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The Peace dividend
Prosperity could lie ahead after years of conflict
Fifty years following independence, the oil-rich African state at last has a future, offering bright prospects following a landmark peace agreement which ended its long civil war

Sudan has emerged from the civil war with a stable, growing economy and even before the comprehensive peace agreement was signed, Arab and Asian countries were investing.

Five times the size of Texas and blessed with abundant natural resources, including possibly more oil than Saudi Arabia, Sudan should be a land of plenty. That it is not is due to more than 25 years of north-south civil conflict that held back economic development and left the southern part of the country devastated.

Now changes are foreseeable. Africa’s largest country has the opportunity to reach for a peaceful, prosperous and democratic future following the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) by the Khartoum government, based in the Muslim north, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) of the animist and Christian south.

A Government of National Unity (GNU) has been established, and includes representatives of the SPLM in senior positions. The new federal system is headed by President Omar Al Bashir and two Vice Presidents: First Vice President and leader of the SPLM Salva Kiir, and Second Vice President Ali Othman Taha, a former First VP.

“We have approached the formation of the GNU in a spirit of cooperation and partnership to meet the aspirations of the Sudanese people,” says Mr. Taha. “The opportunities are immense, and we are confident of success.”

A six-year recovery and development plan has been launched with the help of the U.N. and the World Bank. Billions of dollars have been promised in international aid.

Second Vice President of Sudan

Minister of Information Zahawi Ibrahim Malik says the CPA has laid the foundations of equitable sharing of power and wealth, and its successful implementation will eradicate all causes of future instability. “It is more than a year since we signed it, and I am optimistic it will hold. We are focusing now on development and reconstruction.”

Ministers are frustrated that coverage of Sudan in the international media has focused almost exclusively on the fighting between rebels and Arab militias in the western province of Darfur.

Beyond the headlines, there is genuine optimism about the prospects for Sudan’s future. “The images that are being projected in the media do not present a coherent picture of Sudan in any way. Sudan is not only Darfur,” says Malik Akar Ayar, Minister of Investment. “With international pressure mounting for a political solution to the conflict, ministers are eager to stress that the rest of Sudan has the peace and stability conducive to the foreign investment required to develop the economy,” says Second Vice President Taha. “With the end of two decades of civil war, Sudan is ready to develop all sectors of its economy, and exploit its huge range of natural resources.”

Dr. Sabir Hassan, Governor of the Bank of Sudan, points out that Sudan is fortunate compared to other post-conflict countries, because it emerged from the civil war with a stable, growing economy. “Even before signing the peace agreement, we were able to attract foreign capital. So far, we are receiving investment from Asia, the Arab world, and some European countries. The CPA will open the door to more European investment and maybe to American investment also. We have the potential and the right environment.”

We have approached the formation of the united government in a spirit of cooperation and partnership

The International Monetary Fund has predicted that, fueled by higher oil output and profits, Sudan’s economy could expand by more than 13 percent this year. Dr. Hassan takes a more cautious view. “We think it will be around 9.5 percent.” He says that sustainability of high rates of growth will require further liberalization of the economy through privatizations.

While American companies are still barred from direct investment in Sudan by U.S. sanctions, Asian nations and the Gulf States are seizing opportunities, particularly in the burgeoning oil sector. The Europeans are also starting to show interest.

The GNU has called on the U.S. administration to complement its peace-making efforts in Sudan by lifting economic and trade sanctions which, it is widely felt amongst Sudanese, work against the consolidation of peace.