Interview with Ms Pervane Sultanova for The First News Agency on 7 March 2018 Baku, Azerbaijan
- Mr. Ambassador, what was the main purpose of your visit to Azerbaijan and what issues did you discuss during the meetings?
I am the South African non-resident Ambassador to the Republic of Azerbaijan and as such visit Azerbaijan to fulfill normal diplomatic relations. On this visit, I will have several meetings with government officials, sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce and Industry to establish a framework for our trade and investment relations and deliver a lecture on the Centenary of Nelson Mandela under the theme ‘Be the Legacy’ at the ADA University. I will also deliver a lecture at the Baku State University on the same topic.
- In generally, how do you assess relations between Azerbaijan and the Republic of South Africa (RSA)? What areas of development can this priority be in the relations between the two countries this year?
We have had diplomatic relations with Azerbaijan since 1992 and we have endeavoured to strengthen our relations. Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Minister Nkoana-Mashabane, visited Azerbaijan in 2017 in an effort to strengthen the bilateral relations between the two countries. The primary areas for co-operation with Azerbaijan are focused around energy co-operation and military industry through the provision of various military equipment and we are also exploring the possibility of the exchange of students and education authorities.
South Africa will also be participating in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Ministerial Conference to be held in early April in Baku.
Amongst areas of cooperation we prefer more the defense sector because Azerbaijan is one of the strategic partners of South Africa in the defense area. More importantly developing relations in the education sector is what we want to see. Some of our youth are coming to get educated in institutions in Azerbaijan. One of the discussions we had at ADA University is for Study Cooperation. We are also signing a Memorandum of Understanding between The Azerbaijan Export and Investment Promotion Foundation (AZPROMO) and The Embassy of the Republic of South Africa in Turkey to further economic relations between our countries.
- In the African continent, the RSA is considered to be the most economically developed country. Which areas of the country's economy are stronger?
South Africa has traditionally been strong in the financial sector as well as the resource sector i.e. mining. Tourism has also proven to be a strong sector for development as well as agriculture, construction and infrastructure. South Africa is moving to a knowledge based economy with greater emphasis on technology, e-commerce and financial and other services. South Africa is also the 9th largest producer of wines while manufacturing is dominated by the agro-processing, automotive, chemicals, ICT and electronics, metals, textiles, clothing and footwear sectors. Tourism, banking and financial as well as communications is growing sectors of the economy.
South Africa is also working closely with the African Union on Agenda 2063 so we are progressing and working with the African Union to build a prosperous Africa. South Africa is very closely involved in the development of the African continent.
- Azerbaijan has been implementing reforms in the non-oil sector, especially in recent years. What can you say about the current situation and prospects of economic cooperation between the two countries?
For us it is basically a positive development because it also strengthens economic relations in the two countries. We will also be getting an opportunity to learn some of your creative interventions. We will be able to look at your areas of strength so for us it informs progress and is something we welcome as it adds value to the relationship.
- Under the brand name Made in Azerbaijan, products are now exported to world markets. What products is RSA interested in buying from Azerbaijan and does the brand of Azerbaijan have a chance to be recognized in this country? What sectors of the economy are important?
Of immediate importance will be ICT which is the strength of Azerbaijan but defense is also one of the areas we consider working with Azerbaijan on. Those are a few but there are also other opportunities. We are not necessarily limited to those two. There are other sectors we can consider.
In our discussion with AZPROMO yesterday, we looked at sharing information to ensure we don’t just trade in goods but also attract investors. South Africa wants investors not traders so equally Azerbaijan. We are looking at projects we can send to our respective business communities in South Africa and Azerbaijan to say this is what Azerbaijan and South Africa are considering for investors respectively.
- RSA is also famous worldwide with the development of its tourism industry. What is the relationship with Azerbaijan in tourism area? What steps need to be taken to promote tourism between the two countries?
In our discussion yesterday in the seminar one of the things that were raised is the issue of visas. As a traveller you don’t want to go through the pain of the visa process. So we should look at more creative ways to address the issue of visas. The costs of air tickets was also raised so surely Turkish Airlines has dominance in transporting people from this area to South Africa. We should look at how to get them to understand and appreciate this market in Azerbaijan and how people want to fly from Azerbaijan straight to Johannesburg. This is something they should consider but is based on the cost analysis they will conduct as to whether it makes business sense. These factors are informed by issues of cost and benefit.
Azerbaijani people do travel to South Africa. We also have the presence of Azerbaijani nationals in South Africa so there is also an Embassy to service nationals in the country.
The visas and cost of flight tickets are critical to increasing tourists to South Africa. South African Airways does not fly here. Turkish Airlines is the only airline that flies here.
- Mr. Ambassador, RSA may also be regarded as a dangerous country for tourists. There is such an opinion in Azerbaijan. How is the security of tourists in your country?
South Africa attracts 9 million tourists per annum and all those tourists return to their places of origin safely. So I can say the country is safe as we experience an increase in visitors to the country instead of a decrease. We also hosted major events from sports to multilateral conferences and all of them have taken place in an environment of safety and security. So South Africa is not as projected by our competitors as being unsafe but what we are saying is that let those who want to go to South Africa interact with those who have gone to South Africa so they can share their experiences to say they have been to Johannesburg or Cape Town or Durban and I enjoyed myself and I was not given any police escort during their visits. The country offers many attractions and experiences for tourists. So Azerbaijani tourist can explore the country and ensure it becomes part of their items on list of areas to visit.
There is a potential for South Africans to come to Azerbaijan but South Africans must be made aware of the attractions and experiences Azerbaijan offers as a unique country. Similarly there is only one South Africa. The experience is not available anywhere else and experiences are unique to each country. We can work together to expose to those who don’t know what there is on offer from each country for people to go and see for themselves.
- In the previous interview, you emphasized defense sector as one of the key areas for co-operation with Azerbaijan. What is the cooperation in this area now?
We haven’t done much work in that area and that is one of the things as we engage we should consider why there is no progress in that area. It’s the one area where we can work together but it appears as if we are not putting any action into it. Do we agree it is necessary but we don’t do anything to ensure how necessary it is?
- For the intensification of relations between the two countries the importance of the embassy in Baku is also important. Does the RSA have such a plan in the near future?
Yes that position was long taken. The issue is the how that we need to address. There are many factors to consider but the will to open an Embassy is still there. We have not changed our position on that but I can’t put a timeline on it as it is not in my control.
- Recently, the new president of the RSA was chosen. Will this change have any impact on the country’s foreign policy?
There is no change on the foreign policy of the country but there is an emphasis on those areas which are critical for South Africa. One of the issues the President has come out strongly on is the need for dialogue in conflict and that we don’t support any wars in the continent and outside the continent where there is loss of life. We don’t subscribe to that. We want to be part of the solutions to those challenges not part of the problem. So wherever we are, where we participate, we make it a point that we bring back some sense of responsibility of countries involved in conflict situations. You can’t resolve issues of conflict without dialogue. You must find peaceful solutions to address differences and disagreements.
- What is the position of your country on Nagorno-Karabakh?
We support the United Nations Resolutions.
- What official visits will take place between the two countries?
We are having a delegation coming from South Africa to attend the Non Aligned Movement in April possibly led by our Minister. This will be the new Minister’s first visit to Azerbaijan. In 2017 the now former Foreign Minister visited Azerbaijan.
- You planned to appoint an Honorary Consul. How far did you get?
As soon as we find a suitable candidate we can appoint someone to strengthen the relationship.
- Because of you're a non-resident ambassador, you come to Baku very little. What impressions do you leave here with?
Every opportunity I get to come to Baku I utilise it. I will come again in April. Its about the work we are supposed to be doing with the government and business that informs my visits to Baku. I will be coming back to follow up on the work we are doing and will also be providing information to those people we have met as well as following up on some of the agreements we have reached to ensure they are implemented. Its an ongoing process that is part of my responsibility. So if anything warrants my coming back I will definitely be coming back.
- Do you like Baku?
Yes, I like Baku very much. Its a lovely place. Yes I will come back again with the Foreign Minister.
- Do you have any further comment?
Just to say our visit is also informed by South Africa’s decision to designate 2018 the Centenary Year of Nelson Mandela. As the Embassy we will go to those areas to share the life of this world icon but also share the legacy and teachings of Nelson Mandela so we can all understand what type of leader we need and had as the world; how we can ensure we live up to his wishes and teachings. This is part of the Mandela Centenary commemoration. Not just an isolated visit. There will also be other programmes during the year that we will be embarking on. We are going to Tashkent for a similar exercise – going to unversities, the business community and speaking and sharing the history of Mandela. We will have a similar programme in Turkey in April where we will be interacting with the business community.
We are happy the South African government declared this year the Centenary of Mandela. It motivates us to reach out to all communities in the world to ensure we work together for a better world.
Azerbeycan Political Writer Ms Pervane Sultanova & Ambassador Pule Isaac Malefane in Baku