Parting thoughts

This post is also available in: Arabic

A breeze so hot that it feels solid and the sweet smell of aviation fuel will  be my last impression of Khartoum when I leave next week. Leaving is never easy. But for a diplomat it is a part of life. For many others in Sudan the experience is traumatic.

As I write Southern Sudanese have become foreigners in what used to be their own land. Nine months after Southern secession on 9 July 2011, I have the luxury of feeling sweet sorrow at parting. Tens or hundreds of thousands of Southerners have no such luxury. Difficult choices, a hard road and an uncertain feature are the fate of many who are told they are Sudanese no more.

I believe few in Khartoum share the extreme and hate-inspiring views expressed in one of the daily newspapers here – certainly not those I have the pleasure to meet and work with. For them Sudanese hospitality is shown not only when people arrive, it continues to the moment they leave.

In the Embassy our Sudanese colleagues organised a party last week for their departing Southern colleagues. This kind of event has happened all over Sudan. Warm words mix with a certain shared disbelief – can this really be happening? Fortunately Sudan’s national insurance system is robust and dispassionate. It is an exemplar to many developing countries: it has repaid in full to all our departing Embassy colleagues their years of contributions. So those going south have at least something to use to start their new lives.

During just less than two years in Khartoum, my life and work has been dominated by change: the referendum in January 2011, independence in July and the wrangling and conflict that has ensued; revolutions in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen and Syria and their possible impact in Sudan; the downward turn in Sudan’s economy and the effects on ordinary people; the change of Sudan’s government that shifted – or not – the kaleidoscope.

In a time of change, consistency matters. I have tried my best to communicate how the UK Government sees things in Sudan and what our policy is. Some have criticised my openness. But others have welcomed it. As I often explain, foreign policy is not the possession of a privileged few. In the twenty first century relations between countries are so much more than what happens in closed rooms between officials and diplomats. Some business does require confidentiality and discretion. But most doesn’t. Ask me what the UK is trying to do in Sudan and I will tell you: build peace and reduce poverty.

Our Ministers have been very clear about the hallmarks of UK engagement here – it is long-term, and growing rather than reducing; it is scrupulously even-handed when it comes to Sudan and South Sudan (we want both to be stable and viable states), it is founded on the principle of a supporting partnership (we want to work with and through Sudanese institutions as much as possible), and it is focused on the need to change now in order to be ready for the future.

Huge economic, social and political challenges are coming down the track. The future has already started. Sudan is young, urban and under-employed in a way it wasn’t a few years ago. That trend is growing not reducing. History and current events across the region show that the way to cope with such challenge is to empower the people – economically and politically. Fully accountable and representative government, the rule of law and an attractive trade and investment climate are proven to work.

Our Embassy’s work focuses on the future – the next generation and the next elections (see our website UK in Sudan for more details of our projects and programmes). But we also engage on the here and now, supporting President Mbeki’s relentless search for peace in the region, helping  the Government of Sudan and Professor Gambari to heal Darfur’s wounds and encouraging economic reform and growth to give people jobs (the last available figures show UK-Sudan trade increased 20% in 2010; investment is also starting -on Sunday I attended the opening of a new pharmaceutical factory owned by a UK PLC).

Departing Ambassadors are frequently asked if they are optimistic. I always say I am – Sudan has so much in its favour that I am sure in years to come it will play the full and positive role it should as Africa’s third largest nation, blessed with natural and human resources, rich in diversity and strong in its unique Afro-Arab identity. But always as I say this, my heart is in my mouth. This will be the future, I am sure. But what lies between here and there? My fear is that change may come to Sudan messily, violently and in a way that destabilises the country and region. It does not need to be that way. Managed change can still succeed.

But it needs to start now. It is for Sudan’s leaders and people to determine their future. My parting wish is that they choose to open genuine political space and dialogue, to harness talent and not repress dissent, to be strong as a country, but not brutal. And where there is war, as in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile State, the real aim should be to end it – not win it.

Since writing this, South Sudanese forces have occupied Heglig. The AU has called for immediate and unconditional withdrawal. The UK has added its voice to that call. Dark days. Once again restraint and leadership is needed. I urge both Presidents to listen to President Thabo Mbeki. Let the African Union lead them to stability and peace.

My thanks to the Sudanese for their gracious hospitality. Ma’a salama.

13 Responses

  1. Matthew Murphy says:

    How refreshing to see open comment on diplomatic issues. More of this form of influence will be of benefit for all to strive for harmonious and transparent interaction between states.

  2. Rifaat Makkawi says:

    شكرا جزيلا علي هذا الوداع ، انا لم اتشرف بمقابلتك، ولكني اعرفك من خلال مدونتك . قفد كنت سفيرا صادقا في حب كل السودانيين ومخلصا في بناء علاقة وطيدة بين شعبكم وشعب السودان، للاسف تغادرنا في ظروف صعبة الا اننا متفائلون بأن كل ذلك سوف يزول يوما ما .من اعماق قلوينا نتمني لك كل الخير والعافية في موقعك الجديد. مع السلامة

  3. Abdullah M. Abduldaim says:

    Mr. Ambassador
    Is it rude of me to frankly say that an overwhelming majority of sudanese believe that UK have been pivotal power in the ongoing misery, deprvaity and desperation of the people of Sudan by imposing economic boycots and sanctions that are not only harmful be jeopardize our mere existence.

    • Nicholas Kay says:

      Dear Abdullah

      It isn’t rude to put the blame on UK economic sanctions; it’s just wrong. The UK has no economic sanctions on Sudan other than an arms embargo.


    Many thanks for this warm farewell. I felt a lot of transparency in all your comments. We hope that with sustained endurance and love to our great SUDAN we and our brothers in South Sudan will be able to pass this conflict.

  5. Ahmad Mohamed says:

    Dear Ambassador,
    It will be Sudan’s loss to have such a great diplomatic leave at such a critical time in our history.

    While it seems that your departure comes a little prematurely, your impact has been bigger than those of who have stayed longer.

    From your blogs I always sensed a love for Sudan and I hope that you take this love with you and continue to be Sudan’s Ambassador wherever else you go.

    Farewell and best wishes for your next assignment.


  6. asadig mula says:

    million thanks Mr Nicholas best wishes for you where ever you go ,

  7. Khalid says:

    Dear Mr. Ambassador,

    Thank you for your thoughts and i am sure all Sudanese wish you pleasant stay at your new destination …

    I always think that the UK could play a vital role in bringing stability to Sudan but it has not choosen to do so … what we have today in the sudan is a true legacy of the British Empire whether it is the war or the basic infrastructure that we have. At times i wish we could be taken again under the British Empire because of the continous failure of your successors since 1956. i have been to some of the commonwealth countries and i felt the British have more political, cultural and social presence than what you have in the Sudan.

    what is the reason for choosing to play your role from behind the scene while you could help the sudanese people in more effective manner?

    Thank you again for your thoughts about The Sudan and I wish you the best

    warm regards

  8. Dear Ambassador
    Thank you very much for the great work which you provided in support of Sudanese people, your honest and open posting contributed to the on- going debate among Sudanese on how to address many complicated challenges facing the country. I wish you all the best in your new job.


  9. Mohamed Elshabik says:

    Your Excellency;
    I was very sorry to read this thread and learn that you are leaving. Indeed big loss for Sudan/UK diplomacy to lose someone like you.

    I am sure I don’t speak only for myself when I say I have learned a lot from your blogs and I will be missing them. Your writings are thoughtful, inspiring, insightful, and honest. I believe also what characterized them the most was that they were able to communicate to the little guys, the normal ordinary citizens, and the powerful ones. I felt the attention paid to both marginalized and those in mainstream, they sympathized and worried with and for both North and South.

    Please continue to write, we’ll always be hungry to read for you.

    I want to wish you all the best of British luck.


  10. Aziz says:

    It is destressing that people with your understanding are leaving that country at this hour of need. Sudan needs people like you to help and steer the country back to peaceful coexistence with the should be the polycy of the foreign office that places of continuous conflict be served by diplomats that stay long in the country so that deep understand and helping hand be offered. With your departure at this particular time I fear the conflict with the south will be long.
    I know how arrogant the Sudanese government can be and how narrow minded the politicians in Sudan are. But the British calm pracmatic approach would have helped in bridging the gap and bring the conflict to speedy end.
    Good luck with your new station

  11. Ingo-Steven Wais says:

    Dear Mr. Nicholas Kay,” Life is nothing but a long street to walk.Important is only that your way has also a target”.
    (German saying).
    So in this sense I wish you all the best for your next steps and want to thank you for the last time for
    releasing my last comment so quickly.
    BW + good luck, Ingo-Steven Wais, Stuttgart

  12. Muhammad Saleh Ibrahim says:

    Respectful Prior Ambassador,

    It’s good to read your reactions and words about Sudan and the Sudanese people during the past several months, really, it wasn’t just a lot of ear-bashing.

    As you leave to your newly diplomatic destination, just remember that, the “The Real World is Not So Rational As on Paper”, that’s a truly words about the relations between UK and Sudan.

    All the best ..

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