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A sea of green is not what I expected. Sorghum and cotton as far as the eye could see. I was in the Tokar Delta in Red Sea State with EU Ambassadors last month seeing for ourselves the impact of EU funding. 250,000 feddans (100,000 hectares) of farmland is now back in production – almost double what there was two years ago. But still only 75% of what Tokar produced at its peak.
Others more expert than me can explain the successes and failures of the Tokar Delta scheme. But I was left with two feelings – hope (the sight of food growing on such a scale is uplifting) and worry (the people of Tokar are still poor and their number is growing rapidly). I suspect one part of the answer is to break out of a cycle of subsistence farming by creating added value (e.g. processing tomatoes into paste) and by somehow getting goods to an export market (Saudi Arabia is just across the sea and connected by daily sailings from Suakin). I know the Governor of Red Sea State, who generously hosted us, is pursuing all options. The EU is working closely with him as are many other international partners, including from the Arab world.
Only when you get out and about in Sudan can you really begin to appreciate its challenges and potential. Our Embassy team is trying to do this as much as possible. In the last couple of weeks we have had people in Abyei, Gedaref and Kassala. Others will shortly travel (again) to Darfur. After each of these visits, we know more and sometimes understand less. The destruction of Abyei town, where only two buildings have been left intact, is a case in point. We can see the damage, but we struggle to understand why it happened. It reinforces vividly the urgent need to manage the current migration of cattle from the north to the south. For decades or even centuries this has happened by local communities agreeing between themselves. Now Abyei has been politicised, it is the responsibility of politicians to make sure communities can pursue their livelihoods, crops be planted and cattle watered. The UN through the presence of Ethiopian forces in UNISFA is there to help. But they need political will and commitment in Khartoum and Juba.
In Addis Ababa last week political agreement was elusive. Talks between Sudan and South Sudan on transitional financial arrangements and on oil faltered. President Mbeki’s Panel will continue undeterred to try to assist the parties. The UK through our Special Representative, Michael Ryder, will also continue to be on hand as I’m sure will US, Norwegian and other colleagues. Diplomats need to have patience and stamina. Military experts, advisers and Ministers must also have their say. But at the end of the day those who decide whether there is peace and prosperity are the elected Presidents of each country. We continue to urge both sides not to take unilateral actions, respect each other’s territorial integrity and avoid actions and words that could inflame an already combustible situation.
Other than travelling the country and enjoying Sudanese hospitality, we have been busy in Khartoum too. Our annual Chevening Scholarship scheme was launched. Sponsorship this year by Dal Group, Kenana and Zain means we are able once again to double the number of postgraduate scholarships we can offer in 2012-13. We are looking for the brightest and best future Sudanese leaders. Full application details are on our website. I have also enjoyed the European Film Festival over the last week. Several hundred Sudanese and Europeans profited from a remarkably cool evening in the National Museum’s garden to attend the opening night. I wasn’t able to get to the British Council to see the UK film, but I heard it engendered a lively debate about modern day slavery – appropriate as the world marks International Slavery Day on 2 December.
Another date fast approaching is 10 December – International Human Rights Day. British Embassies around the world will be joining their hosts and local partners to commemorate the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 63 years ago. In Sudan among other activities we plan to use social media to engage on the issue of human rights by hosting a question and answer session on our Embassy Facebook page. If you have questions about the UK’s work to support human rights in the world, do email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please keep an eye on Facebook and the Embassy’s website for more details. I look forward to hearing from people in the four corners of Sudan.