July 4, 2019
Salutations: Friends, colleagues, fellow Americans
The Fourth of July has always been one of my favorite holidays, and although I’m missing my hometown parade and fireworks, I’m certainly glad to be celebrating the occasion with you here in Juba.
(I’m sure you all agree, Americans are a humble people, but) this one time each year we get to boast about American exceptionalism. Some of our exceptionalism is almost mythical: American children learn that almost everything was invented in America, from democracy to the internet. We celebrate that our country has been blessed in terms of natural beauty and resources and in its diversity. And we’re proud of the role we have played to champion democracy, self-determination, and innovation around the world.
This July marks a particularly exceptional American accomplishment: The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission — the first American moon landing. Even at the time, Neil Armstrong recognized the accomplishment, not just as an American achievement, but as “a giant leap for (all of) mankind.”
It’s hard to overstate the importance of the moon-landing, not just in terms of technical advancement. Writers, scientists, politicians and philosophers at the time described the journey to the moon as a first step from our little planet to the stars. They were sure it would unite humankind.
But the space program also had a way of focusing that same spirit of innovation and optimism back onto our own planet earth. If we could expend so many resources, if whole new branches of industry could come into being with a common aim, if our leaders could be so dedicated to a single worthy goal, why couldn’t we tackle earthly problems like hunger, poverty, and war?
Now, fifty years after Apollo 11, those questions remain relevant – at home and around the planet, including here in South Sudan. And the same qualities of optimism, innovation, and ambition that America used to reach the moon need to be employed to respond to these earthly challenges. This is the central mission of our Embassy in Juba and of many of your missions and offices.
… Applied to South Sudan Challenges
The U.S. Embassy remains optimistic that we can and we will help South Sudanese tackle the enormous challenge of hunger. Almost 7 million South Sudanese are in need of food assistance, and it would be easy to lose hope at such daunting a challenge. But there are reasons to remain optimistic – new efficiencies in aid deliveries, and potential for improved cooperation among government and opposition groups to remove impediments for aid workers. With such optimism, the United States has provided $3.76 billion in humanitarian assistance during the course of the conflict.
I realize these quantities are too large to comprehend. To keep from getting overwhelmed, I keep on my desk a smaller more concrete reminder of what this means. This is 92 grams of Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food, used to feed a child with Severe Acute Malnutrition. USAID just airlifted 400 metric tons of this to South Sudan over the past two weeks in order to feed 28,800 severely malnourished children.
I want you all to enjoy your hotdogs and hamburgers this afternoon; but do keep in mind how many South Sudanese have a lot less.
The U.S. Embassy will strive to be innovative in our collective efforts to end poverty in South Sudan. Over the past year, donors, international agencies, and progressive South Sudanese community leaders have come together to create the Partnership for Recovery and Resilience, a new approach to capture the peace dividend for communities that are renouncing violence, and to move those communities away from dependence on emergency assistance. As refugees and IDPs decide it’s safe to return to their homes, we’ll need to find new ways to help build livelihoods that rely on private enterprise rather than government positions. And we’ll encourage the government to find new and more effective ways to combat corruption and focus precious resources on development.
The U.S. Embassy will press for an ambitious approach to build peace in South Sudan. It is not enough that a peace agreement was signed, if the parties continue to squabble over the mundane legalities but lose sight of the ambitious spirit of the agreement. It’s not enough to wait to set up a power-sharing government four months from now and let the weeks and months slip away without key leaders meeting and talking with each other. It’s not enough for South Sudan’s neighbors and friends in the international community to sit back and watch. And it’s not enough to leave peace-building to the politicians and generals; peace will require an ambitious, active, and fully enabled civil society.
These ambitions may seem hard to achieve, but people thought stepping on the moon was impossible too. South Sudan has no shortage of heroes – its own Neil Armstrong’s and Buzz Aldrin’s. This gives me confidence. Among South Sudanese recognized recently for their achievements:
- Doctor Evan Atar Adaha was awarded UNHCR’s 2018 Nansen Award for outstanding service to refugees for his 20-year commitment to providing medical services to people forced to flee conflict and persecution in Sudan and South Sudan.
- Also last year, Bishop Paride Taban was awarded one of the Roosevelt Four Freedoms medals – for Freedom of Worship — for his life-long and selfless dedication to the cause of bringing freedom and peace to the people of South Sudan.
- In March, Christine Ngbaazande of World Vision South Sudan received the Bond International Development Award for her humanitarian work in Yambio to change attitudes and help communities accept those who have experienced horrific human rights violations.
- Also in March, the U.S. State Department recognized Sister Orla Treacy as an International Woman of Courage. Although Sister Orla is Irish, she was recognized for her role promoting girls education in South Sudan.
- Anna Nimiriano, who succeeded the late Alfred Taban as editor of the Juba Monitor, was recognized by Fortune Magazine as one of the world’s fifty greatest leaders, and received the Women in News Editorial Leadership Award from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers.
I never know how to end these formal remarks – how to get from the moon, back down to earth.
I would just note that this is my second Fourth of July celebration here in Juba, and it is indeed remarkable how much has happened in the last year in terms of a peace agreement and ceasefire. But these are only the first steps towards the much bigger aspirations of the South Sudanese people and the much bigger hopes we, as South Sudan’s friends, have for the country.