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Khartoum is starting to empty. The feeling is of approaching festivity blended with customary uncertainty – will Eid be tomorrow, the next day, or the day after? A question that matters to those who haven’t yet received salaries for the month of August! Everyone needs their pay if they are to depart to the four corners of Sudan with gifts, clothes and sweets for probably the biggest family celebration of the year.
Before the family party begins in earnest, there are formal Eid calls in Khartoum. From the President down, political leaders open their doors for people to come and greet them. I attended some last year and will again this year. They feel like very Sudanese occasions: an open door and a sociability that goes beyond pure politeness. Like all the diplomatic corps, I shall rush from one to another. Then, unlike everyone, I go on my mid-tour leave. A long Eid for me – I shall be away until October.
This seems a good moment to take stock. Each day contains twists and turns which need to be navigated. Focusing on the road ahead, you lose sight of the landscape around and the road just travelled. What is clear is that after 9 July, we are in a very different landscape and, for the moment, we are still a little lost. Gone are the familiar landmarks of the CPA – the milestones that had to be passed, such as a new constitution, elections, registration for the referendum, the referendum itself and finally secession. Gone too are some of the bodies through which diplomats played a role – UNMIS and the AEC. The AU High Level Implementation Panel has been absent too for the summer.
In September, the new term will start and busy-ness will break out again. Envoys will fly to different places. Meetings will happen. New agreements will be made. Old ones revised. All necessary. But my nagging worry is whether it is sufficient. Perhaps I like things to be simple, but I do feel in need of a sense of direction. I don’t know where Sudan is heading or rather where its leaders are trying to take it. In my last blog I commented about some current concerns, especially Southern Kordofan. Since then the UK Government has welcomed the unilateral ceasefire declared by President Bashir [link]. But within just a couple of days we received reports of violations of that ceasefire – reports which are difficult to corroborate because UN agencies and diplomats are not allowed to visit the area. My thought on Southern Kordofan is simple: if you have nothing to hide, then don’t hide it.
But suspicion runs deep. And again I am left struggling to understand. In a country where four out of the fifteen states suffer from ongoing conflict, where thousands of people have left their homes and livelihoods because of insecurity, it seems patently obvious that help is needed. And not just food and medicine. But political help. I have worked within the international community in other troubled places, such as DRC and Afghanistan. I know we and the UN are not infallible: we make mistakes and we suffer from conceit. But I also know that we are not hostile. The UK, like its partners in the UN Security Council, is committed to respecting Sudan’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. We are committed to helping to build stability, peace and prosperity in Sudan.
To fear a hidden “regime change” agenda speaks of self-doubt, not of well-grounded analysis. I fail to understand why the new Republic of Sudan, which craves and needs international respect and respectability, does not open its doors. It should flood Southern Kordofan with UN agencies, observers and if necessary peacekeepers. It should embrace its wise African friends who offer to mediate political solutions to problems that have no military answer. A spirit of cooperation needs to replace the climate of suspicion. Peace-keeping is something done with a country not to a country.
But Southern Kordofan is a difficult stretch of road. It is not the destination. Sudan faces wider questions and bigger challenges. Change is written into the script – the interim constitution must be adapted to become a permanent constitution and the President has repeatedly spoken of forming a broad-based government. Where will such changes lead Sudan? Is it destined to be a state that creates wealth for all its citizens, and where all people feel they have a voice, enjoy access to justice and have the means to choose and change governments through free and fair elections? As people journey home for Eid, perhaps these will not be the questions most in their minds. But as I tour the political salons making Eid calls, I’m hoping there will be signs of where the country’s political leaders intend to take the Second Republic. Like last year, I shall also be curious to see whether there is a new generation in each Party getting ready for the road ahead.
Finally, may I thank all who have commented on my previous blogs either on-line, in the media or in person? Today Ambassadors all over the world are using technology to reach more people than ever before. The means may be new, but the aims are old. Ambassadors are communicators – they represent their state’s views abroad, they try to influence another state’s opinions and actions in support of their objectives and they interpret back to their Government what is happening in the country to which they are accredited. Some of that is rightly done in private, but increasingly diplomacy is a public activity. Getting the balance right is never easy.
I wish all readers “Eid Mubarak”!