Cautious hope for the world’s newest nation
A little over two months ago, on 9 July 2011, the world celebrated in unison at the birth of the world’s newest nation, the Republic of South Sudan.
As the Prime Minister’s Special Representative, I was privileged to represent Australia at the independence celebrations in Juba, South Sudan’s largest city and the capital of the newly independent country.
It was an historic moment, and the elation was palpable and infectious. With an Australian Akubra hat protecting me from the hot African sun, I shared in the joy and celebrations of thousands of South Sudanese.
The outpouring of jubilation is of course entirely understandable. It has been a long and difficult road to independence for the people of South Sudan. Decades of unforgiving civil war resulted in the deaths over two and a half million people and the displacement of more than five million refugees.
Many South Sudanese have since made Australia their new home. Since 1996-97, around 20,000 Sudanese-born people have migrated through Australia’s humanitarian program, making it one of the fastest growing migrant groups in Australia. Australia was the largest voting site outside of Africa for January’s referendum on independence, with 9,202 Southern Sudanese voters.
Independence for South Sudan marks an important milestone. But South Sudan faces immense challenges to bring peace, stability and development for her people.
South Sudan itself is largely undeveloped with only 50 kilometres of paved road in a country the size of France. More than half of its 9.1 million people are below the age of 18 and about two thirds are under the age of 30. Yet, only 15 percent of adults can read and write and more than half the population live on less than 75 cents a day.
And South Sudan is also impacted by the famine that is affecting large swathes of the Horn of Africa, worsening an already fragile food security situation. According to the World Food Program, around 44 per cent of households in South Sudan experience some form of food insecurity.
Separation has not been easy for Sudan and South Sudan, with many key issues still to be resolved, such as the status of the disputed border region of Abyei and the division of oil revenues.
The Australian Government remains deeply concerned at the ongoing serious violence in the border states of Southern Kordofan, including in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile.
Sudan and South Sudan must re-double their efforts to resolve outstanding matters peacefully by negotiation, not unilateral action. The protection and safety of civilians must be priority number one.
It is clear that stability and development in South Sudan will require the concerted and sustained support of the international community. Australia is determined to be a friend of the new nation, and will support South Sudan with the many challenges that lie ahead.
This week in New York, the Australian and South Sudanese Foreign Ministers will formally establish diplomatic relations between our two countries. For the first time in history, Australia will have diplomatic relations with all 54 African countries.
Australia is already making a contribution to support the people of South Sudan build a viable and secure future. We have offered to contribute up to 25 Australian Defence Force and ten Australian Federal Police personnel to the new United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Two Australian Civilian Corps (ACC) stabilisation advisers will also shortly deploy to South Sudan for a three month period, working within the United States Department of State Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilisation Mission in South Sudan.
Australia also has a long-term commitment to the people of South Sudan through development and humanitarian assistance. We are supporting South Sudan to deliver basic services such as education, maternal health and sanitation, and to support rural livelihoods.
Australia is already playing a small part assisting South Sudan in nation building. Prime Minister Gillard and the Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd announced that Australia would give $16 million of support to South Sudan over two years to deliver basic services such as education, maternal health, sanitation and for support of rural livelihoods.
During 2010-2011 Australia provided $27 million for humanitarian and development purposes in Sudan including $5 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross 2011 Sudan Emergency Appeal to provide medical and relief supplies for communities affected by conflict in Sudan, particularly in South Kordofan, Abyei and Blue Nile State.
Despite 2 million lives being lost in the struggle over the last decades the happy, and indeed positive, mood was inspiring. It was heart-warming to witness the South Sudan people’s belief that the day after tomorrow will be better than the one today.
What I saw in Juba gave me hope. But South Sudan needs the support of the international community to deliver peace and development to its people. And Australia is determined to play its part.
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