MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR
We head back to D.C. now for the story of the world's newest nation and the man who represents that nation here in the District. South Sudan celebrated the first anniversary of its independence in July. Later that month, the country's first ambassador to Washington presented his credentials at the White House, which means diplomatic relations with the U.S. officially started. "Metro Connection's" Jacob Fenston sat down with Ambassador Akec Khoc to find out what it takes to start a new country.
MR. JACOB FENSTON
When I first visited the embassy of South Sudan, the building was in the middle of a fire drill, everyone crowding the sidewalks outside. The embassy of the world's newest country is holed up in a cramped sixth floor suite of a nondescript office block downtown.
AMBASSADOR AKEC KHOC
There's no room at all. You have seen the office building.
Ambassador Akec Khoc says this space was leased before South Sudan gained independence and now they've outgrown it but can't afford to move just yet. His country sits on large oil reserves but hasn't been able to export that oil this year because of an ongoing dispute with Sudan. It's one of the many thorny issues still being worked out after the two countries split last year.
I began my conversation with the ambassador by asking about the legacy of Sudan's brutal, decades long civil war.
The fighting over the past twenty something years displaced a lot of people. I've read the number five million people were displaced and that's in a country whose population is about ten million. You lived in exile yourself, why did you leave and what brought you back, now to Washington representing your new nation?
Many people were exiled because of the conflict. It was an issue of economic marginalization, social marginalization and no respect for human rights, basic human rights. And therefore whoever could not agree with the government at that time had to choose between silence or active opposition.
And I did participate in the liberation struggle but also I found myself as a refugee in France. But as soon as peace came to Sudan there was no more reason for one to remain abroad, so many went back. I went back. I was fortunately integrated into the Foreign Service. Because when I was in France I also represented the Sudan people's liberation movement.
Was that a hard decision, you said it was sort of a decision, you know, people had to choose between silence or speaking up and then being, you know, facing the consequences of that. Was it a hard decision to leave and how did you decided to that?
It was certainly a hard decision to abroad yourself to start a new life where you are not sure what you are going to meet. It's not an easy decision to make and particularly if it involves taking other members of the family then the risks are very high.
Is one of the challenges of, you know, building a new nation, sort of living up to expectations, because there was such sort of celebration at independence and after the referendum for independence? Is it hard to live up to those expectations, is that a challenge now, you know, a year after independence?
It is a great challenge, simply because expectation, when it is not met, then it turns into disappointment. And the expectation for South Sudan from South Sudanese people has been tremendous and great.
You've lived in Washington off and on for a few years, what are your impressions of the city? What are your thoughts about living here?
I love living in D.C. because it is open. The roads are wider than in many other towns and all the service that you may need is available.
You've gotten to see, as well, the presidential election process up close this season. Has that been interesting?
It is very interesting for the content of democracy in America. We have so much to learn because we are a new nation and we want to do it right from the beginning, including elections presidential or legislative. I am learning, this is what makes America a great nation.
Ambassador Akec Khoc, thanks so much for talking with me.
Thank you very much and it is my honor.
That was South Sudan's new ambassador to Washington, Akec Khoc, speaking with Jacob Fenston.
And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Jacob Fenston, Emily Berman and Kavitha Cardoza along with reporter Heather Taylor. WAMU's managing editor of news is Meymo Lyons. "Metro Connection's" managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our intern is Raphaella Bennin. Lauren Landau and Raphaella Bennin produce "Door to Door." Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.
Our theme song, ''Every Little Bit Hurts," our "Door to Door" theme "No, Girl" are from the album "Title Tracks" by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. You can see all the music we use on our website, metroconnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song.
Also on metroconnection.org you can find our Twitter and Facebook links, you can read free transcripts of stories and if you missed part of today's show you can hear the whole thing by clicking the this week on "Metro Connection" link. To hear our most recent episodes, click the podcast link or find us on iTunes.
We hope you can join us next week when we'll bring you a show all about House and Home. We'll go house-hunting at a former prison and we'll spend some time on the streets with a D.C. woman who walks around town all night with her baby because she has no place to call home.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #1
And I'm even calling a shelter hotline at night. Like, Ma'am, I'm outside with my kid right now. I have nowhere to go. My son is two months old, you know, I have nowhere.
I'm Sabri Ben-Achour and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 news.
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