst economic crisis in its history. The secession of South Sudan in 2011 left Sudan’s economy tattering, when it went with about 90% of the country’s export earnings and over 60% of the budget revenue. It was the strongest blow to the economy, from which the country is still suffering.
The sanctions that have been imposed on the Sudan, by the United States since 1997 and lifted in October 2017, is another complicating factor. Up to now, one cannot easily make a financial transaction to or from Sudan through banks, let alone think of private foreign loans or investments.
Economic reforms introduced after the December 2018 revolution had negative macroeconomic effects. Inflation rate soared to more than 300% in 2022. The exchange rate deteriorated from 70 Sudanese Pounds to the US Dollar in April 2019, to over 600 Pounds in April 2023. Political instability since December 2018 led to capital flight and obstructed the flow of foreign investments.
Sudan has one of the lowest tax collection rates in the world, with only 3.4% of GDP in 2020 and 5.6% in 2021. Most of the state’s revenue collection has stopped since the start of the conflict. Wide destruction of economic institutions will make the resumption of revenue collection an unsurmountable challenge.
Global issues also have taken their toll on Sudan’s economy. Climate change stroke its backbone, the agricultural sector. It impacted all its sub-sectors: crop production, animal husbandry, water resources and forests. It contributed to unemployment, migration to urban areas, illegal immigration, and straining relations among peasants and pastural communities. The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lock down contributed to worsening a very fragile economic situation. The surge in energy, food, and fertilizers prices, due to the war in Ukraine, impacted Sudan, an importing country of oil, wheat, and fertilizers.
Compared with Ukraine, the process of developing and implementing a recovery plan for Sudan is going to be a real challenge due to the complexity of the economic situation, political and societal fragmentation and polarization, inadequate data, capacity challenges in some state institutions, and donor weariness. However, there is no alternative to this plan. Supporting millions of IDPs and refugees, from this catastrophe and previous conflicts, and all those impacted to re-start their lives is a real nightmare, as most of them lost everything.
The plan is expected to impact positively the peace process and contribute to sustaining peace. It will send a hopeful message to the Sudanese people, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. As the renowned American diplomat Goerge F. Kennan once wrote “A future so brilliant would surely wash away the follies and brutalities of the war, redress its injuries, and heal the wounds it has left”. The plan opens the way for this brilliant future.
The way forward
The preparation for this crucial plan should start immediately, as it requires tremendous efforts, creative thinking, and smart solutions. It can involve immediate, short term, and medium-term projects in different sectors. The humanitarian response plan should concentrate on the recovery efforts.
The recovery process can start in peaceful areas, which include most of the country’s states, including the breadbasket ones. There are some low hanging fruits to be picked. Provision of diesel and other inputs for rain-fed agricultural schemes and reducing post-harvest losses are important in having a good harvest. Water harvest projects, provisions of animal vaccines, rehabilitating natural pastures, proper preparation for the winter planting season in irrigated schemes are crucial in achieving food security, job creation, economic recovery, and societal stability. Rehabilitating cold storage and export infrastructure and providing market access for Sudanese products, cannot be overemphasized.
Promising short-term projects include, inter alia, rehabilitating public sector agricultural schemes and completing new ones such as Zadna 1 and Zadna 2, which are over 70% completed. In the energy and mining sector, increasing gold production, extraction, and refining; completing the rehabilitation works in the thermal generation plants; augmenting renewable energies; and increasing crude oil production, are essential. In the services sector priority projects include rehabilitating hospitals, schools, universities, water facilities and hotels, and reconstructing government institutions and building their capacities at all levels.
Other priority areas include rehabilitating banks, factories, and workshops; harnessing the energies of the Sudanese Diaspora; peace building projects; supporting SMEs; infrastructure rehabilitation and connectivity; macroeconomic and tax reforms; improving the investment climate; supporting the country to reach the completion point in debt relief within the HIPC Initiative; and resuming the Family Support Program.
Message to Sudan’s partners
Sudan’s partners need to remember some key points. Today’s cent, invested in early recovery programmes, will save the international community thousands of Dollars, to be spent tomorrow on IDPs, refugees, illegal immigrants and addressing regional peace and security challenges emanating from a state collapse in Sudan, God forbid.
Sudan has a great potential in food security. It is classified by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization among a few African countries that can contribute substantially to fighting hunger in the continent.
Internally, the recovery plan is vital for political stability and sustaining democracy in Sudan. The economic crisis and political fragmentation and polarization are the biggest threats to the democratic transition in the country.
Therefore, it is hoped that Sudan’s partners in the international community will look to the economic recovery plan in its wider context. It is a vital pillar that will have positive economic, political, social, environmental and security impacts in the country and beyond. Without it, the future of Sudan will be at risk.
The cost of instability in Sudan, for the region and the international community, will be incomparable to any support given to the recovery plan.
(Magdi Mofadal is the ambassador of Sudan to Austria. The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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