Khartoum, (Sudanow) - Calm and poised, Dr Lual Deng, the Federal State Minister for Finance, spoke his mind about the upcoming referenda, unity and separation and Sudan's external debts.
The 60 year old, U.S. educated economist, gained substantial international experience working with the Afri- Bank and the World Bank; and above all he was a colleague of the late Dr. John Garang De Mabior at Iowa State University, in the United States of America, and his close advisor on economic matters. He was a member of the Wealth Sharing Committee in the Naivasha peace talks that produced the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), 2005. Following signing of the CPA, he was appointed State Minister at the Federal Ministry for Finance and National Economy.
Born in Bor, Jonglei State, Lual fully masters Arabic and English, and his mother tongue Dinka.
In this interview, he spoke to Sudanow using flawless standard Arabic, sweetened up by colloquial Sudanese Arabic and here and there dotted with English terminologies and expressions.
In the course of the interview he told Sudanow that he was once a separtist but with pride he added "I follow the footsteps of John Garang". In the course of the interview he told Sudanow that he had never felt or observed any tense relations between President Bashir and First Vice President Salva Kiir Mayardit.
He revealed that while in the Untied States, he saw how Sudanese opposed to the government of Sudan, both from the north and the south, would come to the Sudanese Embassy in earnest.
And as the interview progressed he kept on providing us with more pearls and catchy phrases, like, "There is no guarantee the south – in case of separation- would continue as one state." And he does not fail to recognize that the National Television is: "ma shaddi hailo,” which in colloquial Sudanese Arabic means: “useless".
Following is the text of the interview:
Sudanow: - Mr. Minister, Dr. Lual Deng, how do you perceive and envisage the future of the Sudan after the upcoming referendum in 2011?
Dr. Lual:- The future of Sudan, if it chooses to remain one and united, shall be fabulous and it shall be a strong nation. As you know the bigger you are in today's world, the stronger you are. We as economists, we talk about the economies of scale. Sudan will be stable politically and thus will attract foreign Arab, Asian and African investors. It will be a great county-nation.
Sudan is the largest country in Africa and since the time of late President (Gaffar Mohamed) Nimeiri (1969-1986) when people talked about the infrastructure projects and about Sudan being the granary of the world, we used to stress that to carry out such projects we need to have capital from Libya and the Egyptian labor, coupled with Sudan’s abundant natural resources– to achieve such goals. Nowadays Sudan has the trained labour and it has the capital in the form of petroleum and the world is still in need of food.
Now if Sudan separates into two states, economically united, it would be strong; however there would be disputes and quarrels between the two, there would be dissatisfaction and disgruntlement and the future in this case would be such that I would not like to talk about now because it would be worse. My hope is that there would be no separation and the statements made by the First Vice President of the Republic (General Salva Kiir Mayardit) were assuring. But we have eight months ahead of us. It is true this is a short time, but if people willed and are serious we can achieve a lot of things in such a time.
Sudanow: How can we achieve this beautiful dream of one untied Sudan and how can we support the choice of unity and this vision of a stronger Sudan?
Dr. Lual: - Politicians have to be up to par with the challenge
Sudanow: And the economists, shouldn’t they do something equally?
Dr. Lual- Economists have nothing in their hands; the real action is within the hands of politicians.
Sudanow: What do you mean when you say they should be up to par with the challenge, specifically?
Dr. Lual- I mean they should see to the people's best interest and should take action to win the backing goal; the Sudan, in line with the vision of win-win. There should be no looser or winner, no conqueror or conquered.
Sudanow:-But your Excellency politics is strongly linked to economics and politicians will not be able to resolve any problems and now how can one imagine Sudan under this harsh economic situation and without foreign assistance to achieve a good future for its people and a good future with regard to its unity?
Dr. Lual- Development needs time to materialize. We have short time ahead of us. If our economists were really, really serious, we have abundance of natural resources and we could have worked according to what we have in hands and what we have available. And as you know there is never enough of anything, enough resources; thus we have to work with what we have now in hands … resources are never enough so we have to work with what we have in hands and the bridges and roads and the dams that we have erected are good and could be continued….
Sudanow:- Are you unionist yourself?
Dr. Lual– Yes. I'm a John Garang man– am a man who follows the footprints of Dr. John Garang de Mabior.
Sudanow- Could I quote you in this?
Dr Lual: (Enthusiastically) Yes. I always say I am a disciple of John Garang. I was a separatist but Dr. John Garang convinced me about the usefulness of unity and he was right. As you see today the United States of America is strong because it is united. The Europeans are strong because they are united and are working for yet more integration. The Africans are trying and Johan Garang believed in African unity and he was a panafricanist calling for Panafricanism.
Sudanow - You were a separatist and then become unionist; what are the things that changed and that made you change your stand?
Dr. Lual: - This was not the work of one day. We walked many phases.
Sudanow- Yes but do you think circumstances and conditions have changed for people to opt for unity?
Dr. Lual: - (Emitting a deep sigh of sadness and adjusting his position in his chair) There was no really serious attempt in either the TV or the radio to send a simple message to citizens in the south, north, east and west that the united Sudan was better and good for them and that the circumstances and the conditions presently make the Sudan better united than divided into mini-states. In my personal view there are no guarantees that the north will remain united and there are equally no guarantees that the south would remain united. And if the Sudan falls into small mini states, then there would be no stability in a dismembered Sudan. Well when I was working for the World Bank, I was responsible for the Somalia dossier for about two years prior to the disintegration of the government of President Siad Bari; and Somalia as you know is formed of one single tribe, having the same language, the same race and the same religion but still they could not hold together for unity. Then how could the situation be in Sudan with groups of hundreds of tribes and races and languages and religions. The possibility of chaos is more in Sudan. There is no justification or reasons for [such an eventuality to materialize]. Another point is that politicians do not seem to have reached a conviction up to now that the homeland is above all. In the five years so many huge mistakes have been committed by many. I wished [President Omar Hassan Ahmed] Al Bashir had made frequent visits to the South and intermingled with the people there. As everybody has seen when the President visited the South during the election campaigns, citizens from the south flocked to see and interact with him and there was interaction. The same mistake was committed by Salva Kiir, who during these years has never visited Shamalia (Northern Sudan), or Kordufan or Darfur. If both of them interacted with the people, the problems would have been gone and bygone.
I do agree with my colleague Al Wathiq Kimair who lived outside Sudan. In his view Sudanese politicians have not reached the conviction that the homeland is above the party, above the tribe and above the family. And I see they have not yet reached that conviction. In this I think we should equally blame ourselves and blame the media and the politicians and the intellectuals. We have seen what is happening outside Sudan– we did not talk. The unionist within the SPLM did not give it a try.
I personally hope that in the coming eight months, we will be able to create an atmosphere in the south that allows the separatists to say why they opt for separation and the unionists to say why they believe in unity; this should be carried out in a spirit of brotherhood and without any quarrel. We have to make the southern citizen understand and make an informed choice, as either choice has its positive and its negative sides.
I also believe that the current situation is the best for the southern citizens who have their own government with no one contesting it with them. The southerners also have about 30% of the seats of the Federal Government and in the absence of the President of the Republic; the President of the Government of Southern Sudan becomes the president of the whole country. Is there a better situation for a politician than this one? But this has to be explained to the people in Southern Sudan because in the south people say "You are not allowed to take any action and you are handcuffed and tied and the whole capital is but Sharia and there are no freedoms!”
And the television is presenting a one-sided message. The TV is not up to par with the challenges. They are trying nowadays but it might be already too late!
Now even southerners in the USA, they watch the Sudan TV and they listen to Sudanese lyrics. And when I discussed this attitude with them they argue that maybe in the Sudan they feel oppressed and feel hatred, but when they go outside the Sudan they feel the need to belong to their roots and when they meet another Sudanese from the north in the states, they feel at ease more than being with any other African there. The same feeling comes to a northerner; they would feel better in the presence of a Southern Sudanese than with other Arabs or any other nationality. I have witnessed this but the TV does not show it. More than this, Sudanese who oppose the government come and visit the embassy with eagerness and take part in the various events just to be able to meet other Sudanese. The media does not report this. I have talked to Dr. Kamal Obied, the State Minister for Information & Communications about this and we are agreed that the two parties should make efforts as partners in the government and in the SPLM to come up with ideas that support unity.
Sudanow: Your family, and your kids, do they have the same feeling towards unity?
Dr. Lual: Yes, and particularly my younger daughter. She was born and reared in the USA and she is now living here. After the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement she came to the Sudan and while doing here research for a master’s degree in development projects she went to Merowe and visited the Merowe dam and she went to Bor. This has all changed her view about separation and in its place is growing a feeling about the need for unity between the north and the south. It has also been cited that research have shown that the DNA of the Dinka is similar to that with the northerner and the people of the Middle East. These are facts that have to be told to the people; these are not mere feelings. And I am repeating here that the problem in the south is with the intellectuals and not with the ordinary citizens.
Sudanow: Thanks so much Mr. Minister. Do you have anything you want to add?
Dr. Lual: Do you have enough space for it?
Sudanow: We do have lots.