This weekend, in Juba, South Sudan, Africa’s 54th nation was born. Millions of people are celebrating a new national identity and new national promise. Like on our own July Independence Day 235 years ago, there is reason to hope for a better future — if the people and leaders of both Sudan and South Sudan commit themselves to the hard work ahead.
This day was far from inevitable. For more than two decades, Sudan has been riven by intense fighting over land and resources. Just a year ago, talks between the Sudanese government in the north and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in the south had stalled. Preparations for a referendum on southern independence had fallen behind. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005 appeared close to collapse. A return to open conflict seemed likely.
Thankfully, people on both sides and across the world worked together to chart a different path.
Activists, religious groups and human rights advocates focused attention on the conflict and refused to let it fade. Last year, President Obama committed to reenergizing the peace effort. Since then we have redoubled our engagement with partners in the north and south, as well as in the African Union, Europe and the United Nations.
Most of all, though, Saturday’s successful outcome is a testament to the will and dedication of the people of Sudan and South Sudan and their leaders. They have shown that even under the most difficult circumstances, peace is possible if people are willing to make hard choices and stand by them.
But just as independence was not inevitable, neither is a lasting peace between Sudan and South Sudan. Decades of war have left deep distrust on both sides and significant social, political and economic challenges. Both nations will have to take decisive steps to consolidate progress.
First, they must quickly return to the negotiating table and seek to complete the unfinished business of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. That means settling outstanding questions related to finances, oil and citizenship; demarcating remaining border areas; and fully implementing their agreement on temporary arrangements for the contested Abyei area, which lies along the border of Sudan and South Sudan, including the redeployment of all Sudanese military forces. The violence that has flared in Abyei in recent months cannot be allowed to return and jeopardize the larger peace.
Second, South Sudan must address its internal challenges. Its people face wrenching poverty, inadequate education and health care, and the continuing presence of armed militia groups. To succeed, South Sudan will have to begin building an effective, democratic and inclusive government that respects human rights and delivers services with transparency and accountability.
Over the years, American development experts in South Sudan have helped build new roads, clinics and schools; worked with farmers to grow more food; and trained more effective civil servants. As we move ahead, the United States and the world will be there as South Sudan lays the foundation for its future.
Third, Sudan must address its own challenges. Sudan’s future success rests on its ability to end its isolation in the international community. That is the only way it will secure access to international financing, investment and debt relief. The United States is prepared to help — including by normalizing our bilateral relations — and we have taken some initial steps in that direction. But we can move forward only if Sudan fulfills its obligations and demonstrates its commitment to peace within its borders and with its neighbors.
One urgent step both sides must take is agreeing to a cessation of hostilities in the northern border state of Southern Kordofan, which started in early June. We are deeply concerned about the continued aerial bombardments, harassment of U.N. staff and obstruction of humanitarian relief efforts. The longer this fighting goes on, the more difficult it will become to resolve.
We also remain deeply concerned about the humanitarian and security crisis in Darfur. Sudan’s government must move to address the economic and political grievances of the Darfuri people, and to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes. The United States will continue to work with international partners to build on the progress made in the peace process that is now coming to a close.
After decades of conflict, the people of this region have reason to hope again. When I met with leaders of Sudan and South Sudan last month in Addis Ababa, I reminded them that they have the power to chart a better future for all Sudanese. As they do, they can be assured that the United States will be a steadfast partner.
The writer is secretary of state.