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Friday, May 23, 2008

AFRICA LIFELINE

Africa must lay foundation for investors: Sudan


Staff writer

As Japan increases efforts to promote sustainable growth, African countries must create an environment suitable for attracting private investment, says Steven Kiliona Wondu, Sudan's ambassador to Japan.

News photo
Steven Kiliona Wondu SATOKO KAWASAKI PHOTO

"We need stronger and functioning institutions and improved infrastructure and legal frameworks," Wondu said in a recent interview at his embassy in Tokyo.

"We have to place factors that can make direct investments."

The foundation of all this is peace and security, he said. "There has got to be a floor for a house. Without a floor, you can't build a house."

The conflict in the western province of Darfur that began in 2003 continues to be a major challenge for Africa's largest country. But in the southern part of Sudan, which was the battleground for a 20-year civil war, security has been improving since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005, Wondu said.

Based on the schedules in the agreement, repatriation of refugees, demarcation of borders and redeployment of forces are taking place with the support of multinational organizations and many donor countries, including Japan, he said. Earlier this month, Japan pledged $200 million through 2011 for this effort.

Wondu, who spent nearly a decade in Washington representing antigovernment forces in the south until the ceasefire was signed, acknowledged that there have been delays. But he remains optimistic that peace-building efforts will continue.

"People are settling in their homes, and institution-building is taking place. It's slow and painful, but people have been very, very, very patient," he said.

"People are more confident. People have tasted peace and they like it. And they want more, not less."

The Tokyo International Conference on African Development, which starts Wednesday in Yokohama, comes at a time when Japan is planning to send an inquiry commission to Sudan to study the possibility of Ground Self-Defense Force participation in a United Nations mission to monitor the ceasefire there.

Wondu said his country is enthusiastic about the idea of Japan taking part in the Sudanese peace process and looks forward to benefiting from its expertise in removing land mines.

Meanwhile, in the west in Darfur, fighting between the Arab government forces and ethnic Africans escalated in 2003. More than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million Sudanese have become refugees or internally displaced since the fighting broke out.

Having spent his childhood as a refugee when the south was engulfed in civil war during the 1960s, Wondu said he sympathizes with the misplaced people and holds the leaders of the "bandits" in Darfur responsible.

The lack of solid organization and leadership among the armed groups is making it difficult for negotiations to move forward, he said, stressing that positive changes in southern Sudan could encourage those in Darfur to stop fighting.

"From my own experience, it is possible for us to negotiate ourselves out of a conflict with the help of the international community," Wondu said.

"They don't need to fight for 20 years, because they already know the consequences of war."

During the three-day aid conference in Yokohama, economic growth and environmental protection will be discussed along with humanitarian aid and peace-building.

African countries were more involved in the preparation process for this TICAD than previous conferences, Wondu said, adding a followup mechanism will be institutionalized to make sure commitments are met.

Wondu said African countries are diversifying diplomatic efforts, and their economic relationships are expanding from Europe to Asia, especially Japan, which is hunting for opportunities in the resource-laden countries.

"There are opportunities which can be beneficial to both the Japanese economy and to the African economy as well," Wondu said. "The Japanese government has to lead (the way to Africa) so that the private sector can see the opportunities that are available to them."

But he also recognizes that Sudan, and Africa as a whole, must make more efforts to establish the rule of law if any of these efforts are to reach fruition. "We have to go beyond just telling the Japanese to come to Africa. We need to open the door, put in legal frameworks, and more importantly, sustain peace and security."



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