World donors pledge $1.8 billion for Sudan

International community pledges $1.8 billion at conference to drum up support for Sudan in bid to help crisis-stricken country battle economic woes after ousting of long-time dictator Omar al-Bashir.

BERLIN - The international community pledged $1.8 billion at a conference to drum up support for Sudan on Thursday, in an effort to help the northeast African country battle economic woes after the ousting of long-time dictator Omar al-Bashir.

"This conference opened a new chapter in the cooperation between Sudan and the international community to rebuild the country," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said at the video conference co-organised by Germany with Sudan, the European Union and the United Nations.

Some 50 countries and international organisations pledged a total of more than $1.8 billion, while the World Bank Group offered a grant of $400 million.

"This conference marks the start of a process, which will be followed by subsequent engagement by the international community to take stock of the progress made by Sudan in implementing reforms and to allow its partners to adapt their support accordingly," the conference's concluding statement said.

Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok called the conference "unprecedented" and said it laid a "solid foundation for us moving forward".

Sudan has been battling an economic crisis since Bashir was ousted by the military in April 2019 after months of street demonstrations against his three-decade rule.

Facing mounting cases of coronavirus, the country is now also grappling with acute medicine shortages.

Last week, dozens of pharmacists protested in the capital Khartoum holding banners that read: "Lack of drugs kills in silence" and "Medications are a right, not a privilege."

They urged Hamdok, who took office in August heading a post-Bashir transitional administration, to make funds available to import medicine.

Economic initiatives

Much of the aid pledged on Thursday will go towards economic initiatives, including Sudan's Family Support Program, which aims to provide assistance to millions of vulnerable people.

But direct help is also envisaged to enhance Sudan's efforts to tackle COVID-19.

The pledges included $356 million from the United States, which voiced optimism on Wednesday for a resolution in the coming weeks on Sudan's hopes to be delisted as a state sponsor of terrorism.

Washington first blacklisted Sudan in 1993 as Bashir turned toward Islamism.

Sudan's Foreign Minister Asma Abdalla said on Tuesday that the government was finishing a deal to compensate victims of the simultaneous 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Once the deal is complete, she said she expected the US to move ahead with the delisting of Sudan "as soon as possible."

Germany said it would contribute 150 million euros ($168 million) and France 100 million euros.

Sudan's new transitional government has sought to repair the country's international standing, but it still faces daunting economic challenges more than a year after Bashir's ouster.

The International Monetary Fund says Sudan's economy "contracted by 2.5 percent in 2019 and is projected to shrink by eight percent in 2020" because of the pandemic.

Other challenges include galloping inflation, massive public debt and acute foreign currency shortages.