South Sudan is running a marathon, not a sprint | Toby Lanzer

09 Jul 2013

women police officers in South Sudan As part of the formation of a new nation, women police train in Western Bahr el Ghazal, South Sudan. (Photo: UNDP South Sudan)

Two years ago today, South Sudanese around the world celebrated their country’s independence after decades of war and struggle.

Today, the hope remains but reality has set in. It is going to take a long time for South Sudan to achieve its goals. Like a marathon runner, South Sudan and its international partners need to commit for the long haul.

Building health services, a professional police service, and a judicial system, along with all the other institutions needed in a modern state, can seem daunting in the best of circumstances.

Only one in seven children complete primary school and only 27 percent of people over 15 know how to read and write. Fifty percent of South Sudan’s civil servants lack the appropriate qualifications for their jobs.

To meet the gaps in the short term, the U.N. is helping to deploy civil servants from neighboring countries across South Sudan’s ten states, transferring knowledge and skills in 19 institutions.

In the long term, overcoming the capacity gap requires huge investments in education. Encouragingly, this is on the government’s agenda: the budget presented to parliament for the 2013/14 fiscal year makes it a priority.

In 2013, aid agencies are planning to reach nearly 200,000 children with emergency education, helping lay the foundation for development and increased opportunity in the country’s volatile areas. South Sudan and partners are working to ensure this progress is sustainable.

As long as oil continues to flow, the results of such investments should be evident in the coming decades. Similar investments by the government and its international partners in healthcare are already showing results.
Relatively unencumbered by bureaucratic backlogs, South Sudan can build schools and courts which promote the participation and rights of women, establish a transparent and trusting relationship between citizens and leaders and create a political culture of equality and solidarity.

We know that it is possible. One decade after independence, Timor-Leste, once among the largest peacekeeping and aid operations, is focusing squarely on long-term development.

South Sudan can achieve the same, but it will take at least a generation. The country needs hard work and steady dedication and its international supporters must be steadfast and patient.

The United Nations is committed to staying the course and to stand by South Sudan for as long as it needs us. When it no longer does, we will celebrate again.

Talk to us: How can we best ensure lasting peace in the world’s youngest country?

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