British ambassador to Khartoum Michael Aaron sat down with the Sudanese Media Centre (SMC) following the lifting of US sanctions last week. He was interviewed by Rania Al Amin on various issues including the impact of the lifting of US sanctions and the cooperation on a number of issues including human trafficking.
Translated by Fatma Eisa, Arwa Mohammad
How do you consider the decision of lifting economic sanctions on Sudan?
I welcome the decision of lifting sanctions on Sudan. Since I arrived to Sudan in August 2015, I thought that lifting the sanctions was very important and it was in the interest of the United States, Britain and the most important it’s in the interest of the Sudanese people. I think the lifting the sanctions are just the beginning and that the coming years will witness many implementation of the decisions related to the lifting of these sanctions.
What do you mean by lifting of sanctions is a beginning?
I mean it’s the beginning for progress in the Sudanese economy and an opportunity to strengthen bilateral relations between Sudan and the United States and the beginning of progress in relations between Sudan and the West in general.
Now we want improvement in the peace processes in Darfur and the two regions and there must be improvement in the human rights file.
You said that the decision of lifting the sanction is in the interests of Britain, Has Britain made any efforts to lift these sanctions?
Yes, of course. The British Special Envoy was in Washington two weeks ago and spoke to American politicians and officials. As a friendly government of the United States, we have made efforts with our colleagues in the European Union, the Troika and Norway. We were fully convinced of the need to lift the sanctions on Sudan, through discussions between us and our colleagues in the United States.
Tell us about economic cooperation between Sudan and Britain?
The level of bilateral economic relations in trade and investment is simple and this is due to the economic sanctions imposed on Sudan as well as bad relations in the past, but some steps have started since the beginning of the strategic dialogue between the two countries last year.
I have made a number of visits to Britain with groups from the Sudanese private sector and representatives from the Sudanese government to introduce investments in Sudan. I believe it is a new step that paves the way for good political and economic relations between the two countries, and I am optimistic about future bilateral relations. There is a great opportunity for British companies to invest and trade in Sudan. We have some British companies now work in the Sudanese labor market, for example GCB and Baywater companies, which worked at “Manara “Water Station in Omdurman, as well as Junolife company, which has cooperation with the Sudanese company “Adeyaat”, But we want more than that and we believe there is a very great opportunity to develop relations between the two countries.
Are there other companies willing to invest in Sudan after the decision to lift sanctions?
The head of the British Ministry of International Trade is currently in Sudan to study investment opportunities. I think there will be missions from the British companies to Sudan and I am very optimistic in this regard, and I think there will also be missions from the Sudanese companies to Britain. On the 19th of this month a delegation from Sudan will visit Britain to attend a meeting of the House of Lords including a number of Sudanese companies about 15 to 20 companies with their counterparts from Britain and some politicians from both sides and this is very important.
We have some efforts with the Sudan’s Ministry of Investment to knew the conditions of investment and trade because it’s not a part of the international market due to economic sanctions therefor we should support it to make progress in this regard, especially that the World Bank has a list of how to work with countries in terms of transparency and the surrounding circumstances, and Sudan at the end of this list, which requires it to intensify efforts if to attract Western investments and the circumstances, so I repeat that our efforts with the Ministry of Investment is ongoing and I am optimistic but we need time.
The two countries have agreed on a package of programs and projects. What is the position of implementation?
We have a number of projects especially in the field of water as we have a water project with the Government of the Red Sea in Port Sudan and we have an integrated administrative project of water resources in North Darfur, which is very important for agriculture, especially as Darfur depends on rain irrigation, the projects will have great benefit to the farmers. We also have a project in Al-Fashir for distribute the water pipes inside and outside Al-Fasher for the purpose of providing water in the framework of development in Darfur.
Do you expect flow of bank transfers from Britain to Sudan after the lift of sanctions?
I think there are some banks, for example, the British Arab Commercial Bank based in London, It had a headquarters in Sudan years ago and they want to go back. We will work with some banks in the Gulf to consolidate economic relations between Britain and Sudan and that will be gradually due to the position of Sudan’s banks.
There has been progress in banking security in the world, and because of sanctions Sudan has not been part of that, so it has to go through this progress.
What does the future for economic cooperation look like especially in banking after the lifting of sanction?
Yes its possible. It can be made by small British banks and banks that had experience in Sudan and already worked with Sudanese banks such as Bank of Khartoum and others.
What is your assessment of Sudan’s efforts in combating terrorism and human trafficking?
We have joint efforts with the Sudanese Ministry of the Interior and the police in the field of combating human trafficking.
We and Sudan, understand the problem of human trafficking and agree that it must be eliminated and we have cooperation with the Sudanese authorities and some projects with the International Organization for Migration, UNHCR and cooperation between us and the Government of Sudan and international organizations..
Does Britain support Sudan in the international arena? Give examples
Yes. During previous years there have been positive steps in this regard in the Security Council, for example, in the United Nations, and recently the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and there was cooperation between Sudan and the United States and support from the European Union, including the United Kingdom. I think it was a good decision for Sudan, as well as cooperation between us and Sudan in relation to UNAMID better than before and we have ongoing discussions, and I believe that the decision on gradual withdrawal was good for the Sudan and support Sudan in its claim to join the WTO, and the World Bank is working on how to help Sudan in this matter..
How do you view strategic dialogue between the two countries?
There is a session on 16 October in London and there was a major development in relations between the two countries after the strategic dialogue and there are some steps that have become concrete, including granting visas easily from both sides.
It is true that we have difficulty in granting visas to the Sudanese to some businessmen or employees, but we are working hard to make things easier. We also have great assistance from the Sudanese Embassy in London for the British who want to visit Sudan.
As for the cooperation in illegal immigration or the fight against terrorism and even on the level of coordination in the file of human rights, there has been remarkable progress, but in the future we want more to be done in the file of human rights. On the other hand I was very happy to pardon of Mudawi.
What is your assessment of Sudan’s efforts to promote peace and security in the region, especially in South Sudan?
Sudan has great efforts in the continent and I make these efforts, especially the Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour, Which led several efforts in this framework. Sudan’s efforts for peace in southern Sudan are important and useful, and we also visited the President of Somalia and visit from Ethiopia as well as Sudan’s relations with Chad. I believe that the role of Sudan in the region is important in maintaining security and stability and we believe that the continuation of this political and efforts is very important. Now Sudan is hosting representatives from the African Union, IGAD and Smabo Mbeki in international conference in Sudan, and this good step..
How do you view tourism in Sudan?
I personally visited a number of cities in Sudan. Sudan is an undiscovered country for tourism. Like swimming and diving in the Red Sea and the National Museum, as well as the ruins of Merwi, Karima and Bagrawia. There are churches in Dongola Alagouz and some temples.
He also visited Jebel Marra and in my opinion it may be an excellent tourist destination but we need to change Sudan’s reputation abroad and this requires high efforts. The security situation is good but this is not known abroad, and but we need full peace in the two regions and Darfur because tourism can be part of the large income of peace in the two regions.
On the mention of peace President Al Bashir announced a cessation of hostilities until the end of the year… What is your comment?
This step is important but we need lasting peace through the agreements by reference to the negotiations. After the General Conference of the SPLM and the election of a new president, negotiations must be resumed under the auspices of the African Union and the African mechanism. Because there is a cease-fire by the government and movements, but we need an agreement under international monitoring for example, and we need a lasting peace and the positive circumstances now happening.
Can you tell us about the scholarships and education cooperation?
We provide 15 scholarships annually to study for a Master’s degree at any British university in all disciplines. We aim for outstanding students in November by applying online and this is one of the priorities of the Embassy.
Do you have a message to send at the end of this meeting?
I thank you for this good interview and I am happy with this meeting. I believe that relations with Sudan are important and, God willing, there will be progress in the fields of economy, politics and investment.