KHARTOUM (SUDANOW) The Indonesian Ambassador to Khartoum, Sayyed Burhan al-Dinn Badr al-Zaman valued the Indonesian-Sudanese relations which have begun in the 1950s after independence of the Sudan and have remained strong throughout the past period, though he pointed out that the economic sanctions imposed on the Sudan stand a formidable obstacle to the flow of the Indonesian investment in the Sudan.
In an interview to SUDANOW, HE the Ambassador discussed a number of common issues and aspects of cooperation between the two countries.
SUDANOW: Your Excellency, will you brief us on the Indonesian-Sudanese relations, when and how was the beginning?
The Ambassador: We can say that the relations began even before the independence of the two countries, that is, since the arrival of Sheikh Ahmed Sorkutty in our country about a hundred years ago. Sorkutty was a Sudanese, although he was at the time representative of HM the King of Saudi Arabia. Thanks to God, Sorkutty is credited for laying down the first brick of the firm relations between the peoples of Indonesia and Sudan, relations which have continued until now. We do not forget the position of Indonesia towards the Sudan during the first conference of the Non-Alignment Movement in Bandung in 1955. Indonesia demanded separation of the Sudan delegation to the conference from the Egyptian delegation and the Sudanese delegation sat, for the first time, behind the Sudanese flag, emphasizing their desire in the independence of the Sudan.
This was how the ties have begun, not only due to the common religious principles but also in opposition to the occupation. The Sudan then obtained independence and Indonesia was among the first countries which approved this and established diplomatic relations which have remained firm at the formal level through the various institutions and at the informal level through the civil society organizations.
Q: YE, you have assumed this office recently, have you had previous ties with the Sudan? What were your impressions on your arrival in the Sudan?
A: I express my gratefulness and appreciation for the welcome I was accorded in your country. Personally, I embrace affability and esteem to the Sudan and its people. We in Indonesia are fully convinced that the Sudan possesses a distinguished importance in the region. I have assumed this post as ambassador for Indonesia six months ago but I have previously visited the Sudan more than once, the last visit was in 2011. Before that, I was tasked by the Foreign Ministry with supervision over the Middle Eastern African region, including the Sudan. I visited the Sudan in 2007 among a ministerial delegation and month later I came here with the Indonesian Minister of Agriculture.
Q: The Sudan is rich in natural resources and possesses vast fertile lands. Is there any cooperation between the two countries at present?
A: Certainly, there are numerous aspects of cooperation between our two countries, particularly in the field of agriculture which is considered as the most appropriate sphere for providing support by Indonesia to the Sudan. There was cooperation between the ministries of Agriculture of the two countries through implementation of agricultural projects. Indonesian agriculturists have constantly been dispatched to the Sudan for contribution to transference of modern technologies for cultivation of rice in a joint 5,000-feddan (acres) project between the two countries in Al-Rahad locality, in the Gezira State. Numerous Sudanese officials are invited for participation in scientific conferences and forums held in Indonesia for discussion on transference and utilization of modern technologies. Indonesia also contributes by provision of expertise and support in the fields of cattle breeding, commerce and micro-finance.
As regards the field of capacity-building, the Ministry of Fisheries in Indonesia, offers numerous opportunities to the Sudan to benefit from the tremendous progress we have achieved in this field. This is particularly significant because the Sudan possesses rich all-year water resources. In fact, the fish sector may not be of a priority to all people of the Sudan, but is of a great importance to the Sudanese in east Sudan. Many people benefitted from the capacity-building programmes and training courses provided by Indonesia in those fields. There are also memoranda of understanding, administrative arrangements and joint committees for implementation of the agreements.
Moreover, Indonesia offered the Sudan support in laying down the foundations of democracy, political capacity-building, organization of elections and establishing peace in the Sudan. For this end a number of Sudanese government officials and members of some political parties were invited for attending the general elections held in Indonesia last year for familiarization with, and benefitting from the Indonesian experience. We grant priority to the Sudan and place in the forefront of the African countries for benefitting from the capacity-building programmes which Indonesia offers the friendly countries.
Q: It is noticed that the Sudanese businessmen are active towards investment in your country whereas the Indonesian businessmen are indifferent. What do you think are the reasons?
A: It is doubtless that the economic sanctions imposed on the Sudan pose a formidable obstacle to the flow of Indonesian investments into the Sudan. This may be the reason that discourages many Indonesian businessmen from engaging in investment projects in the Sudan. As you know the capital requires firm guarantees to start successful investment operations. However, we are confident that the investment between the two countries will flourish as soon as those sanctions are lifted.
Q: Excuse me for the disruption, but there are some countries, like China for instance, which disregarded those sanctions. Has your embassy made any efforts to overstep those obstacles?
A: Yes. We know that some countries have managed to overcome this problem. But, frankly speaking, the Sudan is in need to settle its status with the other countries so as to facilitate the flow of funds into the Sudan. We sincerely hope that those obstacles will be removed so that the Indonesian investment can enter the Sudan. For our part in the embassy, we will exert utmost efforts for surmounting such obstacles.
Q: Indonesia is advanced in numerous industrial fields, including the oil industries. What are the forms of cooperation between the two countries in this field?
A: The big national Indonesian companies contributed to the petroleum exploration in several parts of the Sudan before the secession of South Sudan. Personally, I contributed to arrival of some Indonesian private sector oil companies for work in the Sudan. At present, however, the Sudan seeks to sudanize the oil sector gradually.
Q: Indonesia possesses the greatest economy in Southeast Asia and one of the nascent economies in the globe. It has an industrial system in which the government plays the most important role through the ownership of many companies. How can the relations between the two countries benefit from this development?
A: The Sudan has tremendous natural resources, especially in the fields of agriculture, fish and minerals, not only petroleum but also gold and other minerals. The exchange of visits by the businessmen and private sector of the two countries will help in this connection. Many Indonesian businessmen are strongly convinced of the Sudan’s tremendous possibilities and a promising future of investment. This is a good sign and we are presently having a cooperation agreement with the Sudan in the field of gold prospection and we hope that the efforts will be exerted so that the concluded agreement would reach satisfactory results for the two parties.
Q: Trade is a crucial factor for cementing the relations between the peoples. What efforts is the embassy exerting for activation of this vitally important activity between the two countries?
A: From my position in the embassy, I give utmost concern to this matter and I facilitate visits by Sudanese businessmen to Indonesia to explore the factors of the success of the Indonesian trade experience. I also facilitate visits by Indonesian businessmen to the Sudan for participation in such trade exhibitions as Khartoum International Fair which is organized in January of each year. But this activity is impeded by reports of false allegations sometimes carried by some foreign media on absence of security in the Sudan, while I am personally convinced that the Sudan is safe and Khartoum, in particular, is a city that enjoys safety and security. Therefore, you have to counter those negative media campaigns.
Q: What are the joint programmes or projects for future cooperation between the two countries?
A: At the formal level there are many programmes and visits will be exchanged by officials of the two countries during this year. Since my arrival last March I have supervised organization of a visit by Sudanese police men to Indonesia to follow training courses for upgrading technological skills and capacity-building in the framework of the cooperation and coordination between the police of the two countries. The Indonesian-Sudanese cooperation also continues in the field of agriculture and fish.
Q: Indonesia is a tourist country that attracts huge numbers of visitors each year. A number of officials of tourism in Indonesian have of late visited the Sudan. What was the outcome of that visit?
A: Yes. As you know, tourism constitutes an important element in Indonesia’s national economy and we have achieved a remarkable success in this field. The Sudan also enjoys huge and encouraging tourist ingredients, only if they are exploited in a good way. Yes, a high-level delegation from the Indonesian Ministry of Tourism visited the Sudan in the past period to cast light on the accomplishments scored by Indonesia in the field of tourism and to discuss ways for deriving from the Indonesian experience for upgrading tourism in the Sudan. The Sudanese Minister of Tourism participated in an international tourism conference that was held in Indonesia a few months ago. Viewpoints and practical experiences in this field were also exchanged.
Q: Education of various kinds is among the main pillars for building strong state. Are there agreements for cooperation in this context?
A: The relations between the two countries are very strong in this sphere. We have in Sudan more than 300 students following university and post-university studies in the International University of Africa, Omdurman Islamic University and Khartoum University. There is also a number of Sudanese students studying in Indonesian universities. It is true that there are no direct agreements due to differences in the administrative systems of the two countries. For instance in Indonesia there is a ministry of education and another ministry of religious affairs, although the new government plans to amalgamate the two ministries into one ministry in the coming period. Whereas in the Sudan there is a ministry of education and another of higher education and the one which presently deals with the Sudan is the Ministry of Religious Education. An Indonesian delegation visited the Sudan last month for conclusion of agreements in this field as many Indonesian students want to come to the Sudan to learn Arabic Language and Islamic religion studies.
Q: Turning to the Sudan’s domestic affair, how do you view the current call for national dialogue?
A: Let me say sincerely that dialogue is the ideal option for reaching unity of the national rank; and Indonesia has managed to uphold its unity, seizing the first opportunity of dialogue for resolving all the problems it faced. Indonesia is a country of multiple tribes (300 tribes) and includes diverse ethnicities and religions, including Buddhism and Hinduism, although Islam is the religion of the overwhelming majority of the people (90%). The Indonesian people got united in their struggle against the Dutch colonization and all Indonesians swore to make Indonesia one territory, one language and one nation until we obtained independence. Now the slogan of Indonesia is “Unity in Diversity”, that is we are diverse but we must remain united. So, in Indonesia we are fully convinced that dialogue, not violence, is the main and foremost way for achieving stability and social peace everywhere and we fully support all efforts for the success of the national dialogue in the Sudan. We are in the forefront of the countries which advocate priority for the national dialogue in the Sudan.
Q: How about the Indonesian community in the Sudan?
A: In addition to the crew of the embassy consisting of me, the diplomatic colleagues making up the staff of the embassy and their families, there is a number of Indonesians, including the Indonesian students in the Sudanese universities, some agricultural experts and workers in the oil and printing industries.