KUWAIT CITY, (AFP) — Oil-rich Kuwait is to host a two-day conference from Wednesday to try to attract aid and investment to resource-rich but neglected east Sudan, which was the scene of a decade-long rebellion.
More than 600 representatives of 39 countries, 28 international organisations and 73 non-governmental organisations will attend the December 1-2 forum hosted by Kuwait, organisers said.
“We expect countries to announce pledges for projects in the region,” the head of the state-run Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, Abdulwahab al-Bader, told a news conference.
The conference will discuss a total of 177 projects worth 4.2 billion dollars, Bader said.
Projects worth two billion dollars are investments expected to be taken up by private investors “while we hope to find the necessary government funding for the remaining 2.2 billion dollars worth of development projects,” he said. Mustafa Osman Ismail, an adviser to Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, said the projects are expected to be partially or fully completed over the next five years.
Main projects to be offered for investors and donors include a major dam at a cost of 600 million dollars, three cement factories for 450 million dollars, and roads and power projects at a cost of 430 million dollars.
The conference will discuss many projects in water, health and education at a total cost of two billion dollars.
East Sudan, an area the size of Italy and divided into the three states of Kassala, Al-Qadarif and Red Sea, is blessed with huge gold, oil and gas resources as well as vast uncultivated arable land.
And yet there is rampant poverty among the region’s five million inhabitants, most of whom live on less than two dollars a day, and child mortality and malnutrition rates run high.
Now it hopes to grab the world’s attention at the Kuwait meeting, to be attended by international organisations including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), World Bank and Islamic Development Bank.
“The region is in dire need of investment in infrastructure, human capital, and preservation of peace through new development,” Claudio Caldarone, the UNDP country director for Sudan told AFP.
“It is a region with high potential for growth and development … It has the only access in Sudan to the sea, it has the second best preserved coral reef in the world.
“There are also innumerable natural resources … (including) oil, gas, gold, marble and there is also… uncultivated arable land,” Caldarone said.
Caldarone agreed the region needs around four billion dollars for development.
The east of Sudan was the scene of a decade-long rebellion by ethnic minority groups against the central government in Khartoum that ended with a 2006 peace deal.
The Beja Congress, named after the region’s largest ethnic minority, and the Free Lions of the Rashidiya Arab tribe took up arms against Khartoum in 1994, protesting of an unfair distribution of wealth between Sudan’s regions.
The 2006 peace deal between Khartoum and their Eastern Front coalition promised government jobs and 600 million dollars for development over five years.
An East Sudan Reconstruction and Development Fund was established but little has been achieved, prompting increasing bitterness among the region’s inhabitants.
According to UNDP figures, 58 percent of the population in the Red Sea state and 50 percent of those in Al-Qadarif live below the national poverty line, surviving on 50 dollars per person a month.
With Sudan gearing up for an independence referendum for the south in January, easterners fear the donor conference will fail to raise funds for their underdeveloped region.
“The timing is not right because the country is heading for a referendum and investors don’t like to invest during risk periods,” said Abu Fatma Ahmed Unur, an east Sudan specialist.