Interview: South Africa’s Ambassador to Sudan Francis Moloi

South African Ambassador to Khartoum Mr. Francis Moloi was interviewed by Salma M.A. Ismail of the Sudanese Media Center (SMC) to discuss issues of mutual concern at a regional and an international level, including the International Criminal Court (ICC), counter-terrorism efforts and African unity.

Q. Your Excellency, thank you for this opportunity. Let me begin by asking the simple question. Tell us a little bit about the bilateral relationship between Sudan and South Africa?

A. Salamalykum Salma, thank you for inviting me and good evening to all of you at home. Well, the bilateral relation between South Africa and Sudan goes back many years. Although we established a formal diplomatic relationship immediately after we attained our freedom in 1994.

But the relationship between our two peoples has been in existence for many years.

I am sure that many people in Sudan may not know that this country played a key role in the liberation struggle of South Africa. And I don’t know how many people in Sudan know that in 1962 Nelson Mandela was received here in Sudan. He was given a Sudanese passport to travel all over Africa to garner support for our own liberation struggle in South Africa.

This was in 1962 and Sudan has just gained its independence in 1956, and instead of the Sudanese only focusing on their own development after long years of colonialism they put their shoulder to the will to support the freedom struggle of the people of South Africa many kilometers to the south.

From that time on the Sudanese had shown us- the South Africans- that they are our true friends that they are with us in our struggle for freedom. Since that time this relationship has been very strong and cordial.

I don’t want to go back in history, but the evidence that has come up now with all these people that are studying our history and our past tell us that we in southern Africa have our origins in the part of Sudan which today is known as Kordofoan.

So our civilizational links with the people of Sudan go back millennia of years.

Q. Yes indeed not many people are aware of this history and it is quite interesting. Let’s talk about the structural bilateral cooperation between the two countries, after raising the level of cooperation of the joint bilateral commission to a ministerial level to better promote political economic and social ties. Can you tell us a little about the progress that has been made and any challenges encountered?
A. Up to now there is an agreement between our two sides that we should establish this bilateral mechanism that will facilitate our cooperation and this agreement has been ready for signature for some time and we need to just get feedback from our colleagues in South Africa and here in Sudan from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

One of our plans was that this bilateral agreement will be signed on the margins of the recently held African Union (AU) summit. But we are not waiting for that signature to take place.  We are already looking at how we can strengthen bilateral cooperation in the areas you have already mentioned; in the areas of business, agriculture, culture and many other others.

Although these agreements will certainly provide the legal framework, we are not waiting for that as a lot of work has already been done to facilitate cooperation between the two countries.

Q. Now that the United States has agreed to ease economic sanctions on Sudan, can we expect more South African investments and businessmen or has South Africa never really been influenced by the sanctions?

A. That’s a very good question indeed. Our view is that the lifting of these economic sanctions on Sudan will open a whole new chapter for Sudan for Sudan’s engagement with South Africa and the world.

For businessmen in South Africa and in other parts of the world, anyone that talks to them about doing business with Sudan they always look over their shoulder and they ask themselves whether they will be infringing on these economic sanctions.

So with the lifting of these sanctions certainly they will remove all the barriers to entry into Sudan. They will all barriers that have been disturbing the financial transactions between business people and it will certainly be an opening for South African business people to look at the many opportunities that exist in Sudan. There are South African companies already doing business here in Sudan- DSTV, MTN, we have our food outlets here like Debonaires Pizza, STEERS and Barcelos. There are many others that want to come into Sudan in other areas of agriculture, of mining, science and technology.

So certainly the South African companies already here have provided a lead for the other South African companies that will certainly want to come here. The embassy has already received many inquiries from South African companies looking for opportunities in Sudan especially in mining and agriculture.

As you may know our own industrial development of South Africa took place on the backdrop of mining, and Sudan is richly endowed with mineral deposits of all varieties and this provides an opportunity again to link South Africa with Sudan, so that we as South Africans can share our expertise in mining as far as services are concerned as far as technology is concerned.

So certainly with lifting of the sanctions, many opportunities for business will be opened not only for South Africa but for other companies, all over the world that would want to come to Sudan and so business.

Q. You mentioned mining and agriculture these are two very important fields for Sudan but another important field for Sudan is also oil. Can you tell us about the South African national oil company PetroSA which was previously interested in Block 12 in Sudan’s north eastern region?

A. Yes, there has been a great interest from the South African companies as we have already mentioned, including PetroSA. Sudan obviously is richly endowed with oil but due to these economic sanctions, it has been very difficult for South African companies to come in and really take full advantage of the opportunities here.

So definitely with the lifting of the economic sanctions the oil sector is another one that provides opportunities for South African companies to come here. So we certainly will be looking forward to our companies coming into the oil sector in Sudan once these sanctions are finally lifted.

Q. Let’s talk a little bit about migration in Africa which is also a problem. What are some of the most crucial or critical issues in managing migration. Sudan is very involved in this together with the western countries including the European Union. What is your view?

A. The issue of migration in Africa is linked largely to the economic challenges that we have and a lot of these migrants leave our shores to look for opportunities in Europe because the kind of challenges we face at the political and economic level.

So what we think will happen once the economic sanctions are lifted is that the economy of Sudan will provide opportunities for young people to be employed, it will provide opportunities for the economy to grow. And that could help stem the flow of migrants to other countries.

So one of the critical things that has happened in Sudan in the whole National Dialogue process taking place that is there is more chance for the economy to grow when business takes place and there is a greater chance of political stability being there.

And these in my view are the two ingredients that will stem the outflow of migrants from Sudan and Africa to other parts of the world.

Q.Tell us more about the National Dialogue. With South Africa being an observer here what message do you have for the hold out groups or the rebel groups that do not want to join the peace efforts?

A. For me as the South African ambassador here in Sudan, and I have shared this with many of my colleagues and friends in Sudan, is that being here has given me the opportunity to have the second bite at the cherry.

And I will explain what I mean by that. When I was still very young, I had an opportunity to observe and participate as a student and young person in our own National Dialogue-in 1991,-when Nelson Mandela and many political prisoners were freed.

Our national dialogue took us seven years to get to the adoption of the final constitution.

And here I am in Sudan, the country that has embarked on its own National Dialogue which is led by his Excellency President Al Bashir and main political parties and interest groups are participating in.

So for me an opportunity exists for South Africans to share the experiences of how to get to peace through peaceful means. Obviously the situations are different. Sudan is not South Africa, South Africa is not Sudan. But there are certainly common elements that we can share common things that we can experience and these are the kinds of things we want to share with the people of Sudan.

One thing that we have realized in South Africa through our own National Dialogue is that in order for the National Dialogue to succeed, it must be fully inclusive and there should be no issues that are left off the table. Nothing should be ‘no negotiable’. Every person, group and party needs to be involved because that is very important.

Because when you see that the National Dialogue is fully inclusive, when we make mistakes in the National Dialogue it will be our collective mistakes. When we succeed it will be our collective success. And if there are challenges and problems because we as people will never come up with a perfect outcome.

But it will allow us an opportunity to work at it again because we own that process and that is the message that I would certainly give to some of our brothers and sisters in Sudan who think they have problems with the current National Dialogue that they want to be outside. That they need to come in and participate because that is the only way which peace can be achieved, and they own to outcomes of the peace process.

Q. There was some controversy when President Omar Al Bashir was in South Africa in 2015 for the AU summit, despite being wanted by the ICC for alleged war crimes and human rights abuses. There were quite a number of unconfirmed reports as to how exactly events unfolded during the summit. Can you tell us exactly what happened so that we lay this issue to rest?

A. Well I think that is a matter that is now in the public domain. You are right, President Al Bashir visited South Africa to attend the AU summit in June 2015 and as you know some members of the civil society took issue with the President’s visit, and approached the court arguing that South Africa as a signatory to the Rome Statute and as a member of the ICC should implement and abide by its commitments under the ICC and its domestic legislation.

That resulted with a court application in which the court granted the application brought by the civil society organizations but then the view of the government was that President Bashir and all the other African heads of state enjoy immunity under our laws and by virtue of them came to do the AU business.

So the South African government, the South Africa courts were not in agreement as far how the matter of President Al Bashir needs to be addressed but it was the view of the government that the President should enjoy immunity and that no action in that regard should be taken against him pursuant to the warrants that were issued by the ICC.

And as they say, the rest is history.

Q. Last year South Africa led some massive efforts to withdraw from the ICC and many countries followed suit, can you tell us about the progress made on that, or any backlash that South Africa has faced.

A. Well a lot of people tend to think that we withdrew from the ICC following the issues at the AU summit following President Al Bashir’s visit. South Africa, like many other countries has always raised some concerns it had regarding the Rome.

And it’s just that this issue was brought to a heat this way. The South African government also took the decision to withdraw from the ICC but given the nature of our democracy, there is an issue that is also raised in our parliament. Some political parties are arguing that this is not the decision to be taken by the executive branch of government.

That the executive branch was supposed to go to parliament to get the process of withdrawal from the ICC there first, before the executive could announce to the world that we are withdrawing from the ICC.

So back in South Africa we still have that debate in parliament as to whether or not the decision to withdraw from the ICC should have been led by the executive without prior parliamentary approval.

As I said we are a democratic country, we have democratic processes and we have independent courts that will adjudicate on this matter. But as we speak right now the government has notified the ICC of its withdrawal. Obviously there are many people in South Africa who are not happy with the decision. And some in the international community that are also not happy with that decision.

Obviously we are a sovereign country and we take decisions based on what we perceive to be in our national interest given the dynamics that are involved.

So at the moment as far as whether that decision to withdraw was supposed to have followed the parliamentary process, the jury is still out on that one.

Q. What has influenced the South African decision to withdraw from the ICC? Is it fair to say that the whole idea of western leaders trying Africa leaders for human rights abuses is part of the reason?

A. Well that’s an issue that has been raised on many quarters of the African continent. That from what people are saying is that the ICC seems to be targeting African leaders. Obviously the ICC does not agree with this. Their response is always that these prosecutions or complaints are initiated by the countries themselves. So it’s not that the ICC is targeting African leaders.

But that is neither here nor there. The situation on the ground is that the people who have been on the receiving end of the ICC have certainly been the African leaders.

And that creates a worry on the African continent about the impartiality of the court, the processes of the court and so on. And I guess a major issue about the ICC is that there are many countries that are not members of the ICC-many that have not signed the agreement but have not ratified the ICC-they have not domesticated their Rome Statute into their domestic laws.

One other very fundamental challenge that many people have had with the ICC and how it operates is that the decision to refer a matter to the ICC is taken by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Now in the UNSC you have a country like the US for instance which is not a member of the ICC, which I don’t think they will ever want to be a member of the ICC, given what the objectives of the ICC are. So the issues of separation of powers have been a legal argument that has been made.

That how can you have one permanent member of the UNSC who is not a member of the ICC but has the power and the veto to decide who gets prosecuted under the ICC? So there are all those legal and political issues which unfortunately cloud the work of the ICC and create great doubts in the minds of many about whether or not the way in which the ICC as it is currently, is the best vehicle to use to address the challenges that it wants to address. So these have been the kind of issues that have been in the minds of many government-including South Africa. It’s just that the practical matter arose that heightened the very same kind of issues that had been there previously.

Q. It seems that the ICC is one of the tools used to cause divisions within the African continent, what can we as Africans, do to come together and face these challenges?

A. Well in Africa we have committed ourselves to build a prosperous, peaceful continent that respects and protects human rights.

There is a recent example of court proceedings in Senegal where a regional group decided that they will deal with the kinds of crimes that are described as crimes against humanity; they will deal with them at a regional level, to show Africa’s commitment to protecting human rights.

So I have no doubt that within the African continent all the regional organizations under the leadership of the African Union we have mechanisms acting with the national courts and the regional court in Senegal to ensure that all these atrocities that have been taking place do not take place.

When a number of African countries express their doubts about some of the issues with the ICC, many people tend to explain that saying well these Africans are not interested in protecting human rights, that they just want to do things according to their whims or that they just want to see impunity perpetuated.

That has never been, and that can never be the position of the AU, or the African countries in particular. We want to ensure that human rights are respected. We want to see peace, prosperity on our continent. And we will have to look at other mechanisms where we can still say no to crimes against humanity, we say no to all these types of crimes under the jurisdiction of the ICC.

Q.Let’s move on to another issue that is important to Africa, and that is terrorism. Sudan is exerting many efforts to counter terrorism, often working with the US government. Is South Africa affected? And your comments on Sudan’s counter-terrorism efforts.

A. In the reports that we have received as far as the cooperation concerned between Sudan and the United States on combating terrorism, they are very very positive reports.

In fact what we have also learned is that these sanctions will also be lifted with the view of continuing to strengthen that cooperation between the US and Sudan. Obviously we in South Africa have been fortunate that we have not had serious challenges in internal terrorism or terrorism coming from outside. We have not been complacent either. All that we are saying is that terrorism has to be addressed.

But what is important is that we need to address the sources of terrorism, because to simply focus on this thing that is called terrorism without looking at what it is that leads to it, we will continue to fight a losing battle. So the challenge we face as an international community is how we can come together to address the root causes of terrorism. Some of which are obviously, poverty, marginalization, and exclusion and in great instances the imbalances in political power. So we have that to address in order to get to the root causes of terrorism.

Q. In the current world situation, with the crisis in the Western countries, what opportunities do you see for emerging African countries?

A. Well Africa has huge opportunities. It’s a continent that is rich in resources of all types. And it’s a continent that is rich in demographics. We are almost one billion people. And a huge majority of these people are young people. So the future of this continent is certainly in the hands of young bright minds.

As Africans who look forward to working with our partners on other parts of the world, governments, intuitions of higher learning, centers of excellence, so that we can both see how we can take advantage of the opportunities that are in the continent, and the opportunities that the people of Africa provide.

Q. You mentioned the US values freedom, human rights, human dignity, and equality. Do you see these same values here in Sudan, or is it really like the western mainstream media says that Sudan is in violation of all these values. What is your own opinion or experience?

A. We have spoken earlier about the National Dialogue and I have been following this process from day one when I arrived here.

When I listen to the political leaders here, my colleagues in the Sudanese government and even the ordinary people on the streets. What is apparent to me is that through the National Dialogue process, Sudan and its people want to find lasting peaceful solutions to all the challenges that have been plaguing this beautiful land for so many years.

Some of those challenges had given rise to some of the very unhappy moments in the history of Sudan. And with this National Dialogue there is now a commitment to finding solutions to all these problems, whether they are political, economic or social. And I have had an opportunity to speak to a committee of the National Dialogue that deals with the identity issues. And this in Sudan has been one of the burning issues. Who is Sudanese? The  Arabs, Christians, black or white? These have been the challenges. More or less like what we had in South Africa along the same racial lines.

But the commitment that I have seen to finding lasting solutions in a peaceful way provides a better opportunity for addressing all these concerns that you have mentioned where Sudan has had a very painful past of internal strife, of people fighting, and dying. The National Dialogue provides an opportunity to address those. When you read the international media about Sudan, you will think there is no country on Earth like it-where there is so much trouble, so much violence, so mush terrorism and crime. You expect to see people dying and blood everywhere.

Q. What do you actually see when you come to Sudan?

A. When you come here you find a completely different story. A country of very friendly, warm people that welcome people from the outside. And that changes that perspective.

I often say to my colleagues that even the outcomes of the National Dialogue have not been fully implemented and Sudan still has many problems, but the fact that the people of Sudan and the leadership of the politicians have committed to peaceful dialogue is a big plus.

Look at what is happening around here-in the Middle East, in other places across the African continent, the challenges beginning to arrive in Europe. The Sudanese by committing themselves to peace is a good sign that no matter the challenges they face, whether internal strife, economic or social issues. They are going to be prepared to talk peacefully and find a solution.

I think Sudan must be supported. Not only by the political parties themselves. But they must be supported by the regional countries. Sudan must be supported by the African Union. And Sudan must be supported by the international community as a whole. I think that with the lifting of these sanctions, it will send a very positive message to this process of rebuilding Sudan. Because it’s ok, you can achieve a political solution, but you also need to find an economic solution.

The lifting of sanctions will provide fresh impetus to the political solution. So there is a lot happening for Sudan at this moment. I think it offers Sudan and its partners a very good opportunity to rewrite the history of this beautiful country.

Q. You mentioned the international and regional support for the Sudanese peace efforts. Do you think these regional countries can do more to support these peace efforts? Or is enough being done?

A. Sudan shares borders with so many countries. Its neighbors already have so many major challenges. Look at South Sudan, Chad, Libya and Yemen and other countries towards the North.

So the neighborhood in which Sudan is, has major issues to deal with. But these challenges are not only for these countries or for Sudan- but are also for us as Africans.

I think Sudan can play a positive role in helping foster the peace efforts here. And I say that with the example that Sudan has provided of a peaceful example of National Dialogue-that’s a big plus. Nobody should undermine that.

When everybody talks about finding a solution to pressing political problems through the barrel of the gun, and Sudan stands out and says we want peace through dialogue. It’s a powerful message!

And I hope that this is the message that the neighbors can embrace. And other countries in the regional-particularly the Middle East region can embrace.

So as far as that is concerned, I see Sudan playing a very key role there. I think we all understand that if your neighbor is sick, you cannot be walking around peacefully and not worry.

A peaceful Sudan means a peaceful South Sudan, a peaceful South Sudan, means a peaceful Sudan. A peaceful Libya means a peaceful Sudan and vice versa. A peaceful Africa means a peaceful world.

So it’s our collective responsibility as Africans and members of the international community, to see how we can support and strengthen peace efforts in countries like Sudan, South, Sudan, Libya Yemen and everywhere.

The problems of the world can never be sealed, put in plastic bags, and thrown in one corner of the world and be forgotten. They will come back to haunt you. And then we will be in a very serious situation.

We have to understand and embrace the concept that we are children of common human heritage. This planet is our home. If we do not take care of it, all of us will all be in trouble.

So that is why I say that the role Sudan plays in the region is the role that every country must play. It’s the role that Africa must play. And Sudan must be supported in these efforts.

Q. You mentioned Sudan being a multicultural, multi -religious country like South Africa. Do you see cultural similarities between the two countries and what about cultural cooperation, or any plans for the future?

A. Part of the information that is being discovered right now is that many of us in Southern and South Africa owe our origins to Sudan. Therefore that makes Sudan part and parcel of Africa. So I think that provides also an opportunity for you to explore these cultural ties that have been there from antiquity between Sudan and South Africa right now, we are looking at a number of projects that could strengthen cultural ties.

There’s one project in particular where we are still working on, is there is a group of SA going all across Africa to collect information and data about Nelson Mandela’s travels across the continent way back in the 1960s and obviously Sudan is in the middle of that. And we want to document that history; we want to document the contribution that Sudan has made in our own liberation struggle. And part and parcel of what this project entails is building a studio here in Khartoum that teaches young Sudanese the art of animation, filmmaking animation. And who knows, Sudan has so many stories to tell. So many students that go through that academy will be some of the great film makers that Sudan will have produced. There is a lot of positive stories that must be told about Sudan. And we hope that with the skills young Sudanese will acquire through that academy will further enhance our cultural and cooperation in that regard.

We are also looking at obviously there a lot of South African students that are studying here, many Sudanese studying in South Africa. We are also looking at bringing some South African cultural groups to perform here. Cultural groups from Sudan to perform in South Africa. And in that way it will be another way in which we rediscover our roots, rediscover ourselves and strengthen our cooperation in that regard.

Q. I can say that this cultural cooperation is something many Sudanese will look forward to especially from South Africa. You have been here for two years as you have mentioned. Can you tell me something about your experiences in tourism in Sudan?

A. Yes. I have traveled fairly around Sudan. One of the places that I visited is Darfur when I was there I had an opportunity to visit Kutum, among other places. And as I was traveling around Sudan, I could see how beautiful this country is-rich and steeped in history.

In December I visited Merowe to go see these ancient pyramids. And I am told that Sudan has some of the oldest pyramids in the world. So there you have it-a country that can unlock African and human civilization. This is Sudan. I know this because you know, in South Africa around 2005-2006 tourism became our number one foreign exchange earner and it built the gold sector for the first time in over 100 years.

So I know what tourism can do for a country when you put the resources there to develop your tourism market. And we spoke earlier and I said, many people out there have a very faint idea of what Sudan is. They have not been here. They hear about it only though the media. They do not know of the beauty or topography of the country. They have not been here to enjoy the hospitality of the people or to see the cultural diversity, the linguistic diversity, the regional diversity of Sudan. If you are a tourist and you have not experienced that, you really need to come to Sudan.

So I think again with the normalization of the relations with the world, the lifting of sanctions will allow more people to come to Sudan.

Tourism provides Sudan a huge opportunity. Who doesn’t want to come here, where the two Niles meet-the longest river in the world. A very historic country with significant religious history and it’s all in Khartoum. So certainly Sudan offers huge opportunities in the areas of tourism which have not yet been tapped. And I guarantee that when that happens, the whole world will want to come here.

Q. Are you saying that the tourism potential in Sudan is similar to that of South Africa , which is massive?

A. Before South Sudan seceded, a couple of years ago, Sudan was Africa’s largest country. Obviously in terms of land size we are relatively much smaller. But you know I would say this about our continent. We have one beautiful continent and I think without going into some religious discussion, when God created the universe. God wanted a beautiful place to rest and to walk around and so he created Africa- a very beautiful continent with very beautiful people, and beautiful landscape, beautiful animals. So our countries have their own unique and individual beauty.

South Africa has its own beauty about tourism. Sudan has its own beauty about tourism. South Sudan, Libya, all these countries. The challenge that we face is to unearth and show that.

There are no pyramids in South Africa but the pyramids are here. So that gives a very unique advantage to Sudan. So it’s a continent that is so beautiful, the people are so beautiful, the religions that we want to bring forward. So you wouldn’t want to say South African has more than Sudan or Sudan has more.

What I will say is that these two countries have their own unique beauty that must be brought to the fore.

And Sudan has huge potential in that regard.

Q. You said you have been traveling around Sudan. Many foreigners in Sudan are very worried and scared about the safety. How safe do you feel traveling around Sudan?

A. They say if you are a diplomat and you come to Sudan. You cry twice. The first time is when you are told for the first time that you are going to Sudan. And everybody tells you, Oh problems in Sudan. Oh, insecurity in Sudan. Oh, all these problems. You cry your heart out and fill buckets and buckets of tears.

And then you come here and you realize. Oh my God. Peaceful country, a country of very friendly people, a beautiful country and all those horrible things you had in your head are nowhere to be seen. You walk around all over Sudan asking where is the insecurity, where are the dying people, the mad people, where are all the negative things I heard about. You will not find them.

I have been here for two years. And as am ambassador I have a driver obviously, but most of the time I drive myself when I visit my friends or go to functions. In the middle of the night there has never been any moment that I have felt threatened or insecure or afraid. In fact in all my experiences is that even if I am looking for directions in the dead of the night in some dark valley in Omdurman because I have missed a corner, or looking for a place that I have been invited to for a wedding, people are willing to show you the way. They will climb into your car, drive with you and drop you there and they are happy.

So this has been an absolutely wonderful experience for me. That is the experience of many diplomats here. And I said to you we cry twice. The time will come here for me in two more years to go back to South Africa, and I will be crying again buckets and buckets. Because this would have been my home for four years.

The ordinary people of Sudan would have made me comfortable in Sudan. They have made me feel at home away from home. And it’s been just an absolutely wonderful place to be.  And that will make me cry. Because Sudan will be in my heart, the people of Sudan will be in my heart, and I can tell you when I leave here, having done my duties as ambassador of South Africa. I will leave here as the ambassador of Sudan, and the people of Sudan.

Mr. Ambassador, Sudan will always be your home and you will never need to cry your eyes out. Thank you so much your Excellency for this opportunity.