Susan D. Page was confirmed as U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of South Sudan October 11, 2011. In August she returned to the U.S. State Department, but it wasn’t easy as is clear below in her farewell address to the South Sudanese people.
This week, after nearly three years in Juba, I will return to my family and to the U.S. State Department, our equivalent of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As I depart, I would like to offer a few memories and reflections, as well as some thoughts going forward.
Although I was not born here, South Sudan feels like a home to me, because its people have been a part of my life for more than a decade. I first joined the IGAD-led peace process twelve years ago and watched proudly as His Excellency Salva Kiir Mayardit signed the Machakos Protocol in July of 2002. In 2003, I took my first trip to the land that would become South Sudan and have travelled throughout this beautiful country and to all ten states many times thereafter. I jumped over my first bull in Panyagor; tasted the sweetest mango of my life in Yambio; and observed the strong desire for peace in Malualkon. I still become emotional when I remember January 9, 2005 – the day the Government of Sudan and the SPLM/SPLA signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. I too swelled with pride when the people of South Sudan voted their country into existence in 2011. And, because my country also fought long and hard for its independence, I have always felt it is a special honor and privilege to be the United States’ first ambassador to the world’s newest country.
As sweet as these memories are, thinking about them also brings tears to my eyes, for the country that you voted to create in 2011 is now divided and suffering badly. As I return to the United States, I will tell President Obama what I will tell you here today: this conflict did not come from God or nature – it is man-made. If famine comes in the months that follow, it too will be man-made. Therefore, the path to peace will also come from people – not only from the leaders in the conflict, but from chiefs, elders, religious leaders, women, and you, the ordinary citizens of South Sudan. And so, instead of saying farewell, let me say a word to each of you about what has happened over the last eight months and what can happen in the months and years ahead.
To the leaders on both sides of the conflict: I beg you to take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself what you can do to stop the suffering of your people. The present crisis began long before December 15, 2013, and you must all work together to stop it – now. Already, more than 1.5 million people have been pushed from their homes, and hunger and disease threaten to kill many more. The United States stood by you as you worked together to create South Sudan. Now, in a horrible twist of fate, you are both working to destroy the country you created. The United States is trying to help you negotiate a sustainable peace under the auspices of IGAD. Blaming each other is not a strategy. Honest dialogue and compromise are the hallmarks of true leadership and the path to long term peace for South Sudan.
Chiefs, elders, women, and members of the religious community: you also have a critical role in helping to bring peace back to South Sudan. You are the guarantors of honesty in your communities and the protectors of your people. You know what it means to be selfless and to put others’ needs before your own. Now you must convince the rest of the population to do the same. During the civil war Nuer and Dinka and so many other ethnic communities fought side-by-side to create this country. Now you kill each other and work to drag others into your conflict. You can help stop this. As I travel around this beautiful country, tarnished as it is by the fighting, I see still see a few slogans on t-shirts and signs along the road that say, “South Sudan is my tribe.” I know that many of you are already working towards this end, but please continue. All of you must help make that message a reality.
To South Sudan’s next generation of leaders – the youth: People talk often about what percentage of the country is from different tribes, but in fact, you, the youth, are the largest “tribe” of South Sudan. Fully 65 percent of your country’s population is under the age of 24 and almost 50 percent are under the age of 14. You know as well as I do that there will be no peace if your elders keep putting guns in the hands of children. Instead of weapons, young people should be reading books, putting thoughts on paper, and designing and constructing buildings for the future instead of destroying foundations. As the great Nigerian author Chinua Achebe wrote years ago, “Literature is my weapon.” Show your leaders your potential by speaking your truths and working together for the betterment of all. In war, everyone suffers, but it is the women and children that suffer the most. Protect your mothers, sisters, brothers, and friends by working together to make peace a reality. Family members will always fight, but your family will always be with you. The same is true for the bigger “family” of South Sudan.
Some might say that my words are naive and that, as the bible says, there is a time for war and a time for peace. But war is never the best way to bring change and solve problems – in fact, it is usually the worst way for it destroys the very things that keep the peace – families, schools, markets, and hospitals. I know something of conflict, for in my own country, African Americans were systematically oppressed until just after I was born. However, it was not violence that brought us our rights, but the non-violent protests of church groups, students, and ordinary citizens who believed in doing the right thing. The methods used and preached by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States were the same ones Mahatma Ghandi used in India and Nelson Mandela embraced to end apartheid in South Africa. Peaceful actions by community leaders and ordinary citizens and the courage of their convictions that all men – and women – are created equal and must be afforded equal opportunities and equal rights and obligations, were, and continue to be, the tools of change in these countries and many more around the world. The people of South Sudan have lived and died through decades of war. Now is the time for peace and justice.
In some of my farewell interviews with newspapers and radio stations, I have been asked an important question: what can South Sudan – the newest country in the world – learn from the United States, one of the oldest democracies? Here is how I have answered: the United States has thrived by creating peaceful means to resolve disputes over land, resources, and politics. This means supporting a truly free press, for the media is a megaphone for ideas that everyone must be able to use without fear of arrest or intimidation. Exchanging viewpoints – even controversial ones – is not a recipe for conflicts; it is a means to prevent them. Although imperfect in practice, the U.S. has also learned that the best path to stability and prosperity is by embracing our diversity, empowering people, and including all groups in the political and economic future of the nation. The exclusion of African Americans from the American dream led to a bloody civil war and social unrest for generations. One hundred fifty years later, the scars still remain. From these experiences we’ve learned something that too many others have forgotten: You cannot fight your way to peace.
Finally, the U. S. has also succeeded by ensuring that no one is above the law – not our politicians, our generals, not even the President. As Martin Luther King, Jr., said so eloquently, “Peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.” Adhering to the law, following the rules, and holding people accountable is not a foreign construct. Justice is the glue that holds societies together.
Therefore, it is with a heavy heart that I depart, but I am not truly leaving South Sudan. In my next assignment, I will continue to work towards peace in my new position as Senior Advisor to the Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan and I hope that you will show my successor here in Juba the same warm South Sudanese welcome that I received. And, even though the challenges in front of you are enormous, I remain optimistic that you – the people of South Sudan – can put your country back on the right track. Dialogue and compromise will be the key, both with the warring parties and with the international community. Together, we can end the suffering now overtaking the country, but only if we speak honestly with each other and put differences aside in pursuit of the greater good. As the great South Sudanese musician Emmanuel Kembe sings, “our boat is shaky, but we are moving forward all the same.” I pray that the people of South Sudan can all move forward together to a peaceful and united future. One people – one nation.