French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday sought to rally support for Sudan including debt relief at an international summit, praising the country as an "inspiration" in its transition.
The French government promised to lend $1.5 billion (1.24 billion euros) to Sudan to help it pay off its massive foreign debt, as Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok pursues economic reforms while paying off bills of some $60 billion.
France wants the Sudan summit to send a signal about the help African countries can receive if they embrace democracy.
Hamdok is pushing to rebuild a crippled economy and end the international isolation Sudan endured under former strongman Omar al-Bashir, whose three decades of rule were marked by sanctions and hardship.
"Despite the difficulties, considerable progress has been made since the fall of the old regime," Macron said in his opening address.
Hailing Sudan's transition as "an inspiration" and a "precedent", he said that the international community has "collective responsibility" to realize its goals.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said ahead of the summit that the $1.5 billion bridge loan would clear Sudan's arrears to the IMF.
"Rebuilding an attractive and resilient market takes time, but today I hope we will convince private investors that the fundamentals for business are fully there."
Hamdok told AFP in Khartoum in the run-up to the meeting that he hopes Sudan can secure relief and investment deals at the Paris conference.
Sudan's debts to the Paris Club, which includes major creditor countries, is estimated to make up around 38 percent of its total foreign debt.
"We are going to the Paris conference to let foreign investors explore the opportunities for investing in Sudan," Hamdok said. "We are not looking for grants or donations."
Sudan was taken off Washington's blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism in December, removing a major hurdle to foreign investment. But many challenges persist.
Also attending will be President Sahle-Work Zewde of Ethiopia, whose country has been locked in a long dispute with Sudan over water resources that has sometimes threatened to erupt into open conflict.
Several heads of state are also in Paris to discuss investment in Sudan, as is International Monetary Fund director Kristalina Georgieva, along with top European diplomats including EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
On Tuesday, a Paris summit on African economies will try to fill a financing shortfall of almost $300 billion caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Both meetings, held in a temporary exhibition center near the Eiffel Tower, present a chance for Macron to show himself as a statesman on Africa whose influence goes beyond the continent's Francophone regions.
The meetings will also mark a return to in-person top-level gatherings after the Covid-19 pandemic made video conferences the norm.
Among those attending both summits will be Rwandan President Paul Kagame in a rare visit to France as Paris presses for reconciliation with Kigali after a historic report made clear French failings over the 1994 genocide.
Also attending is Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, making another journey to key ally France after his state visit in late 2020.
Macron's office said he would also meet privately with Sisi for talks on the escalating conflict in Gaza, where Israeli forces again launched air strikes overnight in response to rocket launches by Hamas over the past week.
"France's goal is to stop the spiral of violence and support Egypt's mediation attempts," an official at the Elysee Palace told AFP.
Africa has so far been less badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic than other global regions with a total of 130,000 dead across the continent.
But the economic cost is only too apparent, and Tuesday's Africa summit will focus on making up the shortfall in the funds needed for future development -- a financial gap estimated by the IMF to amount to $290 billion up to 2023.