Sudan is refusing to devalue the pound and impose other stringent reforms which are the price for bailing out its nearly bankrupt economy as demanded by the International Monetary Fund and its Arab investors.
Apparently mindful that riots and revolutions have accompanied IMF imposed reforms in other Third World countries, Sudan's president, Jaafar Nimeri, so far has refused soft loan package worth potentially more than $800 million.
Worked out late last year by the IMF, the package is said to have featured some $130 million in IMF help - and as much as $700 million in soft loans from Saudi Arabia.
In February, Nimeri went to Riyadh determined to convince King Khalid and Crown Prince Fahd that they should help him over his short-term problems. He argued this was the best - indeed the only - way to protect their multi-billion dollar investment programs designed to turn Sudan into the Middle East's bread basket.
But Saudi financial experts were reported to have convinced the top leadership that sidestepping IMF conditions would involve them in open-ended cash payments, such as those provided to similarly insolvent Egypt, albeit on a smaller scale.
Sudanese insiders do not expect the government to be able to delay some form of decision beyond June, when the new budget normally should be approved.
"An Adam Smith kind of man would have gotten it over with long ago," a western observer remarked. "But, maybe Nimeri thinks he's going to strike it big with some sensational oil find."
Left unsaid about the IMF demands are government fears of public anger after years of almost daily annoucements of new investment projects, implied promises of vast riches and rising expectations linked to Sudan's great agriculture potential.
The IMF is believed to have asked not just for devaluation, but also for significant cutbacks in government expenditures and in the ambitious multi-billion-dollar development plan which is aimed at tripling the present per capita income of $290 by 1995.
Government officials argue that devaluation will do little to solve Sudan's problems and only make the import bill for such necessities as flour and oil more expensive.
They talk vaguely of a two-tier system for the Sudanese pound over the next four or five years. Already it varies in value from the official $2.87 for official business to $2.51 for tourists, $1.67 for Sudanese workers remitting hard currency, and between $1.40 and $1.50 on free currency markets abroad.
One-third of Sudan's imports never show up in the central bank's books. They are listed as "nil value" transactions and involve barter deals whereby Sudanese workers abroad give hard currency to buy capital goods, such as trucks for use in Sudan.
The Sudan's problems reflect a classic web if Third World economics. The central bank had no reserves worth mentioning. The country's credit rating is near zero. Inflation is running officially at 25 percent, but that figure is considered a wild underestimation; foreign loans eat up nearly one-third of export earnings; the trade deficit is enormous, and the budget deficit is financed by printing money.
The country's only port - Port Sudan - is badly clogged. Sixty of the railways' 150 locomotives are sidetracked for lack of spare oarts, which are unavailble because there is no foreign exchange. Meanwhile, $30 million worth of peanuts for exports are waiting for rail shipment.
With only 375 miles of paved road, and chaotic shipping and air service, the country's inadequate infrastructure is undergoing supplementary strain because of massive projects, many financed by foreign - often Arab - investor.
Illustrative of the government's dilemma are reports that civil servants in the provinces have not been paid, and the steady drain of skilled and semiskilled workers to Saudi Arabia and other better-paying, oil-rich countries.
Some of those tensions surfaced recently in strikes - theoretically illegal - involving technicians demanding better pay.
Nor is there any real hope that the Sudanese economic problems will improve meaningfully in the immediate future. Foreign analysts estimate that the payoff from the big investment projects may require seven to 10 years before the country can reach anything approaching foreign exchange balance.