October 7, 2009
The US-based Save Darfur Coalition is making a new push to deny debt relief to Sudan. The activists are aiming to counter lobbying by Sudan at the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank held this past week in Istanbul, Turkey.
The effort comes after a string of diplomatic victories this year for Sudan’s government, which include rallying support against the International Criminal Court, drawing the United States into a more open stance, and successful state visits to numerous African countries by Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir. Last July, Japan wrote off $28 million of Sudan’s debt.
Sudan’s external debt – totalling some US$34 billion, according to an IMF estimate current to the end of 2008 – is the second most in Africa. In a bid to reduce these obligations, Dr. Sabir Mohammed Hassan, Governor of the Central Bank, traveled with Dr. Awad Ahmed Al-Jaz, Minister of Finance, to meet with World Bank and IMF officials at the sidelines of the summit.
Sean Brooks, Senior Policy Advisor for Save Darfur, said that he went to Istanbul in response to news that the Sudanese would send a delegation. In informal meetings, he met with representatives of some of Sudan’s major creditors, urging them to weigh debt relief against Sudan’s progress on human rights issues and economic restructuring. Save Darfur had also sent a delegation to Pittsburgh for the same purpose, at the G-20 Summit of Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors.
Save Darfur Coalition aims for US President Barack Obama to lead an international coalition of Sudan’s creditors to condition any consideration of debt relief or debt servicing adjustments on progress in Sudan’s tenuous peace processes. Mr. Brooks stated that creditors should consider whether Sudan’s government demonstrates “concrete and lasting progress towards peace in Darfur, the full implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and significant structural political and judicial reforms that fundamentally change the repressive systems in Sudan.”
US Special Envoy Scott Gration has adopted a strategy of processing conditionally towards normalization of relations with the Government of Sudan. Mr. Gration has stated that incentives are more effective than pressures. Making an effort to deny debt relief to Sudan, by contrast, would be the sort of hard-line tactical move, involving a decisive exercise of American power, that has vanished from the Obama team’s plans for Sudan since they took office in January of this year.
The US State Department rebuffed an inquiry made today on their position on debt relief for Sudan.
In a phone interview from Istanbul, Mr. Brooks said that to his knowledge, no one at the State Department was pursuing the issue of debt relief as a pressure point, which he considers “a much more compelling carrot and stick than even sanctions, because blocking debt relief now is easier to coordinate on a multilateral basis than sanctions.”
The State Department has not endorsed the indictment against President Omer Al-Bashir, who is wanted for arrest by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. During a panel discussion in Pittsburgh – according to a webcast of the event – Mr. Brooks noted that the United States “has not yet made a diplomatic effort with smaller countries in the Middle East and Africa to support the ICC proceedings or support peacekeeping missions in Sudan.”
In a media statement, the Save Darfur Coalition labelled Sudan’s debt as “odious,” meaning that the foreign funds had been used to oppress its own people. “For a prosperous future in Sudan, it is necessary for the international community to rid the Sudanese people of this burdensome and odious debt created by the regime in Khartoum – but their leaders should know that first they must finally commit to extinguishing the flames and embers of decades of war in Sudan,” said Mr. Brooks.
Sudan is the country that accounts for 75 percent of the total arrears owed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), according to an IMF report dated August 18, 2009. Sudanese authorities reported to the IMF that they planned to pay only US$10 million to the Fund in 2009, compared to five times that amount in 2008, due in part to low levels of foreign exchange reserves.
The IMF and World Bank meetings closed on Wednesday.