Posted 10 August 2011 by Nicholas Kay |
If Sudan were recruiting a marketing manager I wonder how many people would apply. Tough place. Tough job. Sudanese are legendary for their hospitality, gentle manners and erudition. Sudan, on the other hand is synonymous with war, atrocities, poverty and political repression. This disconnect between the essential nature of its people and its reputation as a state poses a marketing challenge.
It also makes the life of a diplomat hard. How do you interpret for your capital recent events? Did, for example, a delay in evacuating wounded Ethiopian peace-keepers contribute to their deaths and if so, what was the role of the Government of Sudan? How do you explain the ferocious response to the recent renewal of the mandate for the UN and African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and the increasing obstacles Khartoum puts in the way of UN missions here? And what should we make of the continuing refusal to allow humanitarian access to Southern Kordofan and, above all, an independent investigation of allegations of serious human rights abuses there?
Readers of this blog react differently to my views. One local newspaper has called for my expulsion. Another merely recommended a long holiday. While a foreign expert has accused me of being an apologist for the Government of Sudan, a fool and a disgrace to British diplomacy. I don’t write to please. I write because I know there is a real interest within Sudan (and perhaps more widely) in knowing what an Ambassador to their country thinks. An Ambassador has a duty to foster better understanding between two states. Understanding does not always mean agreeing. But it does require a mutual respect. In the end it’s about good communication.
To that end, the UK has enhanced its efforts to engage with Sudan over the last few weeks. We have hosted both Foreign Minister Ali Karti and Presidential Assistant Dr Nafi Ali Nafi in London. Two weeks ago Mr Henry Bellingham, Minister for Africa and the UN at the FCO, visited Sudan. He was the first Minister to come after secession of the South. The symbolism was deliberate. The UK remains committed to a strong and long-term relationship with Sudan. We shall be even-handed in our dealings with the two new countries. We are forward-looking and constructive in our approach. The Minister’s programme reflected this. He witnessed the signing of an agreement between the British Council and the Ministry of Education to develop teacher training for teachers of English; he attended the award ceremony for Chevening scholars selected to do their Masters’ degrees in the UK (twice the number of scholarships than in 2010); and he visited Port Sudan to see the development needs and economic opportunities in a region where the UK has committed to spend millions of pounds in development assistance over the next four years.
The UK’s strategic intent is, I hope, clear. We want to work with a Sudan that puts the interests of its people first. A Sudan in which good education, religious co-existence, access to justice, healthcare and jobs are its hallmark. Some of this depends upon choices to be made within Sudan. It is a choice, for example, whether the national budget for the intelligence service continues to be higher than the budget for education.
But it is also a choice for others who care about Sudan. Relieving the $38bn external debt is largely in others’ hands. Since last September the UK has consistently championed the need for this. Decisions by foreign investors and businesses also matter. They can play a crucial role in boosting economic growth and creating jobs. But will they choose Sudan when there are other markets competing for their investment and business?
My guess is Sudan will have to sell itself better. That brings us back to marketing. Sudan like any brand requires careful packaging and presentation. But, as we all know, success ultimately depends on the quality of the product. Sudan will be judged not by words, but by deeds.
I wish all readers a very happy and peaceful Holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan Kareem!