This post is also available in: Arabic
As Khartoum’s temperature drops, the tempo of life and work picks up in Sudan.
The time of Haj and of Eid al Adha is upon us: a time of reflection and sacrifice. Before the holiday period started, I was busy with our fifth Ministerial visit to Sudan since starting my job here sixteen months ago. Mr O’Brien spent an intensive three days focusing on humanitarian and outstanding north-south issues as well as the role of the private sector as a potential engine for growth. Five Ministerial visits testify to the strength of the UK’s commitment to Sudan and to the strong ties between us.
Those ties have kept me – pleasantly – busy in the last few weeks. The breadth and depth of UK-Sudan links never cease to amaze me. On a recent Saturday together with 4000 people I attended a marvellous concert at the National Theatre, where a young English folk band (Sam Lee and the Gillie Boys) played with three stars of Sudanese music (Dr Al Fatih Hussein, Omer Ihsas and Dr Manal). It was a unique evening of musical collaboration and cultural harmony. I am proud the British Council was able to help the Minister of Culture in re-starting this long-standing international music festival. Later in the week I entertained a visit by the Academy of Royal Colleges, including two eminent Sudanese doctors based in the UK. Part of their mission was to take forward a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ministry of Health to develop cooperation in public health management, emergency medicine and family health.
Not all my time has been spent on music and medical cooperation. With Special Envoys of several countries I spent two days in Western Darfur, where some precarious stability is returning but people continue to suffer displacement as a result of insecurity and fighting. With Mr O’Brien I also travelled this week to White Nile State to see the impressive sugar factories at Kenana and the new White Nile factory. We also saw the hardship faced by thousands of southern Sudanese as they relocate to South Sudan via Kosti. Mr O’Brien expressed the need for both governments to do everything possible to ease the plight of these people.
In Khartoum, amid economic challenges and an impending Government re-shuffle, I have continued to call on Ministers, senior NCP officials and central bankers: one or two of whom have dual UK-Sudanese nationality and nearly all of whom have studied at UK universities. UK-Sudan educational links are rich. At the Ministry of Education I discussed progress on implementing a pilot programme with the British Council for training 900 teachers of English in Khartoum. Our Minister for Africa, Henry Bellingham, had launched this cooperation with Minister of State Suad Abdel Razig when he visited in July. He was the first Minister from any country to come to Khartoum after secession.
Given the strength of our ties and of bilateral relations, I was concerned to see that my last blog had led to news headlines and complaints from several sources. As I have said before, it is not my intention or my Government’s intention to have a public falling out. The strength and depth of our relations should mean that we respect each other’s right to hold and express our views. On many issues we agree; on some we don’t. That seems to me entirely normal. We have known each other so long and so well that we should neither be surprised nor take umbrage if on occasion we do not see eye to eye.