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September 07, 2012

US Ambassador Says South Sudan Faces Challenges, Opportunities

by John Tanza

[Editor's note: This story updates and corrects errors in an earlier version.]

The United States Ambassador to South Sudan, Susan Page, said her government is working to create economic opportunities for youth in South Sudan, while at the same time encouraging the new country to diversify its economy, allow press and media freedoms and actively promote good governance.  Ambassador Page also said South Sudan’s future depends on the outcome of ongoing peace talks with Sudan in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“The country has a lot of potential," she said. "Of course we see the conflicts in various states that are going on between ethnic groups, between rebel militia groups, but we still believe in the potential of this country. We always knew this was going to be a long-term program."

Page pointed out countries don’t become independent overnight and suddenly become a model of democracy, human rights and good governance. She said the U.S. is focused on helping South Sudan create economic opportunities, especially for young people.

“Over 70 percent of the population is under 30 years old. There are really big opportunities but there are also huge challenges to find appropriate work and opportunities for the youth, [such as] education, [and] promoting a new, constitutional development process," said the ambassador.

She said South Sudan got through the initial year of independence, and now the U.S. can help South Sudan diversify its economy, expand press and media freedoms, and promote good governance.

Recently, South Sudan was faced with an alleged government corruption scandal involving billions of dollars. Page disputed the notion that the U.S. is not challenging South Sudan on living up to its stated goals of good governance.

“We don’t have to do it through lots and lots of public speeches," she said. We published our human rights report, the first since South Sudan had become an independent state. There were a lot of public comments from ministers who were not terribly happy about our report.”

Page said the U.S. would like to see accountability, adding that when people are arrested, they should be brought up on charges, tried in a fair process, and punished accordingly.

There's no doubt the economic situation in South Sudan is precarious, Page said, noting that the issue has been addressed by the U.S. government and other donors, including the United Kingdom, the European Union, Norway, and the African Union.
 
South Sudan and Sudan recently reached a tentative agreement on oil transport fees that is expected to end a standoff between the two countries.  The months-long dispute led to the shutdown of oil production in South Sudan and caused economic turmoil in both countries this year.

Page said after the recent oil deal was reached, donors renewed their pledges to help South Sudan. She noted that, even with the pending oil transfer agreement, it will take several months before oil resumes flowing, and revenue begins to reach government accounts again.

Listen to John Tanza's interview with the U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan