The Republic of Sudan has officially joined the “Better than Cash Alliance,” a UN Capital Development Fund initiative, in an effort to encourage the use of digital payments.
The move aims at facilitating urgent aid needed to fend off the Covid-19 pandemic within the country, while forming a more inclusive financial ecosystem for people that have no access to banks.
Sudan makes up the northern part of a country which in 2011 was separated to form the new state of South Sudan. Three quarters of the former population live in the north, where mobile market penetration is far higher.
The U.N. alliance’s goal is to promote and help build digital payment systems as a way to advance sustainable development goals for emerging economies. The group has 75 members including governments, companies and international corporations.
“Digital payments will improve financial inclusion and transparency throughout Sudan’s vast territory, especially in conflict-affected regions, help stem corruption, and build a more direct link between citizens and the state,” said Ibrahim Elbadawi, Sudan’s Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, in a press release announcing the country’s membership in the U.N. alliance.
Elbadawi added that this digital transition will ensure equitable access to resources and government services, and revitalize the private sector, which are central to the country’s efforts to achieve a just and lasting peace and revive the national economy.
The economy has performed poorly in recent years, with hyperinflation resulting from the effects of having lost much of its oil reserves to South Sudan and to domestic volatility and social unrest. The country remains subject to United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions which include (inter alia) an arms embargo, travel bans, and a freeze on certain assets.
Establishing a Digital Transformation Agency
Sudan’s enrollment in the UN’s initiative paves the way for the creation of a national Digital Transformation Agency, which will spearhead the modernization of government services, as well as boost a planned Family Support Program expected to start in the second half of the year with financing from the Sudan government and partners including the U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP).
Founded in 2012, “Better than Cash” includes 75 members, spanning government, the private sector, and the development community.
The entity works towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals by sharing “action-oriented” research, delivering advisory services, and conducting “advocacy at national, regional and global level” relating to the transition from cash-based to digital payments.
“The vision of the Government of Sudan to ensure nearly universal digital basic income is truly inspiring! Over 30 million Sudanese men and women will benefit from getting government assistance in a speedy, safe and transparent way, giving them new economic opportunities,” said Dr. Ruth Goodwin-Groen, Managing Director of the alliance.
In parallel, the Sudanese government has increased its efforts and support of local fintech SMEs and banks to develop a setlist of digital banking services throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
According to numbers by the World Bank, almost 66 percent of the sub-Saharan Africa population does not have access to, or does not use, banks and other financial services.
Visa now available in Sudan
A plethora of private companies and governmental agencies are stepping up efforts to introduce a number of digital financial services throughout the African nation.
Following former President Omar al-Bashir’s fall from power, a number of foreign companies are looking to invest in Sudan’s services sector in the wake of lifting worldwide sanctions.
An example of this can be seen through electronic banking services which operates an e-payment network for Sudan’s central bank, announced in March that the Bank of Khartoum, the local arm of Qatar National Bank, and United Capital Bank, all were granted licenses to work with Visa in the country.