The Diplomatic Society
South Asia Correspondent
Dr Srimal Fernando engages HE Geoff Doidge, South African High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives and Ambassador to Nepal. Dr Fernando recently returned from a journalist tour of Bangladesh. Also speaking with Mr.M.L.Makwabe, the Political Affairs Counsellor, South African High Commission of Colombo, discussions centred around the unique initiatives taken by the South African Government /High Commission of Colombo to boost future relations with these four countries.
SF: What is the current state of the relations between South Africa and Bangladesh?
SAHC: Relations between the two countries are growing steadily as evidenced by increased bilateral trade, especially the boost of Bangladeshi exports to South Africa, although the potential for trade has not been fully exploited. There are opportunities especially in the textile industry. People to people contacts are expanding due to awareness of the economic benefits of the tourism trade in both countries. South Africa is in the process of finalizing the appointment of an Honorary Consul in Dhaka which will help to boost future relations.
SF: What is the Mission’s objective for enhancing this relationship?
SAHC: The Mission would like to consolidate its relations politically, economically and culturally as well as facilitating a variety of visits from South Africa to Bangladesh and vice versa. These should include among others exchange of visits by political leaders, business delegations and cultural groups. South Africa and Bangladesh share a common passion for cricket and this could be effectively used and be extended to other cultural activities.
SF: Are you aware of any political, social, cultural or other upcoming interaction between the two countries?
SAHC: There is currently not much taking place between the two countries. It is of the Mission’s priorities this year to try and raise the levels of interaction between the two countries to desirable levels. South Africa is now engaged in the final stages of appointing an Honorary Consul in Dhaka and this will definitely assist in the enhancement of the bilateral relations between the two countries. High Commissioner Doidge will present his Letters of Credence to the president of Bangladesh and this will provide him with an opportunity to enhance South Africa’s relationship with Bangladesh.
SF: From a regional perspective including Sri Lanka, Nepal and Maldives where do the challenges lie?
SAHC: Coming from South Asia, all these countries are members of the United Nations and NAM, and the Commonwealth of Nations with the exception of Nepal. They have common positions on most of the international issues, be it human rights, eradication of poverty, UN reforms, ramification of globalization on trade or international terrorism.
Regarding advancement of democracy there is a lot that the countries can learn from each other in terms of issues such as peace process, constitution writing, reconciliation, reintegration etc. A more recent interaction was in 2010 when a group of Nepalese parliamentarians visited South Africa on a study tour to assist them in their peace process and writing of the new constitution.
SF: Sri Lanka tourism sector expects 700,000 tourist arrivals this year. What are your thoughts of selling South Africa to the Sri Lankan tourist market?
SAHC: The Mission is trying various ways of promoting South Africa in these countries by distribution of tourism material and holding regular meetings with relevant tourism boards and agencies in an effort to familiarize them with all that South Africa can offer. Tourism is one of the sub sectors of the Sri Lanka -South Africa Partnership Forum whose specific aim is to try and promote tourism between the two countries and to share information in the field of tourism. During the last session which was held in Colombo in October 2010, it was agreed that the two countries need to explore the possibility of extending the flights from South Africa to India via Sri Lanka. In terms of marketing it was agreed that both sides will afford each other opportunities for participation in their major events. Both countries agreed to exchange expertise on their best practices to develop Eco Tourism in their respective countries.
SF: In what sectors could South African financiers invest in the post conflict scenario in Sri Lanka?
SAHC: Some South Africans have indicated that they would like to invest in the tourism sector by building hotels and casinos and assist with the construction of houses. The Mission is also exploring the possibility of linking South African pharmaceutical exporters with Sri Lankan markets.
SF: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
SAHC: South Africa, with the wealth of experience it has in the peace process, reconciliation and reintegration processes, and constitution writing, is always ready to share its experiences with other countries if and when requested.