There was a myriad of events in Washington last Thursday that focused on South Sudan’s newly-gained independence, all attempting to answer one question: Now what? The lineup of Sudan-focused events included a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, a White House conference call, and panels at the United States Institute of Peace, or USIP, the Society for International Development, and the Heritage Foundation. While the panels and individuals represented different organizations and ends of the political spectrum, they all reached a strikingly similar chord on what was at stake in the two Sudans.
The ongoing violence in (North) Sudan was at the top of statements all around. In his opening remarks during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Senator John Kerry started off the day with a focus on the increasingly dire security situation, expressing grave concern over allegations and evidence of mass graves in South Kordofan. U.S. Special Envoy Princeton Lyman expressed his concern over “credible allegations of targeted and ethnic-based killings and other gross human rights abuses” in the volatile state that sits atop the world’s newest international border.
But conversations also reached far beyond problems on the border and dove primarily into the huge challenges that South Sudan faces on the path to becoming a prosperous nation. Each panelist at the USIP event laid out the long-term problems facing South Sudan, including the issues of corruption, underdevelopment, and national identity. Enough Co-Founder John Prendergast described poor governance and corruption as the Achilles’ heel of South Sudan, pegging the country’s fate to whether its new government will fully share its wealth and deal with dissidence in a respectful and democratic way. Panelists at the Heritage Foundation echoed similar concerns, pointing to the management of oil and disputes between communities as possible sources of corruption.
At the end of the day, Traci Cook of the National Democratic Institute, or NDI, highlighted a problem that could prove to be a major barrier to success: the expectations of the South Sudanese themselves. She presented a public opinion study at the USIP panel showing that most South Sudanese expected dramatic development to take place within the next two years, far below the projections of the international community. Even in a country facing as many challenges as South Sudan, leaders have the difficult job of living up to the sometimes unrealistic expectations of their constituents. But while this expectation could prove problematic, it also serves as a reflection of the hope and potential of the new nation; while everyone on Thursday discussed South Sudan’s many obstacles, no one had forgotten about the incredible will and determination that led to its creation.
Photo: Enough Co-Founder John Prendergast speaks at a United States Institute of Peace event on South Sudan (William Fitzpatrick/ USIP)