The United States first ambassador to South Sudan said the world's newest country needs to open up the democratic space to allow other political parties to take part in the nation building process.
Ambassador Susan Page arrived in Juba earlier this month. She was nominated to become ambassador by President Barrack Obama in August and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in October.
In a recent interview with VOA, just prior to her leaving for South Sudan, Ambassador Page acknowledged that the problems facing Juba are not unique to the people of South Sudan and she expressed confidence that the South Sudanese people will work hard to overcome the numerous challenges facing them.
And she said the country has the goodwill of the international community. ''I feel as if this is not a completely new place, but they are starting off with a bonus of being a new country with a lot of goodwill, but a lot of challenges ahead of them," she added.
Outstanding post-independent issues
Page's posting to South Sudan comes at a difficult time in relations between Juba and Khartoum. The two nations have been unable to resolve many outstanding post-independence issues, including oil revenue sharing. Sudan has threatened to halt South Sudan's oil exports in a disagreement over transit fees, and Khartoum confiscated shipments to make up for payments it claims South Sudan owes.
When South Sudan separated from the north earlier this year, it inherited most of the once unified nation's oil fields. But, South Sudan is landlocked and all of its oil flows through Sudan's pipeline to reach international markets.
Recent talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia aimed at resolving these issues did not bridge the gap and new talks are scheduled for later in December.
Ambassador Page admitted that the two ruling parties, Sudan’s National Congress Party and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in South Sudan, must work together to resolve post independent issues. She said she would work to encourage the two parties to continue negotiations.
Good governance, corruption and rule of law
Business opportunities have boomed and investors have flocked to South Sudan, beginning with the 2005 peace agreement, which ended the more than two-decade civil war, and the declaration of independence in early July.
Page warned that Juba needs to create a stable environment to encourage investment. ''I feel as if South Sudan is open for business, and if they can make the country appealing to investors, if they can get corruption under control, open the country to other political parties, the country can become a really first century country with opportunities of development for its people," she said
The new envoy also urged the government in Juba to open up the democratic space to allow other political parties to openly express their views. She said her priority would be to work with civil society and human rights groups, as well as the United Nations Mission in South Sudan to push the government in Juba on the issues of good governance and corruption. ''Corruption is a problem, they have acknowledged it, they have asked for our assistance and we have several advisors working with them,'' she explained.
She further urged Juba to make some progress on reviewing the new the interim constitution by including other political parties and the opposition. The U.S. diplomat added that her country would work with Juba to ensure that its leaders maintain civilian control of the army and institutions of national intelligence. She warned that the time would come when the people of South Sudan will vote out leaders who are not serving their people.
U.S. opens up South Sudan oil sector
Khartoum has been under U.S. sanctions since 1997, but these sanctions could prove harmful to South Sudan, which is landlocked so that its oil can only reach international markets through Sudanese pipelines, which Page acknowledged.
The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) announced in December that it was lifting economic sanctions that had prohibited Americans from dealings with the petroleum and petrochemical sector in the Republic of South Sudan.
These sanctions were in place largely because of the benefit the Government of Sudan receives because crude from South Sudan makes it to market at Port Sudan via pipelines through Sudan, and the Government of Sudan receives some benefit from this process.
The new regulation explicitly allows American participation in downstream activities, including the refining, sale and transport of petroleum from South Sudan, so long as the petroleum in not refined in Sudan.
The new regulations will make it significantly easier for U.S. citizens and companies to invest in all sectors of the South Sudanese economy.
Ambassador Page expressed confidence in the current negotiations, facilitated by the African Union High Level Implementation Panel, which is led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, to address the oil related economic problem between the two countries.