The ongoing battle between upstream and downstream countries over the usage of the Nile resources is uncalled for because the river has resources that can satisfy all states, according to the Sudanese ambassador to Rwanda, Salah A.S Elgunied.
In an exclusive interview with The New Times’ Felly Kimenyi, the envoy also talked of the growing clout Africa continues to enjoy in the global economy. Below are the excerpts;-
On diplomatic ties between Rwanda and Sudan, why do you think the Khartoum government decided that it was time to open an embassy in Kigali?
In Sudan, we are now putting an emphasis on nurturing relationship with brotherly African countries, mainly concentrating on certain regions. We, therefore, noticed that Rwanda was very active both on the regional and international arena. Before coming to Rwanda, I was the director general of protocol in the ministry of foreign affairs in Khartoum and I have also worked in a number of diplomatic missions both on the African continent and beyond, so you can say I am well versed.
Rwanda and the present government under the leadership of President Paul Kagame is very active in regional and international issues and, especially very active in peace keeping throughout Africa and beyond, which makes this country a very reliable partner.
Rwanda is an active nation in peace keeping, and we do appreciate the positive role of the Rwandan contingent in Darfur, because they have been very professional and doing their work in a manner that is appreciated by the local community and the government of Darfur.
Thirdly, we think now that Rwanda is developing in many aspects especially in terms of economic growth, improving investment climate and embarking on regional integration, among others, I think there is a lot to learn from here.
The other reason is that this is a general trend for Sudan, that we have to do more connections with brotherly African countries. So these are the reasons we decided to deepen our relationship with Kigali to have a fully-fledged embassy.
Could you elaborate or be specific on the key areas that you think are the focus of this relationship between Khartoum and Kigali?
Like I said before, we want our cooperation, among others, to embark on regional and international matters and Rwanda is very active in this area, especially within the East African Community. We also want to develop relations in economic cooperation which I think will be mutually beneficial.
Besides these, I think there is something that we can learn from Rwanda, especially in the open atmosphere of doing business, something that is unprecedented.
So, we want to tap into this experience and also connect the business communities in Sudan with their Rwanda counterparts. So we think there are many ways of cooperation that could be beneficial to both Rwanda and the Sudanese community.
I can see much of the cooperation will dwell on economic partnerships. Do we see a situation where Sudanese investors will flock the Rwandan market and vice versa?
We think there are so many investment opportunities here in Rwanda and this is even facilitated by the fact that Rwanda set up a really conducive ground that any foreign investor is encouraged to put their money here.
Before coming here, I met with the Sudanese business community, especially the trade unions, and I got the sense that they are very much interested in investing in Rwanda and we have seen some of them coming to explore available opportunities.
We, therefore, think that opening up an embassy here will facilitate them to open business ventures here; we expect more of them coming. There are four Sudanese investors that came here and explored and now they are looking at the alternatives to see where they will put their money and our role here is to encourage them and follow up how they can engage with the business community here in Rwanda.
You have now been in Rwanda for three months, what lessons do you think Rwanda can draw from Sudan especially on the growth of the privatesector as the driver of economy?
I think in Sudan we have very rich potentials in different aspects of business, we have people with vast experience in doing business. I think there are areas where we can complement each other especially in commercialised farming to support sectors like sugar production.
We already have seven factories and three new ones are in the pipeline and they approximately have projection of over 10,000,000 tonnes of sugar.
Some other areas of farming where we think our investors are doing well is in the production of greens, cotton in the Ghezira Irrigation Scheme, which is the biggest in Africa that covers 200 million hectares and I think the Rwandan business community can learn a thing or two in the area of commercial farming.
Other things I think we can exchange include attending international trade fairs whereby I heard that it usually takes place in July and we can set the ground for connections between the business operators from our two countries.
For a couple of years, Sudan has applied to join the EAC without success; what do you think Sudan brings to the table?
I think this is an important option for us but Sudan also has a lot to bring to the bloc. Our country is in a position that is very strategic, with borders to many African countries. We can also connect the bloc to the Red Sea, the Gulf area, among other benefits.
We believe that there is a lot we have to contribute once we join, including providing market for produces in the bloc and also supply what is produced back home.
So have you made a second attempt to join the bloc?
Currently, no because one of the stipulations for membership in having geographical proximity and now that South Sudan has requested to join, after they are allowed in, then we shall have fulfilled the proximity criteria.
Why is Sudan focusing its attention to brotherly countries?
We think that Africa is doing well as a proper destination for investments, including those born in western countries. Europe and America are almost saturated and returns on investments are becoming very low, so all the prospects for investments and economic development are being looked for in Africa.
Africa is taking the centre stage and Sudan wants to make the most out of this together with other African brothers. That is economically speaking.
Politically, we think there is a growing trend where African countries are becoming much aware of the potential in international politics, so we feel Sudan can contribute to the collective African stand on the political issues.
You cannot afford be isolated and work alone. Africa is better off united, and will make her voice heard as a bloc rather than having states with different positions on different global regional matters.
Someone may want to attribute your focus on African countries because of the isolation from West following the indictment of President Bashir by the ICC...
Not really, because we have been through American political sanctions for over two decades. However, this has also offered some lessons because for all the years we have survived partly because we maintained ties with our brotherly African compatriots.
It is good that Africa is now becoming more active in regional and international issues and we also see African Union is becoming more proactive in solving African issues and we are proud to be part of this process; we are an African country.
So, we have common interest with many African countries, including in West and Central Africa, and we are also members in the IGAD as well as members of the AU, so you can imagine all these organisations need support. That is why we are looking at Africa.
African countries faced with turmoil still look to the West for salvation; Sudan’s neighbour Central African Republic, for example, saw French intervention before AU could act. What is your take?
This used to be a trend in the past but I think now the African Union is becoming more actively engaged in solving African problems.
I think this is good not to leave vacuum for foreign countries to intervene in African affairs and dictate solutions to our local problems which we think if Africa join together, they can bring African solutions to African problems which I think is the best way to deal with them.
Foreigners come with their interests; I mean if they solve one problem they will leave another problem.
I, therefore, think that the African Union becoming more proactive to solve regional issues is a trend that needs to be supported. And this is why I said before that Rwanda is very active in peacekeeping–they are doing well in CAR just like in my country and I think this is a positive trend for other African countries to follow.
If foreigners are to intervene, let them come to support an African effort and not vice versa.
What is your opinion on the conflict prevailing in South Sudan since late last year?
What’s happening in South Sudan is very unfortunate because mainly, politically, the differences there can be settled using State institutions, but it is quickly becoming a tribal conflict.
When you have a political difference, it can be easily solved through the state mechanism but it’s very difficult to deal with tribal conflicts, so obviously what is happening is becoming a tribal conflict and I am afraid that any intervention in tribal conflicts may escalate the problem more than solving it.
However, as it stands, better we give a chance to the AU efforts to solve the issues in South Sudan, but when we open space for other negative forces to continue operations we have heard negative forces operating in South Sudan along tribal lines and that’s a complication that is not easy to deal with.
I don’t think military intervention is required in South Sudan because such efforts will cause more problems... we need to solve the issues with the AU framework and that is through mediation.
Speaking of African interests first, Sudan and Egypt have been accused of frustrating the upstream countries in usage of the resources of the River Nile...
In Sudan we feel the resources of the Nile should be used by all countries. Each country can attain its interest and we think that this is not a zero-sum game where you have one country gaining at the expense of the other.
We also think that unilateral projects of the Nile will affect other operations and we think that cooperation is not going to affect any country in this area. The Nile resources are vast and we think with cooperation every country can benefit from this area.
This is what I said before- if Africans are to look for solutions to their problems, we have to look from within but if we listen to outsiders, we are likely to be deviated from our development course.
We think the resources are there and each country can benefit from the Nile.
What is the current situation now in Darfur, has it been pacified?
The prospects for peace in Darfur are becoming more attainable in a sense that we have the Doha process that has drawn some of the illegal movements towards a peace process in Darfur and we think now the situation is becoming calmer and more conducive for a political settlement.
We also think Unamid is doing a great job there; the Rwandan contingent in this peacekeeping force are using a very positive way in containing the situation.
The so-called Arab Spring that rocked North African countries over the past few years was feared to eventually spread to Sudan...
I do not generally agree to call it the Arab Spring because we have seen it in other non-Arabic countries; for example we saw what they called the Orange Movement in Ukraine. But it’s a political phenomenon anyway and it can happen in any place in the world.
This is a phenomenon that can happen anywhere...the only way to prevent it from happening is making sure that the problems which can lead to a violent overthrow of a government are addressed beforehand.
In Sudan, we are we are opening this so-called political arena and the president has called for reconciliation initiative to join forces because any abrupt change can lead to devastating effects.
What message would you have for our readers as we conclude?
We covered different topics but I just want to emphasise that we in Sudan now are trying our level best to enhance African cooperation and we are happy that the African Union is getting its voice heard on global matters, especially in the Security Council.
However, we have to stay the momentum. We need to consolidate this body that is the African Union.
As for the Sudanese, we are appreciative to Rwanda’s active role in regional and international politics and we think that if other countries are following the same example of Rwanda, Africa will no doubt be in position to define its destiny.