Sudan’s first ambassador in South Sudan Mutrif Siddig is based in Juba. In an interview with The Niles, he spoke about his future plans, how the two states can over come their deep-seated differences and why he is proud of his work for the security forces.
Q: What do you, a former deputy director of external security, aim to achieve as a diplomat in Juba?
A: Of course, this is not my only past position. My biography must include all details of where I studied and worked. I am proud of my contribution to the security services. No country in the world operates without security services, because security is an interest of the citizen and the state.
I worked in the security services and I am proud of it.”However, some view security as something negative without considering it as a service to citizens.
I am a doctor and I worked in the field of medicine and external security, and then I was assigned the negotiation file. After the signing of the peace agreement, I worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as an ambassador and the undersecretary for ten years.
After the elections, I was appointed as a state minister at the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs. The Minister was then Joseph Lual Achuil, and there was also Charles Mniang who is now the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Q: What are the most prominent assignments given to you here in Juba?
A: The largest programme for us was bringing back those who wanted to return from the North to the South. I believe we didn’t score a huge success due to large numbers of returnees and poor capacities. In addition, some of the returnees who had lived for a long time in Khartoum had many belongings that represented years of work, which they needed to begin their new lives in the South.
There is still a group in Kosti, Shajara, Khartoum and some areas, hoping to witness a voluntary return to the South. I hope that the South Sudanese government considers their situation with the help of the government of Sudan and international organisations.
Q: Your nomination was approved long ago but there was a delay before you took over your tasks. Did you wait until the political tension eased?
A: I submitted my application in February and was accepted at the climax of the Heglig crisis between Sudan and South Sudan. Although some found it the right time for negotiation and dialogue between the two countries, I thought their relations were witnessing a setback and I had to work to stop the potential deterioration in the relationship that might have led the two countries into an all-out war.
There is no reason to go back to war.”I worked with the South Sudanese joint negotiating team to stop the deterioration and bring the relationship back on track. We needed negotiations to resolve the problems instead of war. Our greatest achievement was the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), our greatest application was the self-determination referendum, and our greatest breakthrough was that we were the first country recognising the state of South Sudan. Thus, President Omar al-Bashir visited Juba, and reassured everyone that the referendum would be held on time and the Sudanese government would recognise its results. The Sudanese government fulfilled its promise when the president came and celebrated with our brothers the announcement of the newborn state on July 9, 2011.
We believe there is no reason for people to go back to war, and the time in which I did not come to South Sudan did not go in vain. I was a very effective member in the negotiations and we succeeded, along with regional and international efforts, to stop the deterioration and come back to dialogue.
Throughout this period, we were in constant dialogue. People complained that our dialogue lasted too long with no results. However, in the end, with patience and assistance by the high-level African team, we were able to reach cooperation agreements. Once the agreement was signed, I packed my bags and immediately came to Juba.
Q: Did you come alone or with your family?
A: My family is small, consisting of four sons and a daughter. My eldest son graduated from university and works in Sudan. He has a family and children. The second one is preparing for his Master Degree in oil in Saudi Arabia. The other two are undergraduates, while the girl is a student at the University of Khartoum. My wife works as a legal advisor at the office of the Attorney General. I am now alone here in Juba, and once I finish our house arrangements, they will come to spend the holiday with me.
Q: You were chosen at the climax of the crisis. At the time, al-Bashir said no negotiations with the popular bug”, implicitly referring to the southerners. Does that statement need explanation or justification now?
A: Of course he said that with a smile. War takes many forms, including words, media and gunfire. The statement was justified in its circumstances. Of course, a lot was said about Sudan and President al-Bashir in the Southern media but there is no need to mention it because we have left this behind after the signing of the cooperation agreement. That page is finished and we are turning a new page. And it is not wise to recall what was said because this way we contribute negatively to our recent agreement.
Q: Are the wounds healing?
God has created us to be neighbours; neither country could work without the other.”A: God willing, wounds will be healed. Thankfully, state institutions in South Sudan reasonably approved this agreement, and the same thing happened in Sudan. This means there is a strong common support from both parties. Your major newspapers headlines mentioned the statement made by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, urging both parties to properly implement the agreement.
No matter what we say, we have a common history that we cannot deny; there is bitterness, as well as positive things. The fact is, we have a common destiny. God has created us to be neighbours; no country could leave the other. We must work to strengthen our relations and reduce potential disputes, which we must guard against lest we should go back to war and hatred.