Bulgaria Remains to be One of the Very First European Countries that Have Recognized the Independence of Sudan in January 1956

She was born on 12/28/1963 in the town Port Sudan, Sudan and graduated from the University of Baghdad, the University of Khartoum and Herriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. Her diplomatic career started in January 1989 and gradually passed through all levels of the diplomatic service. Very active on human rights, women's participation in politics and peace in Sudan. From 2008 to 2011 she served as Ambassador of her country to the Kingdom of Norway. Later she was Director of the "Economic and Technical Cooperation" Dept. in the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2012 - 2014), Director of "European Affairs" Dept. (2011-2012).  and senior diplomat in the Permanent Mission of the Sudan to the United Nations (1998-2004). She is married to H. E. Mr. Siddik Abdallah, currently ambassador to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

E. Mrs. Ilham Ibrahim Mohammed Ahmed was appointed Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of the Sudan to Bulgaria in September 2014 and accredited to the Republic of Serbia, the Republic of Macedonia, the Republic of Montenegro and the Republic of Albania, with residence in Sofia.

The reason for our conversation with her is the celebration of the national holiday of her country and the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries.

- Your Excellency, on January 1st Republic of the Sudan marked 61 years since the proclamation of its independence. What does that date mean to Sudanese people?

- Sudan has gained its independence in the morning of 1 January 1956 when the two British and Egyptian flags were lowered from the mast over the palace of the British Governor General of Sudan, and the new flag was raised proclaiming  Sudan a sovereign state. The date was undoubtedly very significant for all Sudanese people as it ended a long era of colonization and exploitation that has extended more than fifty years, which was the period of the Condominium Agreement that was established between Britain and Egypt in 19 June 1899 on Sudan Administration.

Several struggle movements took place in different parts of the country and at different times, however, the real starting point to gain independence was ignited by the famous ‘Sudanese Graduates Conference Memorandum’ to the Governor General in which they demanded full independence of Sudan. Accordingly, the Agreement was annulled in October 1951, and on 19 December 1955 the Sudanese Members of Parliament demanded that Sudan must be granted its right to self-determination. Subsequently, Independence was declared from within the Parliament, and on 1 January 1956 Independence was officially declared and the flag of Sudan was raised.

- Which are the achievements of your country during this period that have made you being proud of?

- Independence and self-determination of any country has deep meaning and strong impact on population. Sudan was not an exception at that period of time when many nations were struggling for their independence from colonization and foreign domination. The most notable achievements were the sovereignty and territorial integrity, and independence of national decision making. It was not an easy process, but the successive governments and legislatures endeavoured to establish the country’s national institutions, and to build on the few infrastructures left behind by colonizers, including hospitals, education facilities, agricultural projects etc. Sudan managed immediately after gaining its independence to join international organizations such as the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, modernize its national army, and to establish diplomatic and economic relations with other countries. Sudan has also played a significant role in supporting the struggle movements in African countries which were still colonized. It also stood strongly in support of South Africa during the period of Apartheid, as well as supporting the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.

- Bulgaria is among the first countries to recognize the independence of Sudan, as early as July 1956. How have diplomatic relations developed since then?

- Bulgaria remains to be one of very first European countries that have recognized the independence of Sudan in January 1956, and established diplomatic relations in July same year, hence the historical ties between the two countries. Since then relations have witnessed great leaps in economic, technical, industrial, cultural and academic cooperation. Technical agreements were signed between the two sides and joint Commissions were established to institutionalize cooperation. There has been considerable trade exchange, imports and exports. In recent years, the private sector in both countries have opened new opportunities in the field of sugar industry, grain production, oil industries, mining, investment in agricultural processing and introduction of advanced technology in the agricultural sector. Investment in the health sector has also been introduced as there are now some Bulgarian doctors working in Sudanese medical facilities. We are also proud of the long and well-established history of cooperation between the two countries in the field of aerial crop dusting, and the very good work executed by Bulgarian pilots and companies in this important field since 1964.

Nevertheless, we believe that there is a need to boost and develop further all spheres of cooperation between the two countries with a view to exploring and expanding cooperation and business opportunities.

- Since 1956 Sudan has been a major trade partner of Bulgaria with significant turnover until 1999, after which the activity of trade relations has decreased. What are the opportunities offered today to Bulgarian companies which would be willing to eventually trade and invest in your country?

- Sudan is considered one of the richest countries in the world, in terms of natural resources, considering its vast agricultural, natural, and water resources. As such, the country introduces ample opportunities for investment. There is a conducive environment of investment in terms of key reforms introduced to the economic sector, free market policies, openness to foreign investment, privatization and a restructuring of the banking sector. Last December 2016, the US President lifted the economic sanctions which were unfairly imposed on the country, and this significant development will undoubtedly enhance the economy and push economic indicators for the benefit of business and the population as whole. There are already considerable investments especially in the field of agriculture and mining. Furthermore, Sudan has witnessed sharp jumps in gold production, it reached 50T by the end of 2012 and 82T by the end of 2015, and is expected to increase in the years to come. Sudan has inaugurated its first gold refinery in 2012 as one of the largest in Africa. There are other mineral deposits yet to be explored were the country offers very promising investment opportunities to Bulgarian companies and businesses.

- Are there any signed agreements and specific programs to revive economic cooperation?

- There have been many economic and trade agreements between Sudan and Bulgaria, in addition of other agreements in the field of technical, cultural and scientific cooperation. The two sides are actively engaged in a bilateral process to give further impetus to trade and economic exchange by updating the existing agreements as required by the transition of Bulgaria to a full member of the EU.

- Sudan has a very rich cultural heritage with traces of human presence from ancient times, but unfortunately in Bulgaria we hardly know about your culture, traditions and your archaeological sites. Tell us more about them ... What would be interesting for Bulgarians to see in your country?

- Indeed, Sudan is a very rich country in history, and it is a cradle of a civilization that dates back to 3000 B.C. From the Napata Kingdom during the 8th century B.C. to Meroe Kingdom, the Nubian Christian States in the 6th century A.D. and the Islamic Kingdom of the Black Sultanate, the Fur Sultanate and the Tagali Kingdom. The antiquities of those civilizations are still standing in many areas of the Northern State, Shendi area, al- Bijrawiya, al- Naqa’a, al-Musawarat, Meroe. Karma, al- Barkal Mount, Dongola and others. They have always been a source of attraction to tourists from within and outside the country. These sites continue to be attractive locations for international archeological and excavation missions and researchers who have been working in the area for more than 50 years with many impressive explorations. Some of these sites have already been registered in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.

The colourful culture and numerous ethnic groups make Sudan a melting pot  of geographical and environmental diversity, which, in turn, has created a unique temperament of the Sudanese people in their music, traditions etc.

It would be difficult to enumerate in this short instance the touristic attractions in Sudan, as the country is big in area and diverse. However, and in addition to what I have mentioned above, it is worth mentioning that the Red Sea Coast extends to 700 kilometers, and is characterized by many activities, including diving, underwater photography, water skiing, in addition to the attractive coral reefs and many gulfs.

- Sudan is a big African country, but it is not among the most developed tourist destinations. What are the prospects for the development of tourism?

- It is worth mentioning that a lot of efforts have been employed by the Government to improve tourism infrastructure. In this regard, encouragement of investment in the tourism sector has become a priority in the national economic policy. There are already significant projects such as the Qatar-Sudan Archeological Project (QSAP) to promote the archeological heritage in Sudan (the Pyramids of Bijrawiya). Another example is the promotion of the Nile tourism, and the two sites in the Red Sea State that have been registered in UNESCO’s list of International Heritage.

- Last year, you extended an invitation to the Minister of Culture Prof. Rashidov for Bulgarian archaeologists to join their Sudanese counterparts in studying the ancient culture of Sudan. Are there any projects implemented in this direction?

- My meeting with the former Minister of Culture, Mr. Rashidov last year was very good in the sense that I encouraged the participation of Bulgarian archeologists to join their Sudanese counterparts in excavation and research missions in different historical sites in Sudan. I would like to mention in this regard that we already have long established archeological research and excavation cooperation with many European countries, including France, Switzerland, Italy, Hungary and Norway. The very renowned Swiss archeologist Charles Bonnet has made significant discoveries recently which attracted the attention of researches the world over. He has been heading the Sudanese Swiss and French joint archeological mission, and has described the Sudan as a vast country with multiple cultures and civilizations, revealing that his mission has unearthed affinities between Nubian, Kordufan, Darfur, Kasala and the Red Sea reigns.

- One of the cultural events that attracted the attention of Bulgarian public in 2016, was the concert in Sofia of the folklore ensemble from Sudan. It was an incredible opportunity to touch the music of your country. What should we expect in the New Year? What are the possibilities for expanding cultural exchange between the two countries?

- Last year we were very privileged to have Prof. Alfatih Hussein and his Folklore Ensemble coming from Sudan upon an invitation from the Governor of Burgas to participate in Burgas’s Summer Festival. It was indeed a wonderful opportunity to be able as an embassy to showcase features of art and music from different regions of Sudan to the Bulgarian public. The performance was warmly welcomed by the public, and indeed the Sudanese music and dances of the ensemble, which reflected the Sahara and Forest temperament, have made a great impact. We hope to be able to increase such cultural exchange, and in this regard I am happy to announce that a prominent artist (violinist) Othman Mohideen, will be coming from Sudan especially to participate in our celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between Sudan and Bulgaria, and the 61st Anniversary of the Independence of Sudan, which will take place on 7 February 2017 in Sofia. I am hoping that Bulgaria will also be encouraged to increase its cultural exchange with Sudan in order for the Sudanese public to get acquainted with Bulgarian art and folklore.

- At the traditional charity bazaar organized by the International Women's Club in Sofia last December, the stall of Sudan was one of the most attractive. How did you do such a rich presentation, having in mind that only the geographically close to Bulgaria countries could compare with Sudan?

- As part of our continuous efforts to promote Sudan, its culture and natural products, we have been expanding year by year our participation in the Annual Charity Bazaar organized by the International Women’s Club in Sofia. Last time in December 2016, Sudan’s Stall was very popular and have attracted the attention of the Bulgarian public, as we were showcasing exotic natural product ranging from Baobab fruits, desert dates, hibiscus flower, python leather, ebony and mahogany crafts and natural scented body scrub.  It is our intention to continue this project and bring new features next time in the bazaar, and we will continue to be   committed to contribute to value of charity and compassion.

- Do we have relations in the area of education? Tell us about the education system in Sudan. Is there interest among Sudanese youths to obtain their higher education in our country?

- Cooperation in the field of Education is one of the most significant areas of bilateral relations between the Sudan and Bulgaria. There has always been Cultural and Academic Cooperation Agreements between the two countries dating back to the nineteen sixties. We are currently striving to review these agreements in order to be consistent with current commitments of the two countries. Nevertheless, academic cooperation has been very successful in view of the several bilateral agreements and MOUs between Sudanese and Bulgarian Universities, notably in the field of geology, engineering and medicine. We already have some exchange of students, as well as opportunities to study the Arabic language in Sudanese Universities. We expect an increase of exchange, especially at the level of undergraduates if the Bulgarian embassy were to open hopefully soon in Khartoum.

- You have already been for more than two years in Bulgaria. How do you feel as an ambassador in our country? Leisure, hobbies, interests ...

- As an ambassador for a little bit more than two years in Bulgaria, I must say I found Bulgaria a very beautiful country, with beautiful nature and great opportunities to travel around and discover the rich ancient history of the country. Bulgaria’s unique geographical location places it at the cross roads between east and west, hence its particular taste and temperament. I am looking forward to discovering more attractions in the near future.

Photo provided by the Embassy of Sudan in Bulgaria.