This time last week it was 104 degrees outside in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. So it wasn’t surprising that the U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan expressed displeasure with the slightly cooler temperatures during her visit to campus yesterday.
U.S. Ambassador and University alum Susan Page led a panel discussion at the School of Social Work with a group of University professors addressing the challenges of building a functioning government in the world’s newest nation — South Sudan. Page’s talking points ranged from strategic concerns to relations with Sudan, including American investment and the Sudanese diaspora in the United States.
On Monday, Page gave a lecture at the University Law School addressing the legal aspects of creating a new nation and the act of obtaining recognition from the international community. The trip marked the first time in 20 years that Page has returned to her alma mater since she spent the majority of her career overseas.
Ken Kollman, director of the International Institute and a political science professor, said hosting the ambassador fostered conversation on campus about international affairs.
“We’re delighted to have these kind of events that are topical, that are of interest to people on campus and in the region on important international issues,” Kollman said. “This is a fascinating moment in the history of sub-Saharan Africa (because of the) creation of a new country. It’s unfortunately a difficult time — there’s a lot of conflict.”
The panel was sponsored by the African Studies Center, Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, the Ford School of Public Policy, International Institute, International Policy Center and the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies.
Page was accompanied on the panel by Public Policy Prof. John Ciorciari; Amal Hassan Fadlalla, an associate professor of Afroamerican and African studies, women’s studies and anthropology and Anne Pitcher, a professor of Afroamerican and African Studies and political science.
Page’s opening remarks focused on the critical humanitarian challenges facing South Sudan after its secession from Sudan in July 2011. She said South Sudan has the world’s highest maternal mortality rate, with 2,054 deaths per 100,000 births and a 24 percent literacy rate.
She added that South Sudan is experiencing fighting between ethnic groups and that 98 percent of the government’s revenue is solely dependent on oil profits. Page also mentioned that the average age of a South Sudanese citizen is only 18 years old.
“The lead (United Nations) humanitarian organization has said that about five million South Sudanese will be food deficient this year partly due to bad food crops, a bad food year and displacement,” Page said. “If you do the math, that’s more than half the country of eight or nine million people. That’s a lot of people needing food assistance.”
Page said South Sudan has a large advantage in their amount of arable land, but it is far under-utilized. She said large donors — including the United States, the United Kingdom, China and the Scandinavian nations — are working well with the developing South Sudanese bureaucracy to create an efficient distribution of resources, noting that the health ministry has shown particular progress.
Page mentioned that the major issue of corruption in the government will have to be resolved immediately.
She said employees could be fired for not filling out a declaration of wealth — an audit to determine if bureaucrats were profiting from their positions.
“A couple of ministers have at least been sidelined,” Page said. “Whether or not they’ll actually be fired, we’ll have to wait and see.”
An adviser from the United States sits in on every meeting of the South Sudanese Anti-Corruption Commission, which aids in prosecuting corrupt officials, Page added.
Other issues Page addressed included unresolved territorial disputes with Sudan, rebels remaining in Sudan — particularly in the restless Darfur region — the presence of a strong Ethiopian-led peacekeeping force and South Sudan’s recent decision to stop production of oil because of a dispute with Sudan over transit and refining prices.
“I’d like to hope that with the austerity budget and turning the oil off that maybe they’ll take this time to actually put the right procedures in place and managing their revenue collections, (including) taxes, tariffs — things like that,” Page said in reference to the relationship between oil and corruption.
Fadlalla, a panelist from Sudan, said she was pleased with the ambassador’s response to the questions, but expressed regret that the referendum that gave South Sudan independence last year turned out in favor of independence.
“It was sad, maybe because I’m old-fashioned, and I believe in nationhood, and I wanted the nation to be together,” Fadlalla said. “It was hard because there are so many tensions, and Sudan has so many ethnic groups. It’s hard to reconcile the differences.”
Fadlalla said she was optimistic that future administrations in Sudan would be able to diffuse the animosity between the two nations, but was concerned about the rebel movements that still exist in Sudan and threaten the government in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital city.
Also present at the panel were students from the University’s chapter of the ONE campaign, an organization dedicated to raising public awareness about global poverty, famine and relief efforts.
LSA sophomore Andy Pekala said the organization has recently been focused on the issue of maternal mortality.
“The current challenge that we’re working on right now for the ONE campus challenge is infant and maternal mortality rates,” Pekala said. “The fact that (Page) said that Sudan has the highest infant mortality rate in the world, it was interesting to hear the steps that (South) Sudan as a whole is taking to reduce that and how donors are helping with that.”