Interview: Director for Africa at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Neil Wigan

Sudan and the UK have been exerting efforts to increase cooperation in the fields of economy, investment and culture. A series of senior officials have been visiting Sudan to discuss ways to develop bilateral relations and to also encourage Khartoum efforts to reduce illegal immigration from the Horn of African countries towards Europe and Britain especially. Neil Wigan Director for Africa at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was in Khartoum for the fifth meeting of the UK-Sudan Strategic Dialogue where a number of important issues were discussed including the peace process, development, migration, human rights, trade and culture. To learn more, Marwa Al Tayeb interviewed Wigan for the Sudanese Media Centre (SMC).

Q. Welcome to Sudan. Is it your first time here?

A. This is my third time in Sudan. In my last visit, I went to Darfur to see the situation on the ground, also to see a little bit more of Sudan and to talk to normal people as well.

Q. The last period has witnessed wide diplomatic collaboration between London and Khartoum, as well as the fourth strategic dialogue. In your view have the two countries succeeded in the promotion of the political and economic collaboration?

A. The relation now is improving and it became stronger and more honest and open than two or three years ago. Also the strategic dialogue that, we started having with Sudan includes a wide range of issues; human rights, education, culture and commercial cooperation. Moreover, the two countries have developed better concrete cooperation on some of the issues, and in the way of talking openly and frankly about issues that we disagreed on in the past.

Q. The last months there was a great cooperation, between the two countries regarding extremism and human trafficking, precisely preventing the infiltration of migrants into Europe. What are the limits of this cooperation and to what level it had succeeded in combating those kinds of crimes?
A. Definitely, the cooperation had succeeded. This cooperation is for both our countries interest and for the migrants that are affected by this. We work together for example on the most vulnerable migrants and refugees, to try to ensure that their rights and dignity are protected. Also we worked together against organized criminal networks that are engaged in human trafficking. Violent extremism is a threat that affects, the whole world, but we see a very good work in Sudan regarding the issue, and in our two ways discussion we are going to share experience and to try to find solutions together.

Q. So, we are going to see much more cooperation in the future?
A. Yes. This is what the dialogue is trying to do; to identify areas where we can share interests, and how we can step up the cooperation between our experts on some of the issues. Also teams from London will come to Sudan and team from Sudan will go to London to share experience on how they can take those issues forward.

Q. The delegation of the Lord’s Council’s visit to Khartoum in the last few weeks was very positive and they promised to support the case of lifting, the name of Sudan from the terrorism list. How is the UK going to help in that matter especially that you have very good strategic relations with the US?

A. It’s a bilateral issue between Sudan and the US. We are not directly involved, but we have good relations with the US, including working against terrorism. We regularly discuss Sudan issues with the US and we talked to them about the progress we are making in our relations so they can understand the broader context.

Q. How is the UK going to support Sudan in the case of the foreign debt relief, so as to return Sudan to take part in the international community?

A. It’s a very long complicated technical process, but we are encouraging the government of Sudan to produce a poverty reduction strategy which is an important part of the debt relief process, also we are going to give advice about the steps they need to take towards debt relief.

Q. General Information indicates that the volume of trade between the two countries had reached 100 million pounds, is it possible that this number might increase in the future because it seems lower than expected?

A. Yes, we think it should be bigger than that, maybe a billion pounds a year and that will happen, by using the links we have between our countries to create opportunities for investment.
Q. We are now talking to British companies to come and invest in Sudan, a trade delegation from the Foreign Ministry in London came to Sudan last December; also we had some work with the private sector and deputy prime minister in Khartoum last February.
A. We are working with the government of Sudan, in order to make Sudan an attractive environment to the British companies and that will happen, if political stability is demonstrated in Sudan. Moreover, experts from the Department of International Development will develop a strategy to increase the level of investment between Sudan and the UK and we hope to see that in the next few months. Also the Embassy of Sudan is trying to promote Sudan to attract investors.

Q. The UK had showed a strong will to develop economic relations with Sudan and that through a conference in London; do you think this is going to be the starting point for the British companies to invest in Sudan?

A. It’s a gradual process. First we attract people, who are interested, then encourage them to invest in Sudan, but before that, it is important to start spreading the message that Sudan is open for business.
Q. How is the British government going to attract investors?

A. It’s a whole combination, there are some companies, who find a natural fit between them and the opportunities that, the government of Sudan had to offer, also the two governments could talk directly to the investors, throughout conferences or by making available information in websites and social media, so people who are interested will have access to how they can exchange trades.

Q. A. Delegation from the Department for International British Development (DIFD) had visited Sudan last march, what is your evaluation of DIFD programs, do you think it succeeded in achieving overall economic growth?

A. As a department they need to do much more towards economic development. Sudan is a country with a great economic potential that hadn’t been fully realized, many senior officials from DFID had come to Khartoum to look on how they can set up a program that, is more focused on economic development. Furthermore, we worked with Sudan on the meetings of the IMF (The international Monetary Fund) in Washington, where Sudan wants to engage more with IMF and The World Bank, and to know how their programs could support in the difficult economic situations. We are in the beginning of the process and there is a lot to do in the future, but we surely want to work with government of Sudan to maximize the opportunities and to ensure that this economic program will benefit all the Sudanese, particularly the poorest and the most vulnerable.

Q. The UK after leaving the European Union has a strategic plan to strength the economic relation with all the African countries, is Sudan involved in this strategy?

A. It’s in a very interesting part of our strategy; the relation between the two countries is improving in the last two years. Sudan and the UK could work more closely together on a very wide field, particularly on the economic side. Also the two countries could work more on promoting peace, security and the constructive role of Sudan on the region, for example we see the role of Sudan in the conflict of South Sudan, in both humanitarian and the political sides.
Q. on the issue of South Sudan, how is London looking at the situation there, did your discussions here in Khartoum came up with solutions to restore peace there?

A. We have a close partnership with the government of Sudan and we are trying to address the problem. The government of Sudan is playing a very constructive role as a member of the IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development), the main regional organization and we as member of the Troika, we want to work very closely with the IGAD and other regional organizations. Also we appreciate Sudan for welcoming the refugees from South Sudan and for opining humanitarian corridor, which allowed lifesaving to the people there.
Q. What about stopping the war there?

A. We have the higher reconciliation forum that is led by the IGAD, in which Sudan had played an important role. We want to make that process as successful as possible, and to encourage all the parties in South Sudan to come up with peace, for the interest, of both the people of South Sudan and to help in gaining regional stability including Sudan.
Q. After the restoration of peace in Darfur is the UK going to be involved in the peace processes and the development there?
A. We welcome the reduction of violence in Darfur, and we do think that it’s important to note that, everything we do there is to maintain peace and security. Also we think there is a role for UNAMID to play in Darfur to ensure the stability there. Moreover, we should move a little bit from humanitarian support and more towards development. We need to give the IDPS and the refugees more confidence in their future, give them the toll to build a future for themselves and for their families, in a way that addressing the line of the conflict. We are working very closely with the government of Sudan to try to bring all the communities together and to find a long term solution,that already helped in bringing peace to the region. Politically, we are in touch with the opposition groups and we are using our political influence with them to try to bring them to engage seriously in the peace process with the government of Sudan.
Q. How is the UK going to support the development in Darfur?
A. The document of peace in Darfur gives a very good base, on how we can work together, to try to bring more development in Darfur; but first we need to talk to the people to understand, where they see their economic future, either in their communities that they already in, or they want to go back home. The most important thing now is the reduction of violence and finding a long time solution that is going to benefit the people of Darfur.
Q. In the end thank you very much. Would you like to add anything?
A. There is a genuine desire on behalf of the British government and the British people to work more closely with Sudan, for the interest of both our people. We think this is the time for the government and the people of Sudan to deliver on that opportunity.