All people in South Sudan, regardless of their ethnic affiliation, must unite towards creating a national identify, the head of the United Nations mission there urged today, underscoring the potential of the resource-rich African country to prosper despite its ongoing challenges.
Creating a prosperous future “is possible because South Sudan is such a rich country in terms of resources and fertile land,” Ellen Margrethe Løj told reporters at what is expected to be the final press briefing in her capacity as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and the head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
Ms. Løj will step down at the end of November after more than two years of leading UNMISS, which was set up in 2011 after South Sudan gained independence from Sudan. It played a major role in trying to protect civilians when war broke out in 2013 between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those of then Vice-President Riek Machar.
“We have not yet finished our job, we don’t have peace in South Sudan, we don’t have prosperity in South Sudan,” she said at the press briefing held at the Mission’s compound in Juba, the nation’s capital.
“But I think we all have to work for that. I am extremely moved by having learned so much about South Sudan, I am extremely impressed by the resilience of the South Sudanese people,” she said.
On the other hand, “I am extremely depressed that their hopes and aspirations at the time of independence have not yet been fulfilled, the conflict that erupted in December 2013 continues to make many South Sudanese homeless, internally displaced or refugees in neighbouring countries,” she noted.
She urged all South Sudanese and especially the country’s leaders to put the well-being of their people, including the boys and girls, in the forefront of their actions.
When peace arrives, the South Sudanese could feed themselves, take care of their families, fulfil their dreams, and see the country that they fought so hard for grow and prosper, she said.
She believes that like South Africa, Ghana and other many countries that comprise various ethnic groups, South Sudan can achieve national unity.
Asked if South Sudan is on the verge of collapse or becoming ‘failed State,’ Ms. Løj said she does not want to “put labels” on the country but acknowledged that there is fighting in various areas, and the economy is in a very bad shape. “Something has to be done in order to turn that around and to start moving forward, and first and foremost the guns have to be silent,” she said.
“I have not given up on South Sudan,” she stressed, explaining that she used to say to her colleagues: “Yes, when we look at the news in the morning it might be depressing, if you go on a patrol or visit and monitor human rights it might be depressing, but hang on to every little glimmer of hope and argue for that hope to expand because we are here to improve the lives of the people of South Sudan.”
Ellen Margrethe Løj, the outgoing Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), urged the country’s leaders to put the well-being of their people at the forefront of their actions. Meanwhile, she called on the South Sudanese to build national identity regardless of ethnic affiliation.