Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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  S.E.M. / H.E. Abdelbasit Badawi Elsanosi

Unity and Reconstruction, Keys to a Successful transition


Bolstered by the historic peace agreement between the government and southern-based rebels, yet still roiled by the ongoing conflict in Darfur, Sudan step’s back onto the international stage by hosting the African Union Summit. H.E. Abdelbasit Badawi Elsanosi, the Ambassador of Sudan to France who has devoted the past four years to enhancing Franco-Sudanese ties, talks about the stacks of the political and economic transition his country has started 50 years after its independence.

The Diplomatic Letter: Mr. Ambassador, after two years of intensive negotiations, the 20-year civil war was finally put to an end on 9 January 2005, with the signing of a peace agreement in Nairobi, Kenya. Has the July 9th death of John Garang, the longtime leader of the SPLM (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement), had an impact on the peace process?


H.E. Abdelbasit Badawi Elsanosi: The final peace agreement, signed on 9 January 2005, is indeed an historic agreement. It is comprised of a series of accords on various issues involved in a dispute that pitted the North against the South. The final agreement addresses things such as power- and wealth-sharing, the ceasefire, and the details of the interim period. We began to implement these accords in July 2005, when the leaders of the former rebel movement SPLM/A returned to Khartoum. But a tragic event occurred shortly thereafter. The sudden death of Dr. John Garang, the leader of the SPLM/A, was a great shock to all of us. It was a test, of sorts, not only of the peace agreement, but of both parties’ will to carry through with their commitments. This was clearly the most detrimental thing that could have happened to our country.

And yet I truly believe we have pulled through this ordeal reasonably well. Feelings of mutual misunderstanding were short-lived. SPLM/A members, clearly the most deeply affected, elected Dr. John Garang’s successor shortly after. Salva Kiir was sworn into office a few weeks later, in Khartoum. The timetable laid out in the peace agreement has been respected, with the creation of a new national unity government as well as special commissions, starting with the Petroleum Commission and a commission to oversee the peace accords.


T.D.L.: The December 5th ratification of the Interim Constitution of Southern Sudan by Salva Kiir Mayardit, John Garang’s successor, was the first major step towards the implementation of the peace agreement. In what areas is the Sudanese government cooperating with the SPLM/A? Are you following a specific timetable for key measures, such as dividing oil revenues? President Omar al-Bashir set up a special Petroleum Commission to oversee oil revenues in October 2005. What else is being done to ensure greater transparency in this all-important sector?


H.E.A.B.E.: It is important to understand that setting up joint commissions to oversee the implementation of the peace agreement in key areas, such as dividing our economic resources, is in the best interest of everyone in Sudan. Generally speaking, we have forged close ties between all the different government members, whether they belong to the National Congress Party, the SPLM, or another party. The idea of creating a new national currency, for instance, has been widely debated in recent months. As concerns petroleum, more specifically, this sector is being closely coordinated by the Minister of Energy and Mines, Awad Ahmed al-Jaz, along with government ministers who came from the SPLM. In fact, funds have already been transferred to the southern province. I can also quote personal accounts from a variety of foreign entrepreneurs, many of them French, on how Sudan’s oil revenues are being used. A good number of infrastructures, such as roads and dams, have already been built or are under construction. Our hotel industry has also benefited from this economic recovery. Khartoum’s hotels are overflowing. Capital is pouring in from all over, including Europe and the Gulf, and especially from Saudi Arabia. This newfound dynamism bears testimony to our country’s wide potential.


T.D.L.: Three years after the outbreak of war in Darfur, the United Nations estimates that this conflict has killed at least 180,000 people and displaced nearly two million more. How do you account for the difficulties of talks with rebel leaders ? They are demanding greater power sharing and a redrawing of the borders between Darfur and Khartoum. What must be done to reach an agreement that puts this armed conflict to an end once and for all?


H.E.A.B.E.: The problems encountered at the Abuja talks were due, above all else, to differences between the various rebel movements. Everyone worked hard to build unified positions, the Sudanese government included. The government approved a conference between the two main rebel groups, on territory controlled by Sudanese authorities and in two different provinces: in Al-Fashir, in northern Darfur, and in Ashkanida. This may well be a world’s first.

These efforts have been made with support from other intermediaries, such as the United Nations and the African Union. But we have also been helped by third-party countries like Libya, which is working to help unify the varying positions taken by the people of Darfur, bringing together tribal leaders and other regional dignitaries with the aim of organizing a general conference. This idea was originally put forward by the Sudanese government, as a way of preparing its reunion with the children of Darfur. The government is doing its utmost to reach an agreement and to find a peaceful solution to the problem and tragedy of Darfur.

We did make strides, nevertheless, at the talks recently held in Abuja, which holds out hope for striking a framework agreement on Darfur in the very near future. The United Nations representative said the talks went reasonably well. The talks have already made headway on wealth sharing as well as security arrangements, which are still under discussion. We have yet to tackle the issue of power sharing. I would also like to underscore the fact that the Sudanese government delegation was comprised, for the very first time, of SPLM representatives.  


T.D.L.: Sudan is facing a good many challenges, including the return of refugees to South Sudan and Darfur, the reintegration of rebel armies, ongoing unrest in the northeast, and a changing political landscape. What do you think could be done to shore up the national reconciliation process? How will it be affected by the referendum on self-determination, set to be held at the close of the 6-year Interim Period?


H.E.A.B.E.: The problems Sudan is currently facing are as wide as our country’s geographic expanse and diversity. We had to start by resolving the most difficult problem: the problem of South Sudan. That said, the agreement struck between the government and the SPLM goes well beyond the scope of a simple accord between two parties. It lays the foundation for a future built on democracy, dialogue and entente between the children of Sudan. This all-important phase is, in fact, already underway. Our new constitution calls for free and democratic participation by all political parties, freedom of the press, and respect for human rights. It institutes a clear return to democratic life in Sudan. Political parties are now fully authorized. Several newspapers are operating in complete freedom, even criticizing the government from time to time. In the political arena, our current government has been in office for three months now. It is comprised of sixteen different leanings and political parties. As required by the terms of the peace agreement, representatives of other political forces now hold 14% of posts, alongside government members and members of the SPLM. General Abdul Rahman Saeed, for instance – one of the government’s staunchest opponents, who returned to Sudan on 14 December 2005 after 16 years in exile – will take over the technology and science portfolio. Others have opted to remain in the opposition, like former Prime Minister Sadek el-Mahdi, head of the Oumma Party, and Hassan El Tourabi, a well-known Islamic figure. Everyone is free to participate in our political life, working within a democratic framework, either within the government or in the opposition.

Six years from now, a referendum will be held   in Sudan. We, obviously, hope that our country’s unity will be upheld. Our position on this is clearly not neutral. Be that as it may, we have promised to give the people of South Sudan an opportunity to voice their will. Their right to do so is recognized in the peace agreement, but this same accord also stipulates that both parties – the government and the SPLM – must do their best to safeguard the country’s unity. We are accordingly working to that end, with full respect for the law.

I would, nonetheless, like to remind you that before this referendum, other extremely important commitments must be met. Three years from now we will hold legislative and presidential elections, monitored by the international community. These elections will give our political parties their first opportunity to put forward candidates in a free political race, allowing them to measure their real weight on the political scene. But first and foremost, these elections will mark the end of the Interim Period.


T.D.L.: The international community has supplied substantial assistance to help stabilize and rebuild your country, as reflected by the April 2005 Oslo Donors’ Conference. The African Union is playing a leading role in this arena. Has this aid produced concrete results? What can be done to bolster these efforts, working in partnership with your government?


H.E.A.B.E.: We have always favored an “African solution”, because Africans are experiencing much the same problems all across the continent. We hope that the international community will support the African Union’s efforts, especially with regard to financial and logistical assistance. The international community is showing clear support, but I think it will have to step up its efforts even further to enable the African Union to truly fulfill its mission, in the best possible conditions.   A great deal of promises were made at the Oslo Donor’s Conference on Darfur, as well as on the global stage. We certainly hope to see them carried through. But at this point, we do not get the impression this is being done. A number of countries have linked their assistance to the resolution of the Darfur conflict. We think this a dangerous approach, in that if it continues, it could hurt our peace agreement with the South, as the SPLM has underscored. This peace agreement must translate into concrete steps forward. It must lead to the creation of logistical aids, infrastructures, and, above all, new means of transport. We must convince the people of Sudan that this agreement is good for something. If these promises are kept, it might eventually prompt the rebels in Darfur to come up with a solution.


T.D.L.: Could you summarize the top priorities in the drive to rebuild your country, in light of its vast oil and farming resources? What is Sudan doing to attract more foreign investors and diversify its economic partnerships?   What are some of the major projects being launched to tap your country’s economic potential?


H.E.A.B.E.: Everything is a priority, generally speaking. The return of displaced persons is especially important. But before this happens, we must first build the infrastructures needed to welcome them back. Overall, we are giving top priority to infrastructures and means of communication. As I have already stressed, we are working to ensure the unity of our country. It is therefore very important to lay out roads and communications networks linking the North and the South. This was not done sufficiently in years past. As the proverb says, we must “kill two birds with one stone.” In other words, we must foster the development of South Sudan, while strengthening the ties between the North and the South.

As far as our economic projects are concerned, let me focus on the energy sector and efforts to tap our petroleum resources, which are plentiful in South Sudan. Certain regions are already producing oil, and their output is steadily rising. In a few months, oil production should reach 500,000 barrels a day. It should continue to rise once the situation in Sudan is completely back to normal, thanks to drilling in new oil fields and new exploration projects. France’s Total group, for instance, has already come back to Sudan and is preparing to restart operations in a key oil zone. Generally speaking, we are welcoming investors and capital from all over, with the exception of investors who are not quite ready to come to Sudan, or rather are still waiting for a green light from their governments.

Sudan’s investment code is very good as concerns making money transfers and recruiting labor. The fact that so many investors are already working in Sudan is, to my mind, the best proof of our pro-business climate. In fact, I hope to see French investors follow their lead without delay. Several French companies are already active in Sudan, such as Alstom, EDF and Renault, along with other lesser known firms. More French firms at the 2006 Khartoum International Fair, participated at the end of January. Fifty French firms came to our country for the 2005 fair.


T.D.L.: Seeking to end the impunity for human rights abuses in Darfur, the United Nations referred the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which opened an inquiry in June 2005. Your government has set up its own legal structure to judge these crimes. How do you respond to critics who question the independence of the Sudanese judiciary? On a broader level, how can your country and the international community sort out their differences on this issue, which could eventually have negative consequences?


H.E.A.B.E.: The Sudanese government has already made its position on this issue very clear. We believe that our courts have jurisdiction over this matter. French judicial authorities with a solid understanding of Sudan and this aspect of our country’s institutions have confirmed this to me. They have also affirmed this publicly, at several conferences held in Paris, most notably a few months ago at UNESCO. We have full confidence in our courts. What is more, we recognize that tragic things happened in Darfur, and that grave abuses were committed there. It is not our government’s policy to hide such acts, but quite the reverse. We have consequently taken a number of measures, most notably creating specialized courts that have already handed down very severe sentences.

We, nonetheless, respect the Security Council’s decision, in the same way that we respect all international decisions and United Nations resolutions. We are a serious member of this organization, as well as a party to the concert of nations. However, the Sudanese government refuses to allow its citizens to be judged outside the country. Firstly, because, as I have already said, we believe that our courts are independent and that this matter falls within their competence. And secondly, because we think that foreign trials would only complicate the situation in Darfur, further complicating relations between the various communities and tribes. Finally, we do not believe that the ICC has jurisdiction over this matter, since Sudan is not a member of this body. Along these same lines, let me also mention the great contradiction in this resolution, which exempts US citizens from being judged by the ICC for acts similar to those committed in Sudan and in Darfur, simply because the United States is not an ICC member, as neither are we.

Of course, I would not like to see this difference over approaches have a negative impact on our relations with the international community. We do hope we will be able to reach an understanding, since, in the end, we are pursuing the same objectives. In fact, we could even consider cooperating with the ICC, which recently sent in a delegation that was welcomed in Khartoum. Likewise, we are not not adverse to the idea of an examination or a visit by experts from the ICC or from the general international community, to observe et record the measures being taken by the Sudanese government. In fact, I believe that negotiations are now underway on this very matter.


T.D.L.: Khartoum hosted a conference on combatting terrorism in September 2005, confirming its commitment to the anti-terror battle. Are the countries in your region taking joint measures to overcome this great challenge? How do you feel about Sudan’s continued inclusion on the US list of states that sponsor terrorism, despite closer cooperation between Khartoum and Washington?


H.E.A.B.E.: We did, indeed, hold a regional conference on combatting terrorism. The Sudanese government is also cooperating with Western intelligence services, as are all the world’s countries. We are working on this problem in complete transparency. I think it is now widely understood that allegations that Sudan sponsors terrorism are far from the truth. We have acknowledged what happened. That is: that bin Laden lived for a time in Sudan, as an investor and business man.

The United States is applying a “double standard” with Sudan, as it is doing with other governments as well. This is a simple fact which, I would think, even the United States can no longer deny. This policy is a contradiction, filled with unkept promises, because we have been cooperating in a transparent and serious manner. Even the United States has acknowledged Sudan’s efforts to cooperate. There may well be internal reasons which explain why Sudan’s name has not been taken off this famous list. In fact, there are a number of American lobbies bent on preventing any rapprochement between the US administration and the Sudanese government, despite all Sudan’s efforts to fight terrorism and to reach a peace agreement with the South. Close attention should be paid to the dangers of this policy, which could further aggravate the situation in Sudan. The SPLM/A shares our point of view on this issue. Promises were made during the negotiations that led up to the peace agreement, most notably about the removal of Sudan from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism and support for the implementation of the peace agreement. But the current attitude of the United States is doing the just opposite, by weakening the peace agreement. It is only bolstering the other parties’ arguments, starting with the rebels in Darfur, who are hardening their position.


T.D.L.: Sudan has heightened its cooperation with its neighbors Eritrea, Chad and Uganda in recent months.   Given Sudan’s porous borders with these countries, what can be done to strengthen cross-border ties and help bring long-term stability to this region?


H.E.A.B.E.: We have taken concrete steps in every one of these countries, as well as in Ethiopia. We have set up a mixed commission that meets on a regular basis to address problems tied to our borders. We have also created a body comprised of experts from both countries, members of specific organizations, and the governors of the neighboring provinces, so that we can monitor this issue. Our relations with Eritrea are steadily improving. Several delegations from the two countries have already held meetings. Sudan’s First Vice President Salva Kiir recently visited Asmara. Our Foreign Affairs Minister Lam Akol has signed cooperation agreements with his Eritrean counterpart. We expect to reestablish diplomatic ties between our ambassadors in the very near future. Finally, we have give the Ugandan government permission to sweep through Sudanese territory in pursuit of the Lord’s Army, and have extended the timeframe for these incursions on numerous occasions. In fact, this authorization is still in effect at this time. All of these initiatives can, indeed, help to stabilize the region.


T.D.L.: UNESCO named Khartoum its Arab Cultural Capital 2005. As a country rooted in both the Arab world and the Sub-Saharan world, how has Sudan managed to cement its own cultural unity? As the Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Sudan to UNESCO, do you have a message for our readers on the importance of uniting the world’s peoples?


H.E.A.B.E.: Sudan has a very long and rich history. Our country may well hold the vestiges of the very first African civilization, which blossomed more than five million years ago, alongside Pharaonic civilization. Nubian civilization and its pharaohs have been documented in numerous works, many of them by French scientists. Over the course of its history, Sudan also established itself as a land of welcome and trade. In contemporary times, African emigrants crossing through Sudan along the pilgrimage route to Mecca are again leaving their stamp on our country, with some even settling down there. Migrant Arab populations also cross routinely through Sudan. When all is said and done, we cannot really define a single culture or ethnic group. We are all the fruit of a melding of diverse cultures, both Arab and African, and others cultures as well. It is true that some people identify more with Arab-Muslim culture. But the current conflicts – either in the southern part of the country, or right now in Darfur – have nothing in the slightest to do with ethnic or racial concerns. I, for one, am convinced that these conflicts are political in nature, and to a lesser extent cultural. The regions where this is happening feel abandoned, feel that they’ve been left out of the development process. They are demanding their rights, which have eventually been recognized by the central government. We are moving forward in the right direction. The peace agreement with the South, as well as the negotiations on Darfur, focus primarily on wealth sharing and power sharing. There was never really any question of asserting an identity, be it Christian, animist or Muslim. That’s not where the problem lies. It is also very telling that the majority of persons displaced by this conflict have taken refuge in the Khartoum region. This would not make sense, if these people were indeed being persecuted by the central government. They would have fled to neighboring countries, such as Uganda or Kenya. Our capital is now surrounded by a belt of more than two million people displaced from South Sudan. While keeping the human tragedy of this exodus ever in mind, let me underscore that a real bond has been forged between the people of the South and the North, for the very first time. This could help rekindle cultural melding and peaceful coexistence between all the different cultures that have prevailed here throughout Sudan’s long history. When it comes to folklore, customs and even languages, the populations of the North have learned a great deal from the populations of the South, and vice versa. I think these contacts will remain inscribed in these populations’ minds for a long time to come.

To answer your second question, I think we need to do our best to avert mutual incomprehension and deepen mutual understanding, because the lack of understanding breeds conflict. And so I would like to call on the French, as well, urging them to get to know my country even better. It is, no doubt, up to us to make others more knowledgeable about our country, but they must look beyond the prejudices and stereotypes. I know that every Frenchman and every European who has visited Sudan, has completely changed the way they see our country. Everything one hears and reads must be verified, as there is a great deal of propaganda and disinformation, some of it quite deliberate. As the Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Sudan to UNESCO, I have tried to bring my country to the attention of more people, most notably through the celebration “Khartoum, Arab Cultural Capital 2005.” We held several special events at UNESCO, including: a conference on Nubian civilization in which Director-General Koichiro Matsuura and a number of French scientists and archeologists participated; an exhibition on Nubian civilization; a show which featured the dances and songs of various Sudanese regions. This show, which was a great success, highlighted Sudan’s cultural diversity. Along this same lines, we hope that the Convention on Cultural Diversity, which we fully support, will help to reaffirm this diversity so that every nation and every culture can find its place in our ever shrinking world. And though some may find it rather strange, in this same manner, Sudan is interested in the Organization of the Francophonie, because it fosters dialogue, encounters, and free expression between diverse cultures. We commend this organization’s efforts, and hope that Sudan will eventually be allowed to join.


T.D.L.: You are the vice-chairman of the committee for Sudan’s accession to the International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF). Can you tell us why your country would like to join this organization? Is the French language taught in Sudan’s schools, or widely spoken within its borders? Do you think the OIF should expand its role on the political stage?


H.E.A.B.E.: A good number of reports and several university studies have documented the growing interest in Sudan in learning to speak French. I am told that the French Cultural Center in Khartoum is unable to keep up with demand. It is constantly buzzing with language courses for students, cultural activities, exhibitions, plays, and concerts. A French student has even organized a French class in eastern Sudan. Another class has been started recently, and I learned that a third will open shortly. French is taught as an elective in our secondary schools and universities. In 1998, after reaching an agreement with the French Consulate, Sudan’s Minister of Education, who himself speaks French, added the French language to what we refer to as the “boxing” system, which sets the number of points needed to earn a diploma. French thus became one of the subjects that count towards a Baccalaureate degree. Promoting French was hence a cultural and political choice by Sudan, in respect to France and its civilization. We do, nonetheless, hope to see France work to bolster this trend, which is not really happening at this time. There are still a great deal of unmet needs, especially with regard to teacher training and the material needs of students. In the past, Sudanese students received French scholarships. I myself was awarded one, to study French. But I understand that these choices reflect France’s general policy at this time, which has put a bit of a damper on our aspirations in this arena.

I would describe the Organization of the Francophonie as a wise voice in a mad world. There are those who call for a great war between civilizations, the famous “clash of civilizations.” Others do just the reverse, calling for dialogue, as does the Organization of the Francophonie. This agency can help spread peace and entente throughout the world, because it brings together not only nations that have historically spoken French, as was the case in the past, but also a growing number of nations and cultures from every region on the globe.


T.D.L.: France has had close ties with Sudan for many years. It is playing a key role in restoring peace in your country, by supplying logistical support for the peace talks and helping bring in humanitarian assistance. Would you say that bilateral relations have grown even stronger since the first official visit to Sudan by a French Foreign Affairs Minister, in February 2004? Are there any specific areas in which you hope to see cooperation enhanced in coming years?


H.E.A.B.E.: There has no doubt been headway in Franco-Sudanese relations. As you underscored, a French Foreign Affairs Minister made an official visit to Sudan in 2004, for the very first time. This initial visit was followed by visits from his successors, including a visit by the current minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, in late July of 2005. His Sudanese counterpart recently traveled to Paris, in June 2005, along with several other Sudanese ministers. I hope this trend continues, and grows even stronger. There have also been high-level contacts, between the presidents of France and Sudan. It is, however, true that they have not met since the 2002 Africa-France Summit. Unfortunately, President Al-Bashir was unable to attend the Africa-France Summit in Bamako, at which Sudan was represented by a delegation led by Foreign Affairs Minister Lam Akol, of which I was a member. Sudan’s attendance reflects our country’s interest not only in its ties with France but, on a broader level, its interest in its ties with the French-speaking and African worlds. Though my mission in Paris will soon come to an end, I am convinced we have made strides in Franco-Sudanese ties, in that we have heightened contacts between the leaders of our two countries at the highest level, and affirmed our common will to further reinforce these exchanges. I hope we will continue to enhance these ties.

Strengthening our political and institutional ties is essential, as it builds the energy needed to expand the other facets of our countries’ relations. I, personally, would like more French investors to begin operating in Sudan. This is the message I have tirelessly promoted since my arrival in France four years ago. As I see it, our ties with France are a top priority for Sudan, and I hope your country will be able to seize this great opportunity.
  Finally, I would like to underscore the fact that Sudan is entering into a crucial stage in its history. Sudan is stepping back onto the international   and diplomatic stage by hosting the African Union Summit in Khartoum. This coming March, the Arab League Summit will be held in our country, along with a ministerial conference of the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States (ACP) later this year. This upsurge of activity coincides with two key events: the first anniversary of the peace agreement, and the fiftieth anniversary of Sudan’s independence.
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