World Bank Chief in Landmark Sudan Visit, Focuses on Reforms

CAIRO (AP) -- The head of the World Bank held talks Thursday with Sudan's transitional leaders, focusing on the country's daunting economic challenges and a reform program the African nation is undertaking to overhaul the battered economy.

David Malpass landed in Khartoum late Wednesday, the first visit by a World Bank president to Sudan in around 50 years. From the Sudanese capital, he delivered a virtual address to the annual meetings of the financial institution and the International Monetary Fund on Thursday.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok called the visit "a historical moment" for his country, which is on a fragile path to democracy after a popular uprising led to the military's overthrow of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir in 2019.

"This transition can only succeed if it is anchored on economic opportunity for all Sudanese, irrespective of gender, geography, race, religion, or income level," Hamdok said. "Our economy requires deep, fundamental reforms."

Sudan embarked on what Hamdok called "homegrown economic reforms" last year. The program is meant to transform Sudan's economy and have the nation rejoin the international community after over two decades of isolation.

Battered by years of mismanagement and sanctions, Sudan was also plunged into an economic crisis when the oil-rich south seceded in 2011 after decades of war, taking with it more than half of public revenues and 95% of oil exports.

Sudan's government program, backed by the World Bank and the IMF, has included a series of austerity measures such as floating the currency and slashing fuel subsidies. The measures have led to hikes in the price of fuel and other essential goods.

Malpass welcomed Sudan's "bold reforms," re-engagement with the international community, and the clearance of its its overdue payments to the World Bank after the U.S. provided bridge financing of $1.15 billion.

The debt clearance has allowed the government to access new types of international financing for the first time in nearly three decades. The World Bank said in May it has allocated $2 billion to Sudan to finance big infrastructure projects along with others over the next 12 months.

Finance Minister Gibreil Ibrahim hailed Malpass' visit as a sign that Sudan's integration into the international community "is progressing in strides."

Malpass, however, warned about tensions between the generals and civilians in the government, which have increased over the past week after authorities said they foiled a coup attempt on Sep. 22.

"It's critical to avoid political slippages, because there is no development without peace and stability," he said.

Still, thousands of Sudanese took to the streets in Khartoum and elsewhere on Thursday to demand an exclusively civilian transitional government. The protesters also accused the generals of derailing its transition to democracy.