Sudan eyes economic revival as US lifts sanctions

Engineer Ahmed Abdallah, left, and other Sudanese citizens are looking forward to a brighter future after enduring decades of isolation from Western markets. (AFP)
Updated 07 October 2017
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Sudan eyes economic revival as US lifts sanctions

KHARTOUM: Up until a few years ago, Sudanese engineer Ahmed Abdallah used to manage his family’s expenses on his $400 monthly salary but he has since had to take out loans to make ends meet.
With the US State Department’s announcement Friday of an end to some of its toughest economic and trade sanctions on Sudan, Abdallah and his fellow Sudanese are looking forward to a brighter future.
“We’ve been barely able to survive as my salary cannot cover even our essential needs,” the private sector employee told AFP at his home in an impoverished neighborhood of Omdurman, the twin city of Sudan’s capital Khartoum.
“At times when several needs come together, it just becomes impossible,” he said as his four children played outside the family’s mud and brick house.
Economic conditions in Sudan have been mired in persistent fiscal deficits, high inflation and the trade embargo imposed by Washington in 1997 over Khartoum’s alleged support for Islamist militant groups.
On Friday, Washington announced that the embargo will be lifted from October 12, ending Sudan’s two decades of isolation from Western markets.
The financial sanctions had put restrictions on international banking transactions, exchange of technology and spare parts, and other cumbersome trade regulations have hampered economic growth.
Hundreds of factories have either closed or barely function, as importing equipment or machine parts directly from manufacturers is cumbersome given the restrictions on transferring funds overseas.
Sudan’s economy suffered a further body blow when the south split from the north in 2011 after a bitter civil war, taking with it the bulk of the country’s oil revenues.
President Omar Al-Bashir summarized the situation last week when he said the US embargo had “weakened the state and its institutions.”
For millions of Sudanese like Abdallah, it has been a fight for survival as inflation soared to 35 percent — the result mainly of high energy prices — putting even basic food items out of reach for some.
Experts say the lifting of sanctions will help revive Sudan’s dilapidated economy.
“Sudan lost access to new technology, because although the sanctions were imposed by the United States, even Europe and some Asian and Arab countries followed them,” said Mohamed El Nair, professor of economics at Khartoum’s University of El Mughtaribeen.
“Removing sanctions will help Sudan access new technology and international banking, in turn helping better manage its imports and exports.”
Although details of Washington’s decision are awaited, its impact will be felt across several sectors but especially transport, education and health care, he said.
Sudan’s aviation sector is expected to benefit hugely, El Nair added, as Airbus and Boeing had refused to provide Sudanese airlines with new planes or spare parts for existing fleets.
But the lifting of sanctions alone will not revive the economy, he said, adding that Khartoum must take measures to boost productivity.
“It has to cut expenses, fight corruption and improve the overall investment environment,” El Nair said.
Prior to the secession of the south, Sudan used to attract about $5 billion in foreign investments annually. That figure has now slumped to below $2 billion on a moderate economic growth of 3.5 percent in 2016.
The International Monetary Fund has called for “bold and broad-based reforms” to kick-start economic growth.
“More needs to be done to turn the tide toward sustained macroeconomic stability and broad-based growth,” it said in a recent report.
Traders in Khartoum expect their business to pick up.
“Our business fell after the price of meat rose 45 percent from last year,” said Tareq Diab, manager of a Khartoum-based butcher.
Even sectors like meat production will be impacted by the lifting of sanctions, he said, as it needs new technology and imported livestock.
For Abdallah the lifting of sanctions means new jobs for tens of thousands of unemployed youths.
“New companies from France and America will come to Sudan, which means new jobs, new investments,” he said. “This will increase my salary too.”
Until that actually happens, it’s a “balancing act” for his wife Shahinda Adel when managing household expenses.
“Our income is limited, so I just tell my children the truth that I won’t be able to buy everything they want,” she said.


Twitter suspended 58 million accounts in 2017 fourth quarter

Updated 5 min 50 sec ago
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Twitter suspended 58 million accounts in 2017 fourth quarter

NEW YORK: Twitter suspended at least 58 million user accounts in the final three months of 2017, according to data obtained by The Associated Press. The figure highlights the company’s newly aggressive stance against malicious or suspicious accounts in the wake of Russian disinformation efforts during the 2016 US presidential campaign.
Last week, Twitter confirmed a Washington Post report that it had suspended 70 million accounts in May and June. The cavalcade of suspensions has raised questions as to whether the crackdown could affect Twitter’s user growth and whether the company should have warned investors earlier. The company has been struggling with user growth compared to rivals like Instagram and Facebook.
The number of suspended accounts originated with Twitter’s “firehose,” a data stream it makes available to academics, companies and others willing to pay for it.
The new figure sheds light on Twitter’s attempt to improve “information quality” on its service, its term for countering fake accounts, bots, disinformation and other malicious occurrences. Such activity was rampant on Twitter and other social-media networks during the 2016 campaign, much of it originating with the Internet Research Agency, a since-shuttered Russian “troll farm” implicated in election-disruption efforts by the US special counsel and congressional investigations.
Suspensions surged over the fourth quarter. Twitter suspended roughly 15 million accounts last October. That number jumped by two-thirds to more than 25 million in December.
Twitter declined to comment on the data. But its executives have said that efforts to clean up the platform are a priority, while acknowledging that its crackdown has affected and may continue to affect user numbers.
Twitter said in April it had 336 million monthly active users, which it defines as accounts that have logged in at least once during the previous 30 days. The suspended accounts do not appear to have made a large dent in this number, which was up 3 percent from a year earlier. Twitter maintains that most of the suspended accounts had been dormant for at least a month, and thus weren’t included in its active user numbers.
Michael Pachter, a stock analyst with Wedbush Securities, said he thinks the purge late last year may have been part of an initial sweep of inactive accounts that had little effect on activity or advertising revenue. But he said he expected advertising revenue to fall 1 to 2 percent due to the more recent purge last week, when Twitter said it was removing frozen accounts from follower counts.
He expects the company to be upfront about the impact when it announces quarterly earnings on July 27, and said the cleanup is good for users and advertisers. “They’re certainly doing the right thing,” he said.
Scott Kessler, an analyst with CFRA who has a “sell” rating on Twitter stock, said multiple reports and vague clarifications by executives are creating uncertainty about what Twitter’s numbers really mean.
The purge activity “adds a level of uncertainty,” he said. “As an analyst, I want a more genuine view of the user base.”
Chief Financial Officer Ned Segal said in February that some of the company’s “information quality efforts” that include removing accounts could affect monthly user figures. Segal offered no specifics.
Six months later, in late June, Twitter disclosed that its systems found nearly 10 million “potentially spammy or automated accounts per week” in the month of May, and 6.4 million per week in December 2017. That’s up from 3.2 million per week in September. The company didn’t say how many of these identified accounts were actually suspended.
Following the Post report, which caused Twitter’s stock to drop sharply, Segal took to Twitter to reassure investors that this number didn’t count in the company’s user metrics. “If we removed 70M accounts from our reported metrics, you would hear directly from us,” he tweeted last Monday .
Shares recovered somewhat after that tweet. The stock has largely been on an upswing lately, and more than doubled its value in the past year.
Twitter is taking other steps besides account deletions to combat misuse of its service, working to rein in hate and abuse even as it tries to stay true to its roots as a bastion of free expression. Last fall, it vowed to crack down on hate speech and sexual harassment and CEO Jack Dorsey echoed the concerns of critics who said the company hasn’t done enough to curb such abuse. – AP