South Sudan became the 193rd member of the United Nations this morning.
A nation that has known so many years of war and turmoil has claimed its rightful place in the world, complete with universal recognition and a flag on New York’s First Avenue.
It’s impossible to overstate the significance of the last week’s events to the people of South Sudan, who lost 2 million lives during a half century of bitter conflict. As the leader of a U.S. delegation that included Gen. Colin Powell, U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, and U.S. Special Envoy Princeton Lyman, I was deeply moved to witness South Sudan’s joyful declaration of independence on July 9 in Juba, the new country’s capital. It was blazingly hot, but the crowd was exuberant. Everyone was beaming; the country’s new flag was everywhere, and many people were in tears. It was a proud moment—and the end of a long, arduous road.
But the hard work is only beginning. It will take leadership and vision to forge an enduring peace between two viable states, coexisting as peaceful neighbors. None of us—the United States, the UN, NGOs, aid groups, African leaders, South Sudan’s neighbors, and everyone else who has wished for peace in the region—should let up now that South Sudan has won its independence.
Several core issues still need to be resolved. The two sides have yet to agree on a border or clarify the critical issue of citizenship. Failure to agree on these issues in the coming weeks would risk South Sudan’s hard-won progress. So would the absence of agreement on oil and wealth sharing. Other enormous challenges will take years to address.
South Sudan must grow its budding private sector, develop democratic institutions, fight corruption, combat desperate poverty and infant mortality, and build up its capacity to face down insurgent groups and the cattle rustlers who can devastate South Sudanese villages.
Peace will depend on leadership from both Sudan and South Sudan. We were heartened to see that Sudan was the first country to recognize South Sudan’s independence. Yet Sudan’s obligations to peace, as clearly outlined in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, don’t end with that pact’s call for a referendum on South Sudan’s independence—far from it.
President Obama, working closely with Ambassador Lyman and Senior Adviser for Darfur Dane Smith, remains unwaveringly focused on the crisis in Darfur.
Like South Sudan, our nation too was born out of struggle and strife on a July day. The American people know that it takes moral courage to win freedom. And we have learned that this work is never done. The United States will stand by the people of South Sudan as they set out on their own journey to achieve a more perfect union. But we will also remain clear-eyed and resolute about the road ahead.