Interview By: Dr Belgees Fagier
Khartoum, Sept. 26 (SUNA)- Malaysia Embassy in Khartoum has celebrated the National Day of Malaysia amid wide participation of members of the diplomatic corps accreditted to Sudan in addition to members of regional and international organizations, media and remarkable presence of Sudanese dignitaries.
The occasion was addressed by the Malaysian Ambassador to Sudan, Mohamad Razdan Jameel, welcoming the attendees and praised the national unity of his country and coherence of the Malaysian people who managed to create a strong unified country. Ambassador Razdan asserted the strong relations linking Malaysia and Sudan.
Ambassador Razdan has given the following interview to SUNA to highlight the bilateral relations and prospects of promoting them further.
Q: Since the beginning, the Sudanese-Malaysian relations are strong and developed but recently faced some debility what’s your comment?
A: We have been very close since the independence of our two countries. In 1973 our relations have improved tremendously and in 1991-1994 there were a lot of interest in terms of Oil and Gas in Sudan. We established our Embassy in Khartoum in 1994 and at the same time it coincided with (PETRONAS)’s involvement in Sudan’s future. Since then our relations began to prosper as both countries have a lot of similarities i.e. religion and mindset. Both countries are also members of many regional organizations such as the OIC and NAM. I also see many similarities and values between our two cultures which adds to why it is easy for both nationals to adapt to each other. The mind-set of the two peoples are very important to move forward specially in terms of relations. I do not see that there is any negative effect recently, I think it is more related to how developments and shifts of the geopolitics of the world within the last two-three years, not to mention the impact of the pandemic, played a tremendous impact on relations between all countries. The pandemic definitely impacted and forced nations to depend more on communicating online. The faster we adapt to these challenges, the better we can resume normalcy. I think it is the same for most countries, I think it is an opportunity and we need to know how to transform a relationship, it should evolve naturally for the mutual benefit of both countries.
Q: Sudan is considered as a gate to Africa due to its geographical location. How do you consider this in your political and economic relations with Sudan?
A: That is a very good question, because Sudan is located next to the Red Sea, which caters to approximately 10 % of the world’s sea trade, and similarly to Malaysia, we are also located next to the Straits of Malacca which books for approximately 60% of the global sea trade. So we certainly understand why Sudan is an important trading nation not just for the Horn of Africa but the rest of Africa. There is a need to look at the huge potential that Sudan has to offer. Sudan with its huge fertile agricultural lands can serve to assist Malaysia to secure its food security needs. With potential reserves of oil and gas in Sudan, it can serve to meet Malaysia’s energy security concerns as well. I have been here for four years and I have seen the many potentials particularly in the agricultural sector where Malaysia can assist on adding value to the raw produce such as livestock, where the meat could be processed and packed for export, coupled with Malaysia’s Halal certification could potentially make Sudan a regional hub for Africa, Europe and to the Gulf states.
Q: Sudan owns vast natural wealth and Malaysia is an advanced country in term of industry and agriculture. How can Sudan benefit from the Malaysian experiences in agriculture and industry for the benefit of the two sides? A: As I had mentioned in the last question, Malaysia has a lot of experience since its Independence. As you know, at beginning Malaysia was more oriented to the agriculture sector like Sudan but in the past three decades we had shifted our priorities from the agriculture sector towards the manufacturing and high technology sectors. These transformations were crucial for Malaysia to target being a high income and developed nation by 2020. As you are aware, Malaysia is one of the biggest chip producers in the world and exports many electrical and electronic products. In Sudan, in my many engagements with Ministers and businessmen, there certainly are strong opportunities for almost any sector in Sudan. All we need to focus is make one project be a successful story and then interest in investing in Sudan will flow naturally. Another challenge that needs to be addressed is managing the perceptions about Sudan. Many news portals report on sensational news about Sudan in a negative manner but neglect to focus on Sudan’s strengths. I believe both the Sudanese and Malaysian side can work together regardless of the narrative. What will help a lot would be a one stop center for potential investors to clarify Sudanese policies. As it is sometimes difficult to meet many officials as it may be under different jurisdiction of the Ministries, a one stop center would also serve as a focal point to show the right direction. This will certainly speed up the process and also add credence for potential investors about doing business in Sudan.
Q: PETRONAS company entered field of oil investment in Sudan early and achieved great success but some misunderstanding happened in last three years… has it been bypassed?
A: I believe there is no misunderstanding as it was very clear to us from the beginning that (PETRONAS) had complied to all the laws in Sudan. When it comes to politics, many issues can become complicated. Malaysia has been present in Sudan long enough to respect and understand the situation. We are mindful including ( PETRONAS) to follow the necessary processes to its conclusion. We look forward to intensifying relations again. Malaysia has always resorted to soft diplomacy in resolving issues. In reiterating, I do not think there was any misunderstanding but more about the misinformation about how the land was transferred to (PETRONAS).
Q: Are there plans in future to attract more companies to invest in field of oil and gas? A: Yes that is what I am working on now. It will take time definitely because the (PETRONAS) issue was widely reported in Malaysia and there is a need to clarify and explain the facts. The Embassy is working to attract private companies to come to Sudan. Our efforts is to attract the right businesses to come to Sudan. As I said before, we need one successful story. And that brings to my mind, the Al Manara Water Company in Omdurman. It is, according to my knowledge, the only successful Public Private Partnership “PPP” project in Sudan. It is a joint project funded by development banks from South Africa, the Netherlands and Malaysia. This is an interesting project as it involves three continents i.e. Africa, Europe and Asia. The company has been here since mid-2000 and it is still operating by a British company, Bio-water. It is successful in supplying clean water to millions on a daily basis. We should emulate this model and hope to introduce it to other companies in other projects. The PPP project is important because it gives both sides a stake in the project, thus it will be in the interest of both sides to ensure its success.
Q: In Sudan there are huge mineral wealth but need modern expertise and technology… are there cooperation between the two countries in this field?
A: For minerals, I do not think there is much cooperation at the moment but I believe it is an interesting opportunity because when we look at minerals, Sudan is very rich in minerals that can be used in making rechargeable batteries. However, one of the main challenges I find is that there is little information regarding what minerals Sudan has. Mostly what is known is about gold mining. So there should be a promotion as to what minerals is present in Sudan and where. I am open to engaging with Sudanese authorities on exploring this important sector. Just to share with the readers, when I first came to Sudan, I participated at the Khartoum International Fair 2019, and during the fair I met many representatives from all over Sudan and they gave me a briefing on what minerals are available in their respective States. I felt that this was a good exercise and I hope that these sort of engagement can continue but not limited to the fair only. As I mentioned above, there should be a one stop center that could assist anyone if a potential investor wishes to know what minerals are available in Sudan. The other challenge is the issue of accessibility because once they returned to their respective states, it is difficult for me to meet with them again. Also in the sector of exporting livestock, for example there are always an issue with regards to the vaccination of the animals, and the many procedures that needs to be complied with before exporting. Why not just process the livestock in Sudan and export the meat? It will be easier and you are adding value to the livestock. I know this is not relevant to minerals, but this highlights the fact that Sudan should look into mining and processing the material and not just about exporting the raw material. What Sudan needs to focus on is to work towards finishing a product or partially finished before exporting.
Q: What about cooperating in health field and mechanism of promote collaboration in other parts?
A: I wish to clarify that due to technical issues, Malaysia was not able to supply COVID-19 vaccines. Currently, we do not have any cooperation in the field of medicine. We need to look at it and there is room to improve. One way that we can identify areas of cooperation is to reignite the Joint Consultative Meeting (JCM), led by both Ministries of Foreign Affairs, as the last meeting was held in 2002. This mechanism would allow both countries to determine future areas of cooperation. When I first came here, I wanted to introduce TVET “ Technical Vocational Education Training” as I felt Sudan really needs to develop this field as there is huge demand for qualified technicians. To my surprise, there is a stigma associated with those wanting to take this career path as many parents prefer their children to undertake a university degree. Though there are many facilities that are funded by Turkey, the European Union and others, not many Sudanese have joined these programs. I believe there is a need to change the nomenclature so as to change the negative perception about vocational training. Maybe the schools can be called Technical Universities with the right certification such as diplomas or even professional degrees. This is an urgent area as Sudan needs qualified technicians to help build the country’s infrastructure and also to maintain it. In developed nations, skilled laborers such as plumbers, electricians and mechanics are highly sought after and command good salaries. This is the future for Sudan. A good example of why skilled laborers is crucial can be seen from the (PETRONAS) building which was built in collaboration with Malaysian construction companies. As a flagship building in the capital of Sudan, Malaysia needs to showcase our best as an example of our professionalism and image of the company as well as the country. PETRONAS has done well here and many others can emulate their methods of operating in Sudan. PETRONAS has trained many Sudanese, built schools, hospitals and clinics in Heglig and other regions it operates. It ensures that all environmental safeguards are complied with so as to ensure minimal impact to the surroundings. These are a few of examples that make PETRONAS special in Sudan as it aspires for a win-win outcome. What is important is that both sides must understand there should not be a winner and loser in a relationship. Both sides must benefit and only then can the relationship be sustainable. PETRONAS is now celebrating its 25 years in Sudan. Their presence have been regarded as successful and an important milestone for them.
Q: Malaysia has a vibrant tourism industry that attracts tourists from all over the world also Sudan have great tourists capacities but in need of experiences to promote tourism in Sudan. Are there a way to benefit from the Malaysian experience?
A: We can certainly help as Malaysia is very experienced in promoting the country as a tourist destination. Tourism is one of Malaysia’s biggest industry that contributes significantly to its economy. Sudan is a beautiful and historically rich. The main challenge is accessibility, the lack of infrastructure, ready information. These are hindrances that will impact on the tourist. For me, the priority to resolve is the issue of accessibility. Secondly, there is a need for promotion of the many attractions. As a Muslim, I am always fascinated with the Islamic world. I confess when I came to Sudan, I did not know that Sudan is a treasure trove of Islamic history as Sudan was a transit point for haj pilgrims and the historical route are full of ancient settlements that some are still being used. It is a significant route used by Muslim Africans and there are so many landmarks such as the water well near the Al- Naga temple ( I believe the well is about 3000 years old and still functioning). Many Malaysians will want to know about this. I think one of the ways to garner interest is to film a documentary about this specific subject in terms of Islam and other interesting information like the fertile lands of Al-Fashaga where it borders with Ethiopia, is mentioned in the holy Quran i.e. whatever is planted will grow. I also want to go visit Sudan’s safari in Al-dinder but it is too far to travel by vehicle. So again the accessibility and transport are issues. So when we talk about tourism, we must address these challenges and have proposals on how to provide solutions. For instance, there is insufficient facilities outside Khartoum for tourism. I think when you go to Meroe, there is only the Italian hotel available. Another selling point for Sudan’s tourism is the unique history of Nubian legacy.
Q: Concerning mangaging ethnic diversity in Malaysia that has become a positive factor in creating a strong unity and cohesion of the Malaysian people. How can we in Sudan benefit from this experience?
A: I think number one priority is the need to be inclusive. The first question of inclusivity is to identify who are ethnic groups in Sudan. It is a very complicated matter to resolve. But must be answered. The Malaysian constitution is the foundation in which all Malaysian rights are protected. The same is required in Sudan. There must be an understanding that the needs of the many outweighs the one. It is no different in any part of the world. We go back to the policy of win-win, where leaders of each community/political party should realize that if we remain separated, it will be difficult to progress as a nation. Everyone has differences, it is how we all manage these differences so that everyone will benefit equally. Malaysia learnt to work together between the different ethnic groups so that priority is given to nation building. Everything else is secondary. So Malaysians learnt to tolerate, create understanding and respect for one another. However, these days the social media is a double edged sword that can be used for good and for nefarious means. In the past, everyone depended on what was published by newspapers and broadcasted on TV channels which were done by journalists but now everyone can put out his/her opinions without any responsibility or thinking of the consequences. These acts on social media has created many problems and divisions in society. While I advocate for freedom of opinion and free speech but these must be made with responsibility and accountability. We must be mindful of the consequences of what we say online. This is now one of the significant challenges for any government to deal with. Anything and everything can be taken out of context and this is dangerous. There is no clear solution, if you have to crack down on these irresponsible people, they will say it is against their right to expression, but this must be interpreted that there is a need to conform to societal norms and the need to understand consequences and the nation’s interest as a priority.