A new borehole drilled by Oxfam in Warrap State, South Sudan. Photo by Noah Gottschalk
NOTE: This is a guest post from Noah Gottschalk, a senior policy advisor for humanitarian response at Oxfam America.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton makes her first visit to South Sudan Friday, making her the highest-ranking US official to visit the world’s newest country. Her trip could not come at a more important time. The UN Security Council gave South Sudan and Sudan until August 2 to move forward with political negotiations and enabling humanitarian access to Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, where more than 665,000 people have been internally displaced or severely affected by conflict according to the UN. Both countries are now in violation of this ultimatum, putting them at risk of UN sanctions. In the meantime, civilians on both sides of the border are suffering, including 4.7 million people in South Sudan, half the country’s population, who do not have enough food to eat.
The official purpose of the trip — part of a seven-nation tour of Africa — is to “reaffirm U.S. support and encourage progress in negotiations with Sudan to reach agreement on issues related to security, oil and citizenship.” The US has remained deeply invested, both through ongoing high-level diplomacy and through the provision of significant humanitarian and development assistance, in trying to help South Sudan find its way out of the worst crisis since the end of the two decades’ long civil war. By sending America’s most senior diplomat, however, Washington is signaling its escalating concern as well as its impatience with the slow pace of progress.
In his remarks marking the country’s independence just over one year ago, President Obama expressed his confidence that “the bonds of friendship between South Sudan and the United States will only deepen in the years to come.” But being a true friend means speaking hard truths, and Secretary Clinton must use the opportunity of her visit to express concern with the political developments which are having such a massive humanitarian impact on South Sudanese civilians and putting at risk the hard-won gains of peace.
In December, I watched Secretary Clinton address the International Engagement Conference on South Sudan in Washington. In one of the most frank speeches of the two-day event, she welcomed the new nation to the international stage while clearly outlining the challenges ahead. While lauding the new country on achieving its “quest for peace and dignity,” she urged South Sudan to “move forward,” “leave war behind” and “finalize [the] hard-won peace.” Her discussions with senior South Sudanese officials in Juba, including President Salva Kiir, will not be easy.
As Clinton herself recognized, South Sudan has many reasons to be skeptical of continued diplomacy, and progress depends on a “willing partner in Khartoum.” Nevertheless, both countries have no other option but to end their political and economic crisis through negotiations. By sending this message, Secretary Clinton joins the growing voices in South Sudanese civil society urging the government to make the difficult compromises necessary to stop the spiraling crisis in the immediate term, and over the long run, to enable a brighter future for the people of both Sudan and South Sudan.