Washington — After South Sudan celebrates its independence July 9, its government and people will face significant challenges, President Obama’s top envoy to Sudan says, and the United States will be working closely with the new nation and providing it with assistance to meet its needs.
In an exclusive interview June 30, U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan Princeton Lyman said the birth of Africa’s 54th country represents “a major milestone” after decades of war that claimed millions of lives. It also comes after a long peace process between northern and southern Sudan that mandated the January 9–15 referendum where southerners overwhelming voted for independence.
“It’s important that this peace process produce not just independence for South Sudan, but the emergence of two viable states in Sudan, the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan,” Lyman said.
The two states are enormously interdependent, as the result of shared trade, borders, oil resources and personal relationships, he said.
“A key element in this new era is going to be the ability of both countries to manage that relationship, deal with whatever differences arise and make it productive for all the people,” he said.
Along with being a milestone, South Sudan’s independence will present great challenges. Once the celebrations are done, its people will be asking, “How do we build our country now that it’s ours?” Lyman said. Leaders, he added, will be in charge of a nation that long has been underdeveloped, with many of its people lacking training or literacy skills.
There will be other challenges for South Sudan in managing a complicated national budget and creating a new constitution that allows for greater participation, the continued presence of armed militias, a large influx of citizens who had been living in the North and the need to create state and local governments that will be responsive to South Sudan’s people, he said.
The people will be looking for results, and “that will be a challenge because things don’t come quickly and easily,” Lyman said.
But he said the United States and the rest of the international community will be helping and standing by South Sudan.
South Sudan receives more than $300 million in U.S. assistance each year, and Lyman said that much of that aid will be directed toward capacity building and the agricultural sector.
“That reaches the most people and it’s where there is considerable opportunity with new technology, the availability of water and the support of the government of South Sudan,” he said.
The Obama administration is also supporting a United Nations mission that will be arriving to help with training and capacity building, as well as to assist the government with its many challenges.
Lyman said the United States played a major role in the negotiations that led to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the North and the South.
“Since then, we have been working constantly to help see the agreement implemented” through high-level special envoys, assistance, cooperation with the African Union and encouraging both sides through difficult and tense periods, he said.
The United States has also spent $10 billion since 2005 in Sudan for humanitarian relief and in support of the peace process and U.N. peacekeeping operations.
“It’s been both a strategic and a moral commitment for the United States,” Lyman said.
Sudan has played host to one of Africa’s most disruptive conflicts, which has had repercussions throughout the Horn of Africa region and has also led to humanitarian disasters and genocide in the Darfur region.
Lyman said fulfillment of the CPA and the end of the conflict will be extremely important for the continent and finally allow “the kind of economic cooperation one would hope to get between East Africa and all of Sudan, north and south.”
“The opportunities here are tremendous, and ending this long-standing conflict will be a benefit to the whole region,” Lyman said.