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Q&A: Celebrating S Sudan's second birthday

Top UN official in South Sudan Hilde Johnson discusses her decades of work in the country.

Last Modified: 09 Jul 2013 12:15
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South Sudanese women celebrate the country's second anniversary with traditional dance [Simona Foltyn/Al Jazeera]

South Sudan celebrates its second birthday on Tuesday, still battling many of the problems that existed at independence: joblessness, poverty, bad infrastructure, territorial disputes and rows over oil profits with Sudan.

The government of the world's newest country also faces internal power struggles and inter-ethnic tensions. Last month, a bush rebellion in Jonglei state forced as many as 120,000 South Sudanese from their homes.

Hilde Johnson is the UN's top official in the country. She's worked on South Sudan for decades, including the peace deal between Sudan and southern liberation forces that ended years of civil war in 2005. The former Norwegian minister spoke with Al Jazeera to mark the anniversary of South Sudan's independence.

Al Jazeera: South Sudan's first two years have been challenging and frustrating, but what is there to celebrate on July 9?

Hilde Johnson: None of us thought this was going to be easy - getting a new country and its institutions established amid all these challenges. And it's been tougher than expected.

That's why the progress that has been made is all the more impressive. There have been security gains. Militia groups that were fighting the government are supporting an amnesty and want to reintegrate. We have made progress in transforming the police force, training officers and cleaning up the payroll system. Our rule of law experts have worked with South Sudan to reduce one of the biggest challenges here, which is arbitrary detention, and ensuring people get due process. Hundreds of these cases have been resolved.

It's easy to look at the negatives, but we should notice these achievements on Independence Day.

AJ: Two years on from independence, South Sudan is nearly bankrupt, impoverished and badly developed despite its oil assets. Who is to blame?

HJ: For almost all of the past two years there has been no income at all, because 98 percent of income was related to oil. South Sudan has shown impressive resilience to the shutdown of oil production following the dispute with Sudan. Oil income from the previous six years was used, among other things, to make progress in health and education. There has been a significant increase in the number of children in school. There has been progress in building institutions.

But much more needs to be done, and people expect the peace dividends to be delivered in infrastructure and social services. For that, we need to see the pipeline remaining open, so oil can flow and income can return to the coffers. It must be used transparently for the benefit of the people. That is the expectation we all have of South Sudan's government.

AJ: South Sudan has tensions with its northern neighbour, internal power struggles and a rebellion in Jonglei state. Which is the biggest security challenge?

HJ: It's difficult to distinguish because they are very different problems. The stability in Jonglei state is a significant priority to overall stability of the country. It is the largest state of South Sudan and, if that isn't stabilised, there is a risk of spill-over to other states. Getting an understanding with [rebel leader] David Yau Yau is a high priority for the country.

Another key determinant for stability and development in South Sudan in the long run is peace with its northern neighbour. Sorting out the remaining issues with Sudan is a critical priority going forward.

AJ: What changes would you like to see from South Sudan's government so that the country's 8.3 million people are living better lives this time next year?

HJ: Rome was not built in a day. Delivering development dividends in one year is extremely difficult - let alone developing fully functional institutions that meet people's expectations.

But we hope to see progress in more areas. Now, it is up to South Sudan and its development partners to achieve more in the coming year. We want to see a new deal between the country and the partners, based on mutual accountability. I think much more can be done, by using resources transparently and effectively to the benefit of services for the people, and also with development partners supporting reforms and transformation of key sectors in South Sudan.

I hope this can be achieved in the next and third year of South Sudan's independence.

Follow James Reinl on Twitter: @jamesreinl

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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