This time next week I’ll be living in a new country. A brand new country. In preparation for the great day, Juba is transforming fast. The main road from the airport to the John Garang Mausoleum has been adorned with a nice grass verge and dividing lines down the middle of each lane. Street lights are also being planted along the route from the airport to the venue of the independence celebrations. Brick buildings are shooting up around central Juba. There is a feeling of activity about the place.
My Southern Sudanese friends are overjoyed at the prospect of independence. They feel they are finally gaining freedom and the right to choose how they run their own country, what their religious beliefs should be and how their resources should be used. They will celebrate heartily next weekend – and they should. The world will celebrate with them. Dignitaries and others interested in Southern Sudan will fly in to toast the birth of the world’s newest nation.
And then the work will really begin.
The UK and Southern Sudan have many close historical ties. Indeed many Southern Sudanese have lived, studied or worked in the UK. Some still have families there.
This year the UK has upgraded its presence here in Juba to a Consulate General. Next weekend we shall recognise the new Republic of South Sudan and open an Embassy here. The relationship between our countries will strengthen in the years ahead. We are committed to supporting the peaceful and prosperous development of the new country. We already make substantial contributions to the UN mission here, and UKAid, from the Department for International Development, provides a great deal of development support across a range of sectors.
Internationally, we will support South Sudan’s membership of the Commonwealth and other international organisations. And we would love to see a South Sudanese team at the Olympic Games in London next year. I hope that Luol Deng will still be playing for the Great Britain basketball team!
But, as I’ve said before, the people who will really make things happen here are the South Sudanese themselves. After decades of conflict they are wrestling with challenges which would tax the most developed of countries. From next week they will be doing it as an independent member of the family of nations.
When the dust has settled after the celebrations, the same challenges will face them – how to build a country which is democratic and stable, where the government provides basic services to the people and is accountable to them, where people can feel safe at home, get a good education and build prosperous lives for themselves and their families, where corruption is tackled everywhere it occurs, where human rights are respected and there is freedom of speech and the press, and where citizens feel they matter.
As I said in a speech at our recent Queen’s Birthday Party in Juba, “We in the international community will help you but, as an independent country, the primary responsibility will be yours. Accept it – with enthusiasm. You have talented people and untapped resources. Use them. Your friends stand ready to do all we can. Let us.”