Remarks at the International Engagement Conference for South Sudan
Secretary of State
President Kiir, it is an honor to welcome you here as a head of state along with your ministers and distinguished delegation. I also wish to thank our co-hosts: the United Kingdom, Norway and Turkey; the European Union, the African Union, the United Nations, and the World Bank; the International Finance Corporation, the Corporate Council on Africa, and InterAction. I also want to acknowledge and thank Dr. Raj Shah and USAID. They are doing absolutely important work on the ground, and we thank them for their many contributions.
As Johnnie said, South Sudan’s quest for peace and dignity has resonated around the world and in the hearts of the American people. In fact, American families sheltered and raised children fleeing from war. Our churches and our NGOs provided instrumental assistance, both on the ground and to those who had to leave their beloved country. Lawmakers like Senators Kerry and Lugar, Representatives Smith, Payne, Wolf, and Capuano, along with Sheila Jackson Lee, who is here with us today, made your cause their own. We welcome them and all of you who have made the long journey literally from South Sudan to be here with us, but also those of you who have made the long journey over so many years to help end a war and now to see a new state born.
And on July 9th, we celebrated as the world’s newest country came into being. That is one part of the story. What we do today is critical if that story is to have a happy ending. We meet to help the leadership and the people of South Sudan chart their future. Now, President Kiir has laid out an ambitious vision for development, and I was briefed on the speech that he gave to you just a short while ago. And those are plans that we fully support. But I want this morning to focus on how the United States and the international community can partner with South Sudan to help create the conditions that make successful development possible.
What are those conditions? Well, first and foremost, real peace and security; an end to war; the opportunity to make it possible for children to envision a different future; transparency and accountability that will give not only reassurance to the international community, but most importantly to the people themselves – they have scarified and lost so much, and now they want to be part of helping to build their new country; policies that favor broad, inclusive, sustainable growth, and that commitment to inclusiveness is key. Everyone must feel that he or she has a stake in this future.
Now, the challenges ahead are formidable. You’re here because you’re interested, you’re committed, but I assume you’re also knowledgeable. You know there are great opportunities but some daunting obstacles. South Sudan is one of the least developed nations on earth. It faces a difficult, mutually dependent relationship with its northern neighbor. It is confronting continued violence in that border region; deficits in health, education, infrastructure, governance, the rule of law; ethnic tensions; a combustible mix of extreme poverty, natural wealth, and fragile institutions. And I would add also not yet as much of a change in attitude, an evolution in people’s minds and hearts that they must move forward and they must reach out and make sure that they are working with others.
So a great deal needs to be done to translate the promise of independence into concrete improvements. Well, first, we must continue our work together to maintain peace and security, which are preconditions for successful development anywhere. While South Sudan and Sudan have become separate states, their futures remain inextricably linked. South Sudan’s ability to attract and keep trade and investment depends on greater security on both sides of its northern border. Right now, conflicts in Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan threaten to spill into South Sudan. These issues must be resolved.
Reconciliation, agreements, negotiations between former adversaries are difficult. We’ve seen it all over the world. But we know what a difference it can make, and we know that it’s essential if societies expect to move forward. Sometimes when you have been at war for so long and you have suffered so much, it’s hard – mentally, psychologically, emotionally – to leave war behind and to say to oneself, to one’s family, and one’s neighbors, “Now let us build what we were fighting for.” Now, you cannot do this work without a willing partner in Khartoum. But the United States, our Troika partners, Norway and the UK, the African Union, which has done absolutely fabulous work in this arena, and many others stand ready to help preserve and finalize a hard-won peace.
Within its own borders, South Sudan’s Government must complete the transition from armed struggle to nation building. President Kiir has rightly made it a priority to resolve longstanding local conflicts. And the United States will continue to support the new UN Mission’s important work to preserve peace, safeguard human rights, and protect civilians.
Second, we must help South Sudan live up to President Kiir’s pledge to build strong institutions, root out corruption, and promote transparent and accountable governance – all of which are critical building blocks on the path to prosperity. His five-point plan clearly articulates for the South Sudanese people how the government plans to address their needs. That’s a good start, but, of course, as we say, the proof is in the pudding. What matters most is whether the government follows through on it.
And nowhere will the transparency and accountability that President Kiir has promised be more important than in managing South Sudan’s abundant natural resources. We know that it will either help your country finance its own path out of poverty, or you will fall prey to the natural resource curse, which will enrich a small elite, outside interests, corporations, and countries, and leave your people hardly better off then when you started.
I stress this point because all we have to do is look around the world to see the two alternative visions. Norway, which has been such a strong supporter of South Sudan’s independence, shows a way forward, how to put natural resources that were there by the grace of God into a trust fund that will support the needs of the Norwegian people for generations to come. But in Africa, Botswana also provides an example. Botswana put its diamonds wealth into a trust fund mechanism, and the money that was thrown off of that has paved the roads, provided clean drinking water, built schools. You can go to Botswana today and you can drive from nearly any direction into Botswana and immediately see the difference.
So the choice is clear, and I am pleased that South Sudan’s legislature is already considering stronger auditing and anticorruption measures. And through the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and the State Department’s Energy Governance and Capacity Initiative, friends of South Sudan are actively engaged in helping the government manage its oil sector responsibly.
I hope that when we, over the next years, go to South Sudan, we will see the roads built, the schools built, the clean water provided, the infrastructure. And every single man, woman, and child will be able to say that is because we had good leaders; we had leaders who cared about the people of South Sudan. (Applause.)
Third, all of these efforts contribute to the larger project of helping South Sudan create an economic environment that enables growth, attracts investment, empowers businessmen and women.
Now, we know that aid alone is not enough. Private enterprise must be there to create jobs for the people. Now, USAID and others are working with South Sudan on reforms that will help create that business climate that will attract and keep investors and businesses. What does that include? Transparent budgeting and tax collection, land ownership reforms, modernizing the health care systems. Just last week, at South Sudan’s request, the United States Government modified licensing policies to allow U.S. investment in the South Sudanese oil sector – even when this involves the transshipment of goods through Sudan. We are also working to bring to bear two of the most effective tools we have to support private sector-led growth – the African Growth and Opportunity Act and the Overseas Private Sector Investment Corporation.
As we help South Sudan diversify its economy, we are especially focused on agriculture. Although its soil is fertile enough to be one of Africa’s breadbaskets, most of South Sudan’s food is imported. USAID has launched a major set of agricultural initiatives to change that—including a groundbreaking effort to provide loans to South Sudan’s farmers. We also seek to partner with the private sector, which can provide advanced seeds and other technology that will help South Sudan’s farmer increase their yields.
Fourth, none of these measures will be effective unless all elements of society participate in development, including underserved communities, ethnic and religious minorities, returning refugees, young people, political opponents, and women. And this starts with drafting a constitution that forever enshrines the rights of all people.
History teaches that failing to serve communities at the peripheries leads to instability. Two-thirds of South Sudanese are below the age of thirty, and the government will have to open up the political space to allow a young and diverse population to take part in civil society, a free press, and genuine political competition.
South Sudan’s Government also understands that it must do more to ensure women’s full participation at every level of society. The father of South Sudan, Dr. John Garang, called women the “marginalized of the marginalized.” Well, we want to help South Sudan change that, and we are tackling this challenge from different angles. The United States is including South Sudan in our African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program. Earlier this week, we co-hosted a South Sudan Gender Symposium—and I am delighted that many South Sudanese women are also with us today. (Applause.) And the United States will be making South Sudan a focus in the implementation of our forthcoming U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security.
Finally, as we help South Sudan plan for its future, its international supporters must think carefully about how we provide help to a government still developing the capacity to receive it. We cannot simply work in parallel. We must work together. And by doing so, we will help support these courageous, determined people.
Yes, the work ahead is not quick nor easy. But neither was winning independence. South Sudan defied the odds simply by being born. There was recently some stories about what happened to the tiniest of babies – I mean less than a pound, some as small as 10 ounces – that were born in the United States some years ago when we had the technology to keep them alive. Before that, there was no hope; nothing could be done. They would either die, or, if they survived, they would not develop fully. Well, we just saw pictures of 15, 18, 19 year-olds who not only survived but thrived.
Well, South Sudan survived by being born, but it does need intensive care. And it needs intensive care from all of us. (Applause.) And it needs all of those developmental milestones along the way to be reached. And the birth of a new country, like the birth of a child, offers a promise of a new beginning. It reminds us of everything that is possible and the potential that awaits. It gives us a chance to reflect on the virtues that are every bit as important in a young republic as they were just for the struggle to be born.
Well, I’m betting on South Sudan, and I don’t like to lose bets. (Laughter and applause.) I don’t make big bets, but I don’t like to lose any bet. And so are all of the friends and partners and supporters and literally millions more who are in your corner all over the world. So we will work with you, we will stand with you, we will support you. We have come together in the past to deal with the tragedy of decades of war. Today we have a chance to raise up the first generation of South Sudanese who have not known and, God willing, never will know war. So let us work together to ensure that every man, woman, and child in this new country lives up to his or her God-given potential. That is our pledge and our promise. Thank you all. (Applause.)