The global scene has become increasingly traumatic due to the spread of the Corona virus "Covid 19” and its deadly consequences not only for human beings, but also to the economy of various countries of the world. The orientation towards providing safe havens for humanity from this pandemic has overshadowed the entire world the rich and the poor alike.
In retrospect, the world today is in need of greater solidarity, more than ever before, in order to emerge from the painful ordeal, which has put the world's health systems in an unprecedented and historic test. Paradoxically enough, the core of the crisis today, lies in the very globalization and its related connotations; openness and mobility, which we all have been promoting with pride, as it metamorphoses into a nightmare wherein the hazard is lurking; enabling the deadly virus to spread across continents, at an amazing speed, without the need for a permission or a visa.
However, even the worst situations have a silver lining; the deadly virus has eventually opened a window of opportunity for a country like Somalia; in response to the corona virus pandemic inter alia, came the announcement jointly made by both the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) of Somalia’s eligibility for debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative. Accordingly, Somalia will be eligible to receive new international funding for the first time in 30 years, including access to the IMF’s emergency aid grants. Besides, The Somali government will have more resources for social services. Banks and businesses will have easier access to credits and investments.
In return, such positive and laudable shift towards Somalia - widely welcome both regionally and internationally - has brought to the fore yet, another raffling contrast; another poor country like Sudan remains perhaps, the only country on earth today, from amongst the group of the heavily indebted countries and (LDCs), that has not yet benefited from the global initiative of debt relief schemes (HIPIC ) since its inauguration 24 years ago, due to seemingly loose, elusive and vague political grounds; all of Sudan’s painstaking attempts to that effect, for more than three decades were however, left in limbo and reduced to naught.
It’s to be noted here that Sudan's external debt has been part and parcel of the Cooperation Agreements signed in September 2012, between Sudan and South Sudan, whereby the two governments, with the blessing and encouragement of the African Union and the international community, have agreed on a temporary arrangement that has been called a "zero option" agreement. Under the "zero option" Sudan maintained the entirety of the pre split external debt stock, dating back in essence to early 1970s and 1980s.
The two countries have been postponing the agreement repeatedly ever since, due to the regression on the part of the international community, in honoring its commitment towards Sudan debt relief; Sudan should have been eligible for debt relief under the highly indebted poor countries (HIPC) initiative. However, Western donor countries for their own political purposes, continue to be hitherto reluctant to allow Sudan the economically crucial debt relief, raising shifting alibis and excuses ;sometimes the country's human rights record and at other times, the armed conflicts in Sudan’s peripheries.
There should be no mistake that the difficult living and social conditions which the Sudanese people have been facing for many years, cannot see substantial change, without the triggering of comprehensive debt relief, as has been typically the case with many of Sudan’s peers, ending currently with Somalia.
Heavy debt burdens and protracted sanctions have been unmistakably hindering all Sudanese sincere attempts to develop and fight poverty. Sudan's relentless and ongoing efforts to normalize its relations with the international community shall provide additional financial resources to support the economy, improve social conditions, lift millions out of poverty, and provide sustainable employment opportunities for the Sudanese people and shall place the Transitional Government in a better position to fight and contain the danger Corona virus.
Warning that Poorer countries will take the hardest hit by the COVID-19, especially ones that were already heavily indebted before the crisis, World Bank President David Malpass on Friday said poorer countries will need debt relief or restructuring so they can fund their fights against the corona virus pandemic.
Likewise, the World Bank Group (WBG) and the IMF have appealed to all official bilateral creditors to suspend debt payments from the world’s 76 poorest countries and enable them to redirect funds towards confronting the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sudan seizes this historic moment to appeal again and again to the world conscience in support of Sudan just cause; putting things right, putting an end to all politically motivated obstacles that continue to impede Sudan chances of benefitting, on equal terms with all other LCDs, from the global initiative of debt relief schemes (HIPIC), which proposed in essence to address problems like that of the Sudan.
In the same context, and in his recent interview with RFI, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed his personal support and solidarity with the French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for the international community, to make the African continent its top priority. According to him "We can still prevent the worst in Africa but without a massive mobilization we will have millions and millions of people contaminated, which means millions of deaths,” adding that Africa’s booming youth population will not be spared.
To that effect, United Nations called for rolling back international sanctions regimes around the world, saying they are heightening the health risks for millions of people and weakening the global effort to contain the spread of the new corona virus. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres wrote in a letter to the G-20 economic powers. “I am encouraging the waiving of sanctions imposed on countries to ensure access to food, essential health supplies, and COVID-19 medical support. This is the time for solidarity not exclusion, Guterres added that “Let us remember that we are only as strong as the weakest health system in our interconnected world.”
In line with the above, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, in coordination with other African leaders, called on the extraordinary virtual summit couple of days ago to discuss the challenge of Covid-19, to provide $150 billion for the continent’s response to corona virus. Abiy’s proposal calls for additional funding for African health systems, partial debt forgiveness, and support for distressed businesses, among other things.
That is why, given the fragile health situation in Sudan and the deteriorated health facilities and infrastructure - thanks to the protracted American sanctions - coinciding with perhaps the worst economic crisis Sudan is currently passing through since independence, it was anything but surprising on the part of the World Health Organization (WHO) , to start sounding the alarm ; Sudan is in a situation of danger in the face of the corona pandemic, attributed that to the seriousness of the pandemic and the country's ability to respond to any possible widespread outbreak of the disease in the country .
One needs volume to explain the current painful health conditions in the Sudan. Could anyone imagine that the total number of ventilators in Sudan’s possession - as we speak now - does not exceed eighty machines, besides two hundred intensive care hospital beds and small handful of ICU specialists? Even government-run containment facilities lack the ability to care for the sick for the necessary fourteen-day quarantines.
Given the fragile health situation in Sudan and the deteriorated health facilities and infrastructure with the number of confirmed cases day by day, Sudan is dire need of urgent assistance in terms of test kits, masks, ventilators, protective suits for health workers, to confront this crisis before it becomes a disaster.
In his article, Cameron Hudson of the Atlantic Council enumerated the efforts of the transitional government in Khartoum “Sudan’s transitional government should be applauded for many of its early efforts to deploy its limited resources wisely. Recognizing the potentially devastating health and economic effects of the virus, the government has focused on educating the public on prevention and mitigation efforts—demonstrating once again just how much has changed for the better in a post-Bashir Sudan.”
Citing different challenges ahead the article concludes “Beyond the basics of a functioning health care system or the compliance of a willing public, Sudan lacks the economic resilience required to withstand the near-term effects of the pandemic. The country is already suffering from a balance of payments crisis, an exchange rate crisis, and a massive debt and arrears burden that has seen the country unable to pay for basic commodities like wheat in recent weeks. Simply put, Sudan has virtually no fiscal or monetary policy tools left to deploy to cushion the inevitable blow that will come from a further loss of productivity, revenue earnings, and foreign exchange.”
U. N. Secretary-General António Guterres called for rolling back of international sanctions regimes around the world, saying they are heightening the health risks for millions of people and weakening the global effort to contain the spread of the new corona virus. In a letter to the G-20 economic powers, the Secretary-General wrote “Let us remember that we are only as strong as the weakest health system in our interconnected world.”
Sudan is richly endowed country in terms of natural resources and opportunities, history would never forgive those who sought and meant - in every way - to shackle, cripple and paralyze Sudan's potential, and its respective ability to transform all these resources and riches, for the good of its people and humanity at large.