Home | News    Sunday 20 February 2011

INTERVIEW: Ambassador of Sudan to the UK vows to highten bilateral relations

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By Toby Collins

February 17, 2010 (LONDON) — Khartoum is keen to develop relations with London and to rebuild old strong relations after the independence of South Sudan, said Sudan’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom Abdullahi Al Azreg in an interview with the Sudan Tribune.

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Ambassador of Sudan to the UK, Abdullahi Al Azreg

Speaking from his grand office in the Sudanese Embassy opposite St James’s Palace, the Ambassador who is appointed last October said his ambition is to "bring back the golden old days" bilateral relations between Khartoum and London.

He further said that the international support to the new state in South Sudan would, not affect the interests of north Sudan when it comes to investment and trade with the outside world.

He studied in the U.S. and has a background in journalism.

In the following interview conducted last week, Al Azreg delivers his point of view and remarks on the recent protests in Khartoum, the South Sudan ruling party, SPLM, and North South Sudan relations.

The relationship between many Western countries and north Sudan has been changing recently. The rhetoric is less critical and the UK in particular is working towards improving trade relations, yet the politics of north Sudan seems to have changed little. How do you think this thawing of relations is related to the recent referendum vote?

I think this is before the referendum. The idea of expanding trade and having investment opportunities in Sudan was expressed last July by H.E. the state minister for foreign affairs in the UK Mr. Henry Belingham, when he visited Khartoum.

This was expressed by the British officials before the referendum.
It is an internal British policy after this new government came to power. They changed the policy and decided to engage with all countries, among them is Sudan, for internal British purposes.

An increase in trade would be in the best interests of both the UK and Sudan. We would like to have strong relations in all spheres with Britain. It is of mutual interest.

But we are doing fine: Sudan has managed to make a rate of growth that a couple of years ago reached two digits. In spite of the international world crisis, Sudan last year made an annual growth of 6.5 percent. Also, we have alternatives – we are doing fine with our friends in China, Malaysia, Brazil, Gulf countries, India and so on. However, Britain was our traditional market and I would love to see the old strong relation returned again.

The international community’s desire to trade with South Sudan may require them to tow a party line which is less favourable to north Sudan. Is this a concern for the Khartoum government?

I do not think so because to make big investments in South Sudan you need infrastructure and that is the thing South Sudan is lacking at this moment. On the contrary, in north Sudan the infrastructure is well established and we have our traditional markets and partners. Trading with South Sudan will never affect trade and investment with north Sudan.

The spotlight has been on South Sudan in coverage of the split. What do you think the future hold for an independent north Sudan and what challenges will it face?

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Queen Elizabeth II greets the Ambassador of Sudan, Abdullahi Al-Azreg during an audience at Buckingham Palace on October 19, 2010 in London, England (Getty)

We are very confident that now we will be better off because we spent a lot of money in the war in the south. Now we will save this money and direct it to investment and services for our own people in the north. The people of north Sudan are now homogenised. So our focus will be on development and investment in services, rather than on war and the negative side of life. We are very hopeful that the future is bright and resources will go to positive things rather than devastation.

The touch paper of recent protests across north Sudan seems to be pan-Arab revolt. Why were the protests in Khartoum much shorter-lived than those in Cairo?

The protest failed and died by itself for the following reasons:

1. There were about 200 protesters in the capital, which has a population of about 7 million.

2. For the people of Sudan, because our relationship is not very strong with America, they don’t look at us as puppets of America. In the Middle East it is damaging to have a strong relationship with America. You will loose the support of the masses if you are too close to America. If you are close to America, you are far away from the masses. This is one of the main reasons that leads to revolt, to the rebellion against rulers.

3. We have freedoms, real freedoms in Sudan. We have real parties, multi-party democracy. Real, underlined. We have an opposition that works freely. We have almost 60 papers that have all the freedoms to write whatever they like. We do not block the internet. We do not block the social media outlets. We do not block the mobiles. If you have real freedom this means you have life, liberties are guaranteed by the constitution.

4. So many countries in the world use the brutality of the police against people. We do not have that. It is impossible in Sudan to have police brutality because of our social fabric.

5. We have raised the prices of so many commodities, before the revolution in Tunisia, and the people did not take to the street because we have raised the salaries by 40% and we have increased the pensions by 40%, at the same time as when we raised the prices. We have also made something like cooperatives which sell commodities to people at cost price, especially in the capital.

These are reasons why people did not take to the streets in a massive way, against the government.

The burgeoning South Sudanese political sphere is dominated by the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM). North Sudan has been operating as a state for longer. Is there credible opposition to the National Congress Party (NCP)?

Honestly I cannot see a viable opponent to the NCP.
You cannot compare the NCP with the SPLM at all. The NCP is a real party and the SPLM is still something under the control of the armed forces, under the control of the SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army]. The SPLA controls the SPLM, which rules the South by force. It is impossible to rule the people of the north by force because we have had a tradition of democracy for a long time. This is something lacking in the South. The South, as a newborn state has not established traditions of democracy yet.

The ruling party in north Sudan came to power through free and fair elections (2010) that were observed by international observers: the European Union, Arab League, African Union and Carter Center observers. The SPLM did not come to power through that channel and to tell you the truth, and we rarely say this – the last election in the South was not free and fair and credible.

International observers condemned the electoral vote...

When they issued their reports, and they told us, I participated in the vote myself, Sudan was one. In the north everything was perfect. In the South there were a lot of problems with the election.

With the secession of South Sudan, and in light of the rebel movements in the east, west and far north of the country, is the threat of further splintering of north Sudan pressing?

I don’t think so at all. I think one of the main problems between the north and the south is the cultural divide. It was the main reason behind the war. Of course there were some political grievances and the south was not developed because of the war – the war devastated Sudan, but it had a far reaching effect for the south because it was the scene for the battles and bloodshed. It was quite unfortunate. There is no rebellion in neither in the east nor in the far north and in the west it has been reduced to bandits attacks rather than a rebellion.

When and if GoSS [Government of Southern Sudan] opens an embassy in London what will the relationship be between this office and theirs?

We will do our best to help them. They are our brother. We used to be in the same country. We have a commitment to good neighbourliness. It is natural for us to want there to be a good relationship between the embassy of Sudan and South Sudan.

Are South Sudanese staff in Sudanese embassies being recalled to Khartoum?

Yes. Diplomacy is a sensitive profession. There is no place in the world where foreigners work in diplomacy. To work as a diplomat you have to be a citizen of you own country. The ambassadors have already returned to Khartoum and the staff will return next month.

In several South Sudanese states voter turnout and pro-secession voting was more than 100%. How do you think this happened?

I have heard about this but this is no longer our affairs. This is the affairs of the people of South Sudan.

There is dispute over the future of Abyei, what would be a fair solution?

Very simple, allow the Misseriya to participate in the referendum because they are indigenous to the Abyei area. There is no way you can exclude them because they are not foreigners, they did not come from the moon. They were here, they have been here, and they will stay there.

What is causing the delays in the popular consultation vote in South Kordofan?

Why is there disagreement regarding the census? There is a preparation for a census to take place in April and the preparations are underway and they are going alright.

South Sudan has blamed north Sudan for their lack of development and infrastructure. As South Sudan has been operating as a de facto state for sometime without this progress, do you think South Sudanese opinion of north Sudan will change when progress is not achieved with immediately after statehood is announced?

I agree that development will not take place over night. It takes years and years. First you mend the infrastructure then you establish development projects. Infrastructure is lacking in the South. I cannot forecast what will be the reaction of the people of South Sudan.

About US$12 billion has been given to the Government of Southern Sudan during the last five years since the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] was signed and nothing came of it in terms of developmental projects. It is quite unfortunate but it is not our affair now and you can ask them about this.

As well as the protestors, it is alleged that journalists have been arrested in the recent unrest in Khartoum. What threat would these protestors pose?

They were not arrested because they were posing any threat. In the last election President Bashir got the trust of almost 90% of the population of north Sudan. So, they are not posing any threat. Usually they were arrested because they propagated wrong information that threatens national security, rather than threatening the government. They are communists and communism became a thing of the past. Never the less, if you are disseminating wrong information that threatens the national security it is only natural that a suit will be filed against you and you will be taken to court. We do not have political detainees, per se.

You said that there are no restrictions on internet usage in north Sudan...

This is only natural, we have some websites that are not permitted – pornography is something socially unacceptable. In our religion it is prohibited to see this. The culture does not allow it. If the Sudanese government allows it, tomorrow the Sudanese people will take to the streets in their millions, against the government.

What do you hope for future relations between the UK and north Sudan?

Bringing back the golden old days, where in this building 200 Sudanese were working to promote relations between the two countries in every walk of life. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of people were studying in the UK at a graduate and undergraduate level. I want this to come back. It is my duty to do it but I need the enthusiasm and support of my British colleagues. In Sudan we have a proverb – you cannot clap with one hand.

What is amazing is that the overwhelming majority of the people who are ruling Sudan graduated from with Britain or America. Still our relationship with America is not very good. Although these are the soft powers of both America and Britain. We have an affinity for both America and Britain – we want the relations to be stronger. We want the other side to understand this so they can make use of some of the soft power they have in Sudan, in terms of these who studied in both countries.

Is a successful or failed South Sudan is in the best interest of north Sudan?

A successful South Sudan is in the best interests of north Sudan. If the South fails this means an influx of refugees to the north. It would mean problems and wars and clashes. It is our policy and commitment to help the South make a viable state.

(ST)

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Kind regards,

The Sudan Tribune editorial team.

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