South Sudan celebrated the first anniversary of its independence in July, and later that month, the country's first ambassador to Washington presented his credentials to the White House, officially establishing diplomatic relations with the United States. Metro Connection's Jacob Fenston sat down with Ambassador Akec Khoc to find out what it takes to start a new country. Below are excerpts of their conversation.
The fighting over the past twenty years displaced a lot of people. I've read the number five million, 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 basic human rights. Whoever could not agree with the government at that time had to choose between silence or active opposition. 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."
Is one of the challenges of building a new nation living up to expectations, because there was such celebration at independence? Is that a challenge now, a year after independence?
"It is a great challenge, simply because expectation, when it is not met, it turns into disappointment. And the expectation for South Sudan from South Sudanese people has been tremendous and great. But the challenges that have been met by the government have not been put into consideration by members of the community who sometimes feel they are being left out; they are not being served."
You've gotten to see 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."
[Music: South Sudan: "Stronger" by Emmanuel Jal from Warchild / Show Close: "Que Sera, Sera" by Andre Rieu from Croisiere Romantique]