With much fanfare and well-deserved congratulation, South Sudan became the world’s newest country earlier this year on July 9th.  After following through on the six year Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended a decades-long civil war between the north and south, the people of South Sudan voted to declare their independence.  While the path was never easy, South Sudan gained the international recognition it had long sought.

But July 9th is only the beginning of the story for South Sudan.  Many components of the CPA – such as a north-south oil revenue sharing agreement, final border demarcation, and citizenship agreements – have yet to be decided and implemented.  Violence rages on the northern border with Sudan and has spilled over into South Sudan, without cause or provocation, on more than one occasion.  South Sudan was born a proud new country, but one in need of assistance to ensure its success.

This week, the United States is hosting the International Engagement Conference for South Sudan in partnership with a number of other countries and international organizations.  The event will highlight the progress made thus far by South Sudan and the country’s needs moving forward.  Representatives from government, business, and NGOs will discuss opportunities for investment and collaboration.

As co-chair of the Sudan Caucus, I know that South Sudan’s development needs are great.  The government must build capacity, strengthen rule of law and judiciary systems, scale up schools and clinics, run a large demobilization and reintegration program, responsibly manage returning refugees and internally displaced persons, and build out infrastructure.  It must do all this while writing a new constitution and seeking to execute final agreements remaining from the CPA with Sudan.  Humanitarian organizations have been key service providers in the past and will continue to help the people of South Sudan, but viable governance and market sectors must also be established.

International attention to South Sudan is critical at this time.  South Sudan’s independence has ushered in a hopeful transformation, and we cannot afford to let this moment pass us by. I look forward to hearing South Sudan’s proposals for development and commitments from conference participants to help achieve success.  Close cooperation is needed now more than ever to ensure the legacy of freedom the people of South Sudan fought so hard to win.