Chris Pycroft

Head of DFID (the UK’s Department for International Development) in Sudan

Guest blogger for Michael Aron

Part of UK in Sudan

3rd March 2016 Khartoum

First Impressions

My first impressions were wrong. When I arrived last November, I thought that there was limited prospect for meaningful development in Sudan. I thought that the long shadows cast by the decades of conflict in Darfur meant that there would be few opportunities to make progress. I thought that the international community had become constrained in its approach with few options other than to support humanitarian assistance, and the provision of basic services. But this is not the case. Beneath the big political issues that can seem intractable, is a highly vibrant, flexible and energetic development environment, that presents multiple opportunities – and even more challenges – for engagement with state and non-state actors, to deliver effective development to Sudan’s people.


Sudan has dealt with a lot. Conflict and civil war (still not fully resolved); the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, referendum on South Sudan, and the break-up of the country; resultant loss of oil revenue and the impact that has had on the national economy. The aftershocks of the seismic events that ushered in the world’s newest country are still being felt. The conflict in Darfur and the Two Areas remain unresolved. Efforts to reach a peaceful and equitable solution through the African Union High Level Panel oscillate between Addis and Berlin with no clear end in sight. The National Dialogue is engaging with critical issues about the future shape of Sudan’s national identity. The Darfur referendum on whether there should be one regional authority or the existing five states has national, regional, and constitutional implications. So there’s plenty going on. Things are happening here – and the international community needs to be engaged.

Of course, the “international community” is not a single, unified entity. There is no single voice, or common agenda. There are numerous different perspectives and approaches across the United Nation’s agencies, the European Union member states, and the United States. There are also increasingly influential voices on the development scene from the Middle East, China and India. The differences of opinion and perspective attest to the complexity of the development context – and to the fact that there is no, single right approach. But there is a need for better alignment and coordination of development effort, and better joining up of our approaches. And there seems to be genuine appetite amongst most development partners, donors and NGOs, to come together to focus on a peaceful and equitable future for all Sudan’s people.

Photo 2

Of course, the “Government of Sudan” is not a single one-dimensional construct. There are numerous different ministries and agencies with different mandates, responsibilities, and agendas, trying to deliver with limited resources and capacity. From a development perspective, the number of different parts of government that need to be dealt with – particularly on bureaucratic processes – can be a significant drain on time and energy. There is clearly a trust issue – and all sides need to work hard to overcome past misunderstandings, let go preconceived ideas, and work together to develop the country.

First impressions are often wrong. It takes time, exposure, conversation, study and travel to start to understand any place – especially one as complex and challenging as Sudan. I am glad my first impressions were wrong. The complexity, vibrancy, energy, opportunities and challenges that the development environment in Sudan presents makes this a fascinating and exciting place to be.

1 comment on “First Impressions

  1. What a pleasant surprise.Another khawaja in a responsible position talking sense.There are seldom pieces like this in the UK or US.Most are stuck in a time warp;not acknowledging that Osama Ben Ladin has left in 1996 ;that a Christian rebel
    leader has returned after the CPA in 05 and was sworn in as First VP,that the country is ruled by a coalition(in which the Islamists are the main party).The fact that there is no longer an International Project in the Sudan;but a modest National Project is not believed.The lesson of reformists’ winning in Iran , as a result of engagement,is not appreciated.The opposite of engagement is pursued vis a vis Sudanese Islamists,among whom there are several shades.The moderates are in control but Western policies of blockade encourage extremism and play in the hands of the more anti-Western forces.The West,especially the US, is in denial about the results of a Lobby-based Sudan policy that has led to the tragedy in South Sudan.
    DFID is a bright spot and its impressive record is proof of the possibilty of more cooperation with the Sudan.

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About Michael Aron

Mr Michael Aron has been Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Republic of Sudan since August 2015. After studying Arabic at Leeds University and before joining the FCO in 1984 Mr…

Mr Michael Aron has been Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Republic of Sudan since August 2015.

After studying Arabic at Leeds University and before joining the FCO in 1984 Mr Aron worked as an English teacher in El-Damer Secondary School in northern Sudan for two years. Since then his FCO career has been focussed on the Middle East and North Africa, including as Ambassador to Kuwait, Iraq and most recently Libya.

On his appointment as Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Republic of Sudan, Mr Aron said:

“I am delighted to be returning to Sudan after 30 years. I have very fond memories of the charm, hospitality and generosity of the Sudanese people I met and worked with and I look forward to renewing friendships, developing new relationships and working with all parties to help Sudan overcome the challenges it faces.”