The EU in support of Sudan’s democratic aspirations


University of Khartoum | In a speech to the students of Khartoum University, HR/VP Josep Borrell emphasises the EU’s desire to upgrade its relationship with Africa. He also stresses the EU’s strong support for the wishes of many young people in Sudan for democratic change.

Check against delivery!

Good evening everybody. Unhappily, my knowledge of the Arabic language stops here, I cannot continue speaking your beautiful language, although I would like to. My son who is now a Spanish diplomat, speaks Arabic fluently because many years ago when he was a young student, he told me ‘Father, I want to study Arabic because I am convinced that the two worlds, the Western world and the Arabic world, will have in the future either to be confronted, either to be cooperating to build a common future’. And at that time, I said ‘Are you sure you want to study Arabic, do you not want to study other things?’ But he insisted and now he speaks Arabic fluently. It helped him a lot to become a Spanish diplomat, and since he speaks Arabic very well, he was sent to South America. 

Honourable Vice Chancellor of Khartoum University, Professor Fadwa Abdel Rahman Ali Taha, honourable Dean of the Faculty of Law of the Khartoum University, Professor Mohamed Abdel Salam, distinguished guests, dear professors and students. 

Believe me, I am very honoured to be here in Khartoum, the famous confluence of the White and Blue Nile. When I was young, I was reading about the wars between the British and the Sudanese, about [Major-General Charles Gordon of the British Army], and some of the defeats of the British here. 

Today I am particularly pleased to be here with you in Sudan, which alongside Ethiopia, are the first countries in Africa that I am visiting in my new mandate as High Representative of the European Union for Security and Foreign Affairs. Both countries, Sudan and Ethiopia, represent today a light of hope in Africa. Both have new leadership, both are facing their future towards more democracy, freedom and prosperity, and both are very, very much important for us Europeans. 

I think that we have to renew our partnership with Africa. It should be considered by Europeans – which are today only 6% of the world population – as a top priority, and it is for me personally. I am in charge of drawing a new strategy, not for Africa, but with Africa and it would be very useful for me to share some ideas with you, to hear from you [on] how we can revamp this relationship with Africa in general, and with Sudan in particular. 

But before going into this subject, let me thank the Vice Chancellor of this university for the invitation to speak at this remarkable institution which has produced generations of researchers and practitioners in various academic fields. It has long been a beacon of knowledge for the African continent. And as a former university professor myself, I know first-hand the importance of cultivating knowledge and critical thinking. I know how important the universities are in the development of a society, especially in the most difficult moments like the one Sudan has been going through. 

When I was a young student, like many of you, in my country quite a long time ago, I was also going through some circumstances you have been going through: The transition from a dictatorship to freedom. The transition from a long dictatorship that lasted almost 40 years with fascist General [Francisco] Franco, who started a civil war and then stayed in power until his death. And I know very well how difficult it is to transition from a dictatorship to democracy. I know the impatience of the people who want it to deliver, who want to see the fruits, the results of the changes in the political system. But things cannot be changed overnight. Things have to be changed through a long standing process that will require both commitment and passion. We are going to talk about it, I will share my experience with you, but allow me to say that I am really honoured to be with you in this hall, which was renamed only two weeks ago after Mohammed Abdel Salam, one of the victims of the previous regime. 

Everybody has been following the Sudanese revolution in the world. And almost one year after the start of this glorious revolution, we are still humbled and feel for all those who have lost their lives, both during the December revolution, but also during the 30 years of undemocratic rule that this country has been under. We in the European Union are very well aware of the physical damage inflicted by the attacks on the university on the 3rd of June. Your Vice Chancellor was telling me about it. We commend the resilience of private initiative to undo this damage and to revitalise this beautiful institution. 

As I said I come here to talk with you, not to you. And maybe we will have the opportunity to exchange views with the young generation of Sudanese on what your aspirations are, how you want to shape your future, which is the future of Sudan and the African continent. I am looking forward very much to the exchange of views I hope we will have. 

You, the young Sudanese, have inspired the world. I was Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain when the revolution started [in Sudan]. I remember getting the news in my office. I want to pay a special tribute to the young men and particularly the women of Sudan for showing the world again and again – yes, particularly the woman of Sudan, because I know that they were playing a very important role in this revolution. All of you, you have been showing the world again and again that people are power and that change is possible. One of the slogans or your revolution was ‘it’s a women’s revolution’. And yes, it may be a right. 

Tonight, I say clearly that we, the European Union, as countries and people, fully support your call for peace, justice and liberty. I said that to the Chairman of the Sovereign Council [General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan], I said that to the Prime Minister [of Sudan Abdalla Hamdok], a very highly respected professional worldwide. And we want the new Sudan to succeed because your success will be our success. We want your call for liberty to be heard and translated into real change for a country that has already suffered too much for too long. 

Since December 2018, Sudan engaged in a new path, a long walk to peace, democracy and respect for human rights. As European Union we want to walk that walk together with you. Let me explain in a few words the reasons why we want to. 

We, the European Union, we define ourselves as a community of values. We are 27 countries - we were 28 until last month, now the United Kingdom decided to go again alone, the Queen of the Seas and we are 27 that remain together. And what is the thing that united us? Because we have very different stories. And we have been fighting for centuries. We have been fighting for so long and so much that one day we became tired of killing each other and we decided to build a common and peaceful future. We define ourselves as a community of values because what united us is a certain understanding of the world.

The fundamental values of our union are first of all, respect for human rights, democracy, peace, solidarity and the rule of law, gender equality and care for the environment. These are beautiful words. They are written in the first articles in our funding treaties, but I know it is easier to say than to do. And even if we preach human rights, democracy, peace, solidarity, gender equality and care for the environment, rule of law, we do not fulfil them every day. And sometimes we declare and we do not practice, but we want to, in a long exercise of learning. 

In Europe, we have learned the lesson of peace the hard way. In fact, we only learned it after two devastating world wars, which erupted in our continent and let us, Europe, converted in a field of ruins, of people angry and threatened. Now these fundamental values are ingrained in our European DNA and we are very much reluctant to go to war. We are very, very reluctant to send troops abroad and just one soldier being killed is, to our societies, something that shakes our foundation. 70 years ago, in the middle of the most awful war that the human mind has created, we were losing 20 million soldiers. Strikingly, these same values are those that underpin your peaceful transition to democracy in Sudan. So we can say that we are a community of values with you. 

These fundamental principles and values define who we are, but also how we engage in and with the world. It is why we care so much about building and defending the rules-based international order characterized by multilateralism, because the contrary of multilateralism is the law of the stronger. Sustainable development, because if we do not have sustainable development, we are letting down the future generations with an impossible way of living on this planet. And the peaceful resolution of conflicts because the contrary is, again, the law of the stronger. We need to defend principles precisely when they are being undermined by power politics and the use of force.

In today’s world, power politics are coming back. The law of the stronger is coming back. And we use force not just as a military force, but in many different ways. Trade is also a way of using force nowadays. 

In pursuing this principled approach, the European Union sees an important partner in the new Sudan. We want and we need to partner with you to promote peace and stability in your region and in fact, in the whole continent. My fellow citizens, you know, they maybe are not very much aware because they are not supposed to be experts in geopolitics, but the Horn of Africa where Sudan is playing such an important role is pivotal for the stability of the world, is pivotal for the stability and peace of the Europeans. 

I would like that my visit to your country would marks a new chapter in the longstanding relations between the European Union and Sudan. We feel it is time to open a new age by engaging actively with the civilian government, which the revolution has put in place through dialogue, exchange and government actions. We do that because I think we have a shared interest in improving security in the wider region. In the wake of the alarming security conditions in Libya, in Yemen, in Iraq and Somalia, in the Central African Republic, we must ensure the stability of Sudan and promote deeper cooperation among regional actors for comprehensive solutions of the conflict. 

As the new Chair of the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development, which has been hosting me in a long and interesting meeting this afternoon, Sudan can play a leading role. It is already doing that in the neighbouring South Sudan. We need to work together to prevent extremism, terrorism, and violence. Terrorism, extremism and violence, let me say that again, because they are the triangle of a common threat to you and to us, and we should be in this fight together. The best way to counter this deadly triangle is to advance with another triangle, a positive one and one built on peace, democracy and sustainable development. On one side extremism, terrorism, violence, on the other side peace, democracy and sustainable development. 

We know that a transitional process towards a democratic elected government in Sudan will face difficulties and might face setbacks. However, it is the right way to go and work for the broadest possible consensus among all Sudanese. Allow me to advise you that you need to work on all fronts of this positive triangle: peace, democracy and sustainable development. Without peace there cannot be real development nor democratic consolidation. And the same is true for the other sides of the triangle. The European Union will be at your side and support in particular the Sudanese people living in the conflict affected areas of Darfur where I will have the opportunity of going tomorrow. I was there in 2008, when I was chairing the Development Committee of the European Parliament, and I am afraid that we will still find the same number of people in the camps. 

Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan: conflict affected areas. We work both on emergency response and long-term development for them. I am aware that you want to see action and outcomes instead of promises and pledges. I know that. I have felt the same degree of impatience when I was 25 years old. We want results. People want to feel the dividends of peace. And as I said before, you have to be committed and patient, because impatience can destroy your process before it has time to work. 

Let me mention concrete examples of the work we are doing in support of this triangle of peace, democracy and sustainable development here in Sudan. The total value of our support to Sudan is approximately €240 million through 70 development projects and programs. I know it is not enough. You have big economic problems and you have to have strong and difficult negotiations with international financial institutions. Because the heritage of the dictatorship is very, very bad from an economic point of view. But €240 million can be of much help in such a situation. 

As I told today the Prime Minister and to the Chairman of the Sovereign Council, we are ready to contribute with a €100 million more package supporting the development of the transitional political period. But do not believe that this is because we are rich and generous. If we do that it is for our own interests, [we do it] because [we want to provide] support for social safety nets for the more vulnerable segments of the populations, assistance for economic reform programs, providing economic opportunities for young men and particularly young women, and support the democratization process leading to a free and credible elections, it is something that sooner or later will affect us positively. If you add the population of Ethiopia, Sudan and Eritrea, you have about 150 million people. Add a growth rate of 2 or 3 percent or 4 percent every year and you will see the demographic pressure that you can develop.

If we do not help you to develop, if we do not help you to stabilise politically, if we do not help you to really cover the triangle of prosperity, democracy and sustainable development, we will be negatively affected. So the help that we can provide to you is just a matter of defending our own interests, it is not just a matter of generosity, it is also building our future. 

Being the guest of a university, I am happy to mention also the specific European Union support for high education in Sudan. After decades of oppression, there is an urgent need to rebuild the high education sector. And we want to be part of it. We have been cooperating with the University of Khartoum on several projects. For example, on the promotion of gender equality, on development studies and on students exchange. Last year, 30 000 African students got an Erasmus scholarship to go study in Europe. And we plan to increase this number to 90 000. And I have to say that the majority of Sudanese students who have received Erasmus Mundus scholarships come from this university. I hope that in the future more and more students coming from this university will have the opportunity of studying in our universities and I will be very happy to find you there. 

In the fields of art and culture, which is booming in Sudan today, we are also supporting the training of young fashion designers, young musicians and emerging filmmakers through a program called Creative Connections, working with various Sudanese high education institutions, including again this university. Not everything has to be technicalities and sciences; human beings also need to cultivate the spirit of music, design and literature. 

In conclusion, we would like to continue to be a friend and partner to the people of Sudan. We want you to re-enter the world of global academic learning and to reconnect Sudanese youth, researchers and businesses to their peers in the rest of the world. 

You all benefit from global culture, political, economic integration and – as elsewhere – the youth are the future and the hope of this country. 

Let me therefore close this lecture – small lecture, humble lecture –with a quotation of the famous Sudanese poet and teacher, Mahjoub Shareef.

They are beautiful words. I do not know how they sound in Arabic, but in English they are quite good. They say: “Born are the beautiful children, hour by hour with brightest eyes, and loving hearts you have bestowed upon fatherland, they will come, for bullets are not the seeds of life.”

So, allow me to encourage you to aim high and continue on the path of peaceful changes, of rebuilding your country and creating a new Sudan. 

I am proud to say that my generation of Spaniards overcame the difficulties of the past and we built a prosperous and peaceful Spain. It is possible to do so. If we did it, you can do it. 

Thank you for your attention. I am looking forward to your comments.


Link to the video:

Gesine Knolle
Press Officer for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/International Partnerships
+32 (0)2 29 54323
+32 (0)460 754 323