Good afternoon, bonjour. I want to extend my thanks to President Macron for his leadership in organizing this summit, and to Prime Minister Hamdok and Chairman Burhan for their comments, and their commitment to Sudan’s democratic transition.
Nearly 20 years ago, I traveled to Sudan under very different circumstances than I address you today. Standing in the high desert of Furawiyah, in Northern Darfur, amidst shallow graves and mortar craters, I witnessed as a journalist, the bravery and resilience of Sudan’s women—and the horrific lengths a brutal regime would go to suppress them.
In 2018, after weeks of massive protests against the country’s dictatorship, that same regime issued a chilling order: “Break the girls… and you break the men.” Cowed by the determined protestors—an estimated 70 percent of whom were women—the regime sought to target and arrest them, perpetuating sexual violence in some cases and threatening it in others.
But the plan backfired. The women did not break and their numbers swelled, their demands growing louder. So loud, that some men did “break”—a group of army officers, who were so disgusted by the targeting of women protesters, that they stayed home, defied orders, or even switched sides. The days of the dictatorship were soon numbered.
Let’s pause for a minute to reflect on what Sudan’s transition toward democratic rule has meant for the rest of us.
With illiberal forces surging around the world, Sudan has reaffirmed that: No matter where it beats, the human heart yearns for dignity. No matter how comfortable dictators feel, no matter how steep the odds they will step aside, those who hold on to power for decades are not immune to the will of their people.
No matter how inevitable certain trends can feel in the moment, it is individuals who shape world events.
The sweep of history—and whether it bends toward repression or justice—is constantly contested. The question before us all is: what are we going to do about it?
The U.S. will do all it can to support Sudan as it pursues its democratic transition. I commend the Civilian-Led Transitional Government for its political and economic reforms—especially Prime Minister Hamdok’s public support of women’s rights. It was these efforts, together with steps the Transitional Government took to redress the surviving families of terrorist victims—including that of USAID’s own John Granville—that led the U.S. to remove Sudan from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism.
That decision reflects our desire to partner with Sudan through this new phase and to reintegrate the country into the global community.
After decades of violence, and repression, it is time for Sudan to reclaim its voice in the concert of nations and to ensure the country can turn the page from its dark past.
That’s why it is so troubling, that as we celebrate this new beginning for Sudan, that Darfur is still the site of bitter violence, with escalating attacks between militias and the Rapid Support Forces. We know that the government of Sudan has deployed additional troops to restore calm, and we urge continued efforts to negotiate a stable peace in a region that has witnessed decades of horrific violence and trauma.
But this effort must extend beyond Darfur, to redress grievances and ensure that marginalized people across the country are protected and included in the country’s development. Sudan cannot embrace its bright future if it falls victim to ghosts of its past.
As the transitional government takes steps to ensure the physical security of the Sudanese people, it has already taken important strides to provide them economic security. The central bank’s decision to float the Sudanese pound, while difficult, will help promote long-term economic stability.
And additional planned reforms to private sector regulations, to be presented tomorrow, will help attract much-needed foreign investment to the country’s agricultural, energy, infrastructure, and information technology sectors.
But we, as Sudan’s lenders and partners, must do our part as well, helping clear the way for the country to prosper, and for our private sectors to invest in and trade with the country. The key to that effort is helping relieve the $50 billion debt that Sudan has accrued over the years.
The United States has been a strong proponent of debt relief since the inception of the Highly Indebted Poor Countries initiative in 1996. Over the last 25 years, we have provided full bilateral debt forgiveness to every country that reached its completion point. As Director van Trotsenburg confirmed, Sudan has cleared its arrears with the World Bank after the U.S. provided a $1.15 billion bridge loan—a crucial step to unlocking additional avenues of economic support.
Thanks to the governments of Britain, Sweden, and Ireland, it has also settled its arrears with the African Development Bank. And as we all heard today, France’s generosity in providing a similar bridge loan will clear its arrears with the International Monetary Fund—crucial steps to securing debt relief and freeing constraints on the Sudanese economy.
The United States is committed to providing grants to help fill remaining financing gaps and commends the European Union, Italy, and Sweden for their willingness to provide grants as well. We hope other countries follow suit. This support will be critical to jumpstarting the Sudanese economy and ensuring the country has additional resources to combat the primary and secondary effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Every so often—when the gears of oppression seem to be turning at full strength, and the odds of change seem long—there comes an image of such arresting power, that history itself seems to freeze before proceeding again in a new direction.
An image like that of Elizabeth Eckford, a young Black student walking with her head high as she attends her first day of high school in segregated Arkansas, surrounded by the hostile screams of her white classmates.
The image of a brave man, groceries in hand, defiantly standing in front of a procession of tanks in Tiananmen Square. And the image of a young woman activist, Alaa Salah clad in a traditional white thobe, standing on the roof of a car while addressing protestors in Khartoum, a sea of mobile phones capturing her every word.
Sometimes, as with the photo of Elizabeth Eckford, such images offer us a glimpse of a freer future that arrives soon after. Sometimes, as with the images from Tiananmen Square, they document the resolve and dignity of individuals, even if repression seems to win the day.
The question we are all here to answer today is: how will Alaa’s image stand the test of time?
In what direction will the history of Sudan—and the greater struggle for democracy around the world—be bent? As we grapple with this question today, we should remember Alaa’s own words about why she protested that day. “I wanted to come out,” she said, “and say Sudan is for all.”
“Sudan is for all.” May we all work to ensure it becomes such.
Thank you; merci beaucoup.