Home | Comment & Analysis    Friday 7 September 2012

A wet but warm welcome from Khartoum

By Peter Tibber, the new ambassador of the United Kingdom in Sudan

We (my wife, Eve, and I) arrived nearly two weeks ago. As the doors of the aircraft opened so too did the heavens. We got soaked as we dashed the short distance from the foot of the aircraft steps to the waiting vehicle. It wasn’t the weather we were expecting. But it was more than compensated for by the warm welcome we received from the representative from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs..

It poured too when we got married nearly 30 years ago. All our guests told us that a rainy wedding foretold a happy marriage. And so it has proved. Maybe a rainy arrival in Sudan signals a happy posting here. I certainly hope so. Rain is good for Sudan, though sadly it has also brought death and displacement.

We arrived in the last days of Ramadan. It’s a nice time to arrive as people take time to reflect on things beyond the immediate and to recharge spiritual batteries. It’s given me the opportunity to start meeting people informally at a couple of Iftars and to make some Eid calls. The joy of Eid has been dimmed by the plane crash which killed Minister Ghazi al-Sadiq Abdel Rahim, and several other senior Sudanese. I send my heartfelt sympathies to the families of the deceased. The Minister for Africa, Mr Bellingham has written formally to Foreign Minister Karti to express our condolences.
I was told before I came here about the traditional Sudanese warmth and hospitality. I am already experiencing it at first hand. We received our first dinner invitation before we had even arrived here. The conversations I have had over Eid have been universally warm and welcoming.

That is a reflection of Sudanese culture. But I think, I hope, it is also a consequence of the ties between us. We go back a long way. We have shared some history. Many Sudanese have lived or studied in the UK. One of my first early impressions is of the strength of the educational links. There is a thirst to learn English.

We are here to work with Sudan to deal with the challenges it faces: challenges of conflict, of development in the broadest sense and of poverty. As my predecessor pithily put it: build peace and reduce poverty. We want to enable better lives in Sudan. This is an end in itself. But it’s not just altruism. Frankly it’s in our interests just as much as in the interests of Sudan. We spend over £150m a year on Sudan. More peace means less need for peacekeepers. Less poverty means less need for development assistance.

Of course, the prime responsibility for dealing with a country’s issues, here or anywhere else, lies with the Government and people of that country. But we believe we can make a contribution, and more importantly, so do many in Sudanese. Some of that help is practical; bringing humanitarian relief or better access to clean water to those that need it. Some of it is about working with institutions of Government and civil society

We have been doing this for some time. We’ve invested heavily in helping to end conflict, most notably through the Comprehensive Peace Agreement process that led to the creation of South Sudan. Here, too, the primary credit must go to Sudan itself. The process is not complete and we will continue to play a supporting role when the negotiations resume shortly in Addis.

I hope that through my own role here, and the activities of this embassy, we will be able to make a contribution. My ambition is to work with the Government and people of Sudan to help make this a better place for all. And if at the end of my posting I have made even small progress in that direction and in building the ties between our two countries the soaking I got on first arrival here will have been well worth it.