DUBAI, South Sudan will turn 10 years old. It has been a difficult first decade, but it’s time for the world’s youngest country to map out a brighter future. The next World Expo in Dubai is a first step to changing the narrative, says Deng Deng Nhial, Commissioner General for South Sudan at Expo 2020 in an opinion piece: Monitoring the news has been a depressing business in South Sudan.
With headlines swamped with references to conflict and famine, and naysayers repeatedly doubting the durability of our peace agreement, it has not been easy for our country to look forward to a brighter future.
Civil war has brought a dark cloud over the nation, but all of us – civil society, our 64 tribes, women, youth, religious leaders – are tired of conflict. It hurts when we see its effects: poverty, lack of access to quality education and healthcare, and a dearth of economic opportunity. Every South Sudanese citizen knows that we cannot go on like this, and that such poverty is patently wrong in a country so rich in almost every other respect.
In my opinion, South Sudan is one of the wonders of the world: a country bursting with untold stories and untapped potential, from our outstanding biodiversity and prolific wildlife, to our fertile soils and huge agricultural resources, to our vast oil and mineral reserves.
We are a country of opportunity. To unlock this potential and create a better future, we must build on our progress so far, including the implementation of the 2018 Peace Agreement through the Revitalised Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGoNU) – a huge milestone for our country that rekindled the immense hope and excitement that surrounded independence on 9 July 2011.
Our priority must be to cement peace, but we must also educate the world about South Sudan, strengthen our relations with other countries and attract investment. We must tackle South Sudan’s reputation, using collaboration as a tool for political reconciliation and re-establishing the nation in a world that is growing increasingly globalised.
A massive international re-branding exercise is needed, and our participation at the next World Expo in Dubai, UAE, provides exactly that. Expo 2020 is an unrivalled platform for us to tell the world that we are at peace, to showcase our culture, our people, our heritage and our resources, attracting investors to different sectors of the economy and propelling us to the next stage of development.
The UAE, Expo’s host, is one of our most loyal friends. A staunch supporter of our peace efforts, it also provided 7.5 metric tons of medical supplies and testing kits to assist our efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 during the height of the pandemic.
Abu Dhabi is home to our only Embassy in the Gulf region and one of just 20 worldwide – a measure of the admiration we have for the UAE’s incredible vision and progress, and the value we place in its position as a global hub for trade, technology and tourism that can offer South Sudan direct access to markets across the world.
Expo 2020 Dubai will open up South Sudan to partnerships, enabling us to send our message to millions of people and collaborate directly with 190 other participating countries. It will provide a stage for us to set out our opportunities and challenges and discuss ways of working together with the rest of the world. For South Sudan, this is what the Expo 2020 theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ is all about.
Take the issue of food security, and how the world must feed an expected 8.5 billion people by 2030. South Sudan, with its 645,000 sqkm of land, 95 per cent of which is arable, needs to be part of this conversation, because with the right investment and the right infrastructure to deal with climate challenges, we can grow anything. We can become the breadbasket of Africa and still have enough fruits, vegetables and beef left to export to the rest of the world.
Look at the opportunities for ecotourism. Our rich lands are teeming with wildlife. Elephants, giraffes, lions and antelopes, including oryx, eland and more than 1.3 million white-eared kob, can be found across eight major national parks and 13 game reserves, while the UNESCO-protected Sudd wetlands swell to almost the size of the UK during the rainy season and are home to more than 1,000 species of birds. It is no exaggeration to say that South Sudan has the potential to rival the Serengeti.
In our oil, gas and mining industries, too, peace will help open up concessions after investment stalled during the war. South Sudan has estimated crude reserves of one billion barrels, and a wealth of minerals, including gold, iron ore, copper, diamonds and bauxite.
There are a multitude of possibilities, and we need to work together – with the world’s expertise – to help us grow.
Expo 2020 will be our launch pad, with our striking, all-white pavilion reflecting the fact that the real, peaceful South Sudan, is an undiscovered gem. The pavilion represents a blank canvas of opportunity, unfilled pages just waiting for the next, bright chapters to be written.
This Expo will be huge, not just for us, but for the entire continent of Africa. With every country having its own pavilion, the world has a real opportunity to pull together, to build bridges, attract investment, collaborate with the international community, assess global challenges, put our heads together and fix global challenges.
As for South Sudan, our dream of a peaceful and prosperous nation is as strong as it was 10 years ago. We may be a young country, but our people are passionate and inspired and determined, and the next World Expo will take this message to the world.
Source: Emirates News Agency