Since the Europeans left Sudan, we are delighted to have the Chinese, who, unlike the Europeans, understand the basic needs of people, Baha Aldin Hanafi, ambassador of Sudan to Berlin, told EURACTIV Germany in an exclusive interview.
He spoke to EURACTIV Germany's Ewald König and Michael Kaczmarek.
South Sudan fought for its independence, celebrated the referendum held last January and the declaration of independence on 9 July. Why does the Republic of Sudan regret this development?
The tragic thing about Sudan is that the commonalities between the South and the North are certainly more than any foreigner can imagine. I know that politics were a problem, but if you put politics aside there are a lot of common things between the North and the South. It is not about Africans against Arabs as some people argue. These differences are minimal; they have been emphasized because of politics.
The current regime in Sudan had a lot of problems with the West over the last 20-25 years, because it tried not to be mechanically obedient like most of the countries in the third world. The West tried different techniques to get rid of this regime: the sanctions, being put on the list of terrorists, suspension of development assistance. All the harassment were cautionary examples for other countries in the region not to disobey. This is how the international system always operates, unfortunately. The United States was never a neutral broker, as they always say, not in Sudan, not in other parts of the world.
When the West doesn’t find anything, they talk about human rights; they always have to find something. Even the average citizen feels like Sudan has been treated unfairly over the last 25 years. The European countries colonised Africa, and the British colonised Sudan. We had normal traditional historical ties, as far as economics is concerned. After the Cold War ended they left immediately and created a vacuum. Europe has been away from Sudan for the last 25 years. As a responsible leadership and a responsible country we have to look for alternatives. We are delighted to have the Chinese. I don’t know what Sudan would have become, if we didn't have China.
We want Europe, there is a place for them [Europeans], they know the place better than others, but we cannot just sit and wait until the Europeans think that Sudan is 100% perfect before they decide to come. No country will do this. So we have China. China is all over the place. And now the Europeans think of coming back to Sudan because of China, not because of the goodness of their hearts, but because of China, because of geopolitics.
You are happy that the Chinese have come to Sudan to gain control over the resources in your country?
The resources are out there for everyone to come and to compete and to get their share. But the Europeans will not get any shares if they wait for women to be treated fairly and for the human rights to be perfect, and for democracy to be the norm according to their perspective. In our part of the world we have real problems, pressing needs, which we have to solve immediately. We don’t have the luxury of waiting for the Europeans to come. This is why Sudan moved east. We went to Malaysia, to India, to China. We have to find alternatives in this world in which there is no monopoly of anything. We live in a G-Zero world. Brazil is emerging, India is emerging, Turkey is emerging and China is all over the place. The Chinese make themselves available and honestly we are delighted. It is easier now to find alternatives. We still want the Europeans, but we cannot afford to wait for them.
How do the Chinese help Sudan?
They invest in infrastructure, the oil industry, airports, everything. What is the problem in building a bridge or in drilling oil if you are concerned about the fate of people in the country? Drilling for water satisfies basic needs of people. This has nothing to do with democracy or with human rights. If you want to help the people, you have to do things which address the problems of the people. The Europeans just don't care about these things.
Maybe the Europeans are concerned about massacres or slavery?
There is no slavery in Sudan. But even if there was slavery the response is not to impose sanctions on the country. You have to engage with the people. These crazy ideas which are promoted by NGOs and picked up by international media destroyed the image of Sudan. But this is absolutely wrong. We have a lot of problems, but certainly slavery is not one of them.
Germans and German politicians were glad to see the partition of Sudan as a solution to stop violence. Are you disappointed about the role of Germany, of the European Union and the United States?
I saw subtle differences of Germany’s approach compared to the position of the European Union or the United States. Germany’s attitude was generally positive, even during the difficult days, for example during the Darfur crisis. We had hoped for a normalisation of the bilateral relations after the referendum and after the separation. We had hoped to see some concrete steps, like visits from the business community to Sudan, different partnerships etc. But this didn’t happen, probably because we have some difficulties in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, two regions in the South of Sudan. Some months ago I was optimistic that the page would be turned and we would start a new chapter. Unfortunately, nothing happened.
As far as the European Union and the United States are concerned the disappointment is big. Sudan initially wanted to discuss the pending issues before holding the referendum. If you hold a referendum, you have to agree on different things first. You need to settle a lot of issues, no matter how long it will take. We have to reach an agreement on oil, an agreement on citizenship, on different regions. You hear different things in different times. There were all sorts of pressures on Sudan to reverse things. Sudan compromised by accepting to have the referendum before solving the post-referendum issues. The South got the separation and now Sudan has been criticised of not being active enough in trying to settle the post-referendum issues with the Southerners: the oil issue, the border issue, the citizenship issue etc. This is unbelievable.
The Sudanese feel that the Sudan will be criticised by the West no matter what it does. Sudan accepted to hold the referendum, because we believed the promises of the West. We believed that there will be cooperation and that the West will come and help the two parts, the South and the North. It didn’t happen. The United States made huge promises in the last fifteen years and they never delivered. This has caused for all sorts of disappointment.
Southern Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit a few months ago met with the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. What was the outcome?
They agreed to continue talking about the pending issues between the North and the South. Both presidents emphasised that they want to cooperate, that they don’t want a new war. We want to forget about the war, which started in 1955, so even before Sudan’s independence in 1956 and it destroyed the country. People are tired of war, the country suffered and there is a consensus among the elites in both countries that we won’t go back to war even if we disagree. We feel that it is easier to reach agreements when we talk without international mediation, or even legal mediation. Unfortunately, the involvement of international actors makes the process a little bit longer. We have to be patient; we have to resolve our problems. Sudan will never prosper, neither the North nor the South, unless we cooperate. We rely on each other and I feel there is the political will to reach an agreement.
You are an ambassador in a country [Germany] which has been unified. But the country which you represent has been divided recently. How do you feel about it?
I feel ashamed that my country split. Other countries try to get together, to form new blocs, new forms of alliances. We were doing something, which has nothing to do with the real world. Particularly in poor countries like ours in Africa, we need to stick together, because we have common problems and pressing needs. We need to cooperate and we need to form bigger entities to compete at a global level.
There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the German experience. Germany has been destroyed and then the Germans picked themselves up and started literally from scratch. After three, four decades they became an economic giant. They were divided because of the Cold War but they succeeded in unifying the country.