Written on Sunday 13 July
Massive heat at 1.30am (35°C) is the first welcome from Sudan. Britain's history in Sudan is better regarded in the country than outside - at least that is one conclusion from 24 hours in Khartoum. Sudan is pivotal to a key part of Africa. Put another way, instability in Sudan has regional consequences. The three conflicts in Sudan - North/South, Sudan - Chad (West - East), and Darfur are linked and destructive. They were the focus throughout my day of meetings from the President down.
Sudan last had elections in the 1980's; the largest party are not represented in the government, and while the civil war was ended by the groundbreaking Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, the agreement was not comprehensive enough to cover the entire country. Since then Darfur has also been the scene of death and destruction that has rightly claimed the attention of the world.
Resolution in Darfur depends on political negotiation between the government and rebel groups. Britain is ready to support that. But we also know that the proliferation of rebel groups (to about 20 now) does not mean that there is growing representation of popular Darfuri opinion; that depends on the real engagement of Darfur Civil Society. My meeting with NGOs showed the pressing humanitarian need - to better access to food and medicine for people in need. That requires both government and rebel groups to show responsibility. It also requires strengthening of the UN/AU force - 10,000 strong, but short of the 26,000 promised and subject to a vicious and deadly attack the day before I arrived.
The challenges of Sudan come together at next year's elections, and the possible secession of the South means danger for all concerned. I came away from Khartoum very concerned about the imminent risk of even higher levels of instability. The problems are profound and challenging even in a peaceful situation - think of water resources along the Nile. But the solution has to be more than just political, and must include economics; the oil boom is a boom but its effects are limited mainly to the Capital. And the ability of politicians to reach compromises is weak despite the efforts of some parts of Civil Society.
The newspapers outside Sudan are full of stories about the International Criminal Court and war crimes in Darfur. The UK is a strong supporter of the International Court and encourages all to engage with it. I will have more to say if there are developments in the week.