This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
British Ambassador to South Sudan Ian Hughes spoke at the South Sudan Government-NGO Partnership Review conference held in Juba on Tuesday, 19 November 2013.
Thank you for inviting me to speak here today. You may recall my very first speaking engagement as the British Ambassador to South Sudan, way back in April, was at the 2nd Partnership Review Conferences. I’m delighted to be back for the third.
Many things have changed since April, not least in that I know a lot more about the newest country in the world and a lot more about the challenges that we face together as we work to deliver on the aspirations for a better world that sustained a people for so many years as bitter, bloody war raged around them.
Many things have changed since then in that we have seen welcome improvements in the background to our work: we have seen progress – for example oil is flowing again - but let’s not kid ourselves: serious challenges remain for us to face.
Today I want to focus on trust, accountability and partnership. These themes will be crucial for maintaining the progress we have collectively achieved thus far, and in particular, for overcoming persistent challenges, to enable South Sudan to move forward as a stable and prosperous nation.
When I spoke to you in April the Government of the South Sudan and the International Community were engaged in a groundbreaking conference in Washington. The discussion there hammered out a new relationship based on genuine partnership, on mutual commitments to understand each others’ needs and aspirations, and to a shared engagement in making South Sudan a success. The work to develop a New Deal Compact that began then has made great strides. But there is still much to do.
The New Deal Compact, which we hope will strengthen the relationship between South Sudan and its national and international partners, has grown out of broad consultations. Over a 1000 people in all ten states, drawn from civil society, local and national government, academia, and donors have helped to define priorities for shared action to accelerate peace and state building and improve aid effectiveness.
For me, successful development brings together alliances of national and local government, multilateral and bilateral donors, international and national NGOs. All have their parts to play. Success for one group is only made possible by the combined efforts of all, by true partnerships forged through mutual accountability, respect and cooperation.
In South Sudan, where government is still in establishing itself and its essential systems, this new framework for partnership is particularly crucial. And it goes beyond government. National and international civil society organisations will have a key role to play too. Success can only be possible through mutual effort, mutual imagination, mutual support and mutual accountability on the part of everyone. In the words of one of my heroes, Benjamin Franklin, “We must indeed hang together, or we will all hang separately”.
If together we can make the New Deal Compact deliver; if together we can help build the resilience of communities and government systems; if together we can ensure that the people of South Sudan see the benefits of peace then we will have developed a new paradigm that our colleagues and friends around the world can use to improve the lot of people vulnerable everywhere.
Those colleagues and friends are watching keenly the work begun in Washington in April. They are urging us on to success. If we can demonstrate the benefits of this new way of thinking and working the rest of the world will follow in our footsteps.
And I am convinced that today’s discussion about how we work together better is a crucial part of the process.
Eight months ago, as a newbie Ambassador, I welcomed news of the New Deal Compact. I said then that it would require continued commitment on the part of the Government of South Sudan, on the part of international development partners and on the part of the NGO community to develop and strengthen their partnerships for all to succeed. The people of South Sudan have suffered years of hardship and they deserve this and more.
Months later, after watching with admiration the teamwork that has brought the New Deal Compact so far I feel confident that working together national and local governments, the international community and the NGO community - can and will build a stronger, better future for the people who depend on us for so much.
I do not intend to hold up proceedings with too long a speech, but I wanted to use my time with you today to suggest both some challenges for this group; and some opportunities for working together going forward.
South Sudan is still a testing place in which to work, in which to travel, in which to build, in which to deliver. The lack of capacity, the lack of infrastructure and widespread insecurity make it difficult and sometimes dangerous for humanitarian agencies to reach all of those in most urgent need of humanitarian assistance. There must be times when vulnerable people in remote areas feel isolated and abandoned. I don’t blame them.
I know that colleagues in Government have at times found this frustrating. At the British Embassy we recognise that frustration and understand it. We are absolutely committed to finding ways to overcome the difficulties to reach people in need wherever they are. And we are making progress:
Last week I travelled to Pibor County with the UK Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, and with UK and UN colleagues. There we saw directly how partnerships and shared responsibilities between UNMISS, the SPLA, local and national government and humanitarian actors can bring stability and a solid basis for humanitarian response.
I was particularly struck with the level of communication among the many organisations, and how important direct contact and clear communication are in building trust.
Pibor County has highly traumatised communities whose protection and wellbeing depends on close cooperation and effective coordination to ensure humanitarian access, to protect civilians and to conserve the humanitarian space. I don’t need to tell this audience that the violence there affected over 100,000 people in 2013, displacing the civilian populations of six towns and forcing NGO and UN agencies to pull out of several sites.
It has taken a colossal effort, but, thanks to frank discussion, delicate negotiations, continuous effort, and understanding from our South Sudanese partners, humanitarian actors can once again travel to, and work safely in affected areas; over 83,000 people in need have been reached and helped in towns and rural areas. We must do better if there is a next time. And we will.
Civil Society can do a lot, but it cannot do it alone. NGOs need the steadfast support of national and local Government to reach those in need. In April I spoke of difficulties facing agencies trying to deliver assistance. I had heard of vehicles being seized, assessments and distributions disrupted; goods being stopped and other impediments to assistance reaching those in need. I still hear of those problems.
Just yesterday I and others spoke to Assistant Secretary General Kang of OCHA. She is in Jonglei today to see the situation there for herself. When she goes back to her Headquarters she will take with her a clear picture of what has been achieved here, and of what more needs to be done. And I say to you and to our government colleagues, she will go away with sympathy and understanding of the limitations inevitable in a new country finding its feet. But like us, she knows that vulnerable people deserve better. And like us she is determined they will get it.
I say to my South Sudanese friends, as I say to you now, that to describe a situation clearly is not criticism: it is simply a narrative. What matters is not how much a situation needs to improve but how determined we are to improve it. Whether we are from government, international partners and civil society, we all need to learn, to grow, to improve and to deliver. And we will.
I am confident that this forum, and others like it, will help to establish understandings across the web of our partnerships and across the length and breadth of this country to enable not to hinder, to facilitate not to impede and above all to make the difference that so many people need.
It is human nature to focus on the negative, to emphasise the problems. I don’t want to fall into that trap. I want to recognise progress made and to identify opportunities we should seize so that we can all do better.
The recent flood response in South Sudan demonstrated strong Government leadership, backed up by solid partnership from the UN, and international and national NGOs. Despite access and logistics challenges, so far humanitarians have reached over 167,000 of the 278,790 flood-affected people across the country with food, shelter, medicines and basic household supplies.
I would like to congratulate the RRC, Minister Awut and her team and the Office of the President for their recent work in making sure that problems affecting humanitarian agencies in Jonglei were resolved, working with Governors, the SPLA and Police to improve the humanitarian response to those displaced. This made an important difference to humanitarian delivery. And it needs to continue. Despite the lull in violence, the dry season brings the potential for more violence and displacement for civilians. We must be better prepared.
I believe that as development practitioners our job is to work ourselves out of a job. We do that by building capacity and resilience – in individuals, in households, in communities, in government systems, across country; by making the transition from humanitarian response to development.
The New Deal Compact should provide an important framework for building government leadership and making our work more sustainable and more impactful.
The NGO bill, in its third reading at parliament, is a unique opportunity to build a lasting partnership between the government and NGOs. To that end I urge the government to work with Parliament to deliver a bill that is relevant to South Sudan and its transition out of fragility. The NGO Bill could provide an opportunity to facilitate the work of NGOs, provide a clear framework both for NGOs to deliver services, and for national civil society to engage in oversight of government. I hope that all involved will ensure that it does.
This will require a renewed commitment from the part of government to engage international and national NGOs on ways to improve services to a large population in need. This requires facilitating the work of these actors, not impeding it. The Minister’s representative rightly highlighted the government’s role in formulating policy. I am glad that he also recognises that the work of international and national NGOs is critical to ensuring that South Sudanese are able to cope effectively with shocks, be resilient, and benefit from basic services. In return it is important for NGOs to recognise and respect government priorities and reporting requirements.
The UK is committed to helping to support South Sudan to build the foundations that will allow a safe and responsible transition process:
In the six states covered by our Health Pooled Fund, we will reach every single county, providing primary health care even to those in the most remote counties where access is difficult.
We are at this moment delivering over 9 million textbooks across the whole of the country, and putting in place support for girls education in every county.
We are helping to professionalise the police and army and to build effective accountability institutions.
We are putting in place the foundations for wealth creation – building the resilience of communities to food insecurity and preparing a major programme to build and maintain feeder roads.
We will work with Government and NGOs all over the country to make sure that every single Euro, Yen, Pound and Dollar reaches those in need. We all rely on continued support from voluntary contributions or citizens’ taxes .We must not let them down.
Thank you for your contributions to serving the vulnerable, helping the weak, delivering to the needy. Thank you for being here today so that we can talk frankly about how we can and should do things better together.
I look forward with working with all of you in both Government and the NGO community on these important issues. Let’s take this opportunity as South Sudan’s partners to nurture change, and challenge ourselves - each and every one of us - to change, in the interests of the immediate and the longer term needs of the people of South Sudan. They deserve no less.