South Sudan is in the early stages of planning to open an embassy in Canada, says the country's ambassador to the United States.
Diplomatic relations between Canada and the world’s newest country seem to be on the upswing after several years of what observers described as a cooldown.
Canadian Ambassador to South Sudan Nicholas Coghlan presented his credentials Jan. 15 after Canada’s office in Juba, which had been operating since 2011, was converted to an official embassy in September, 2014.
Meanwhile, the ambassador of South Sudan to the US, Garang Diing Akuong, who presented his credentials there Feb. 23, told Embassy that his country plans to open an embassy in Canada.
“It is a very important country for us,” he said in a phone interview May 26. “We expect the embassy to play a critical role…to build and cement the relations between South Sudan and Canada as two independent democratic countries.”
In the meantime, the government of South Sudan has written to Canada to accredit him as a diplomat. They are still waiting for a reply. A spokesperson for Canada’s foreign affairs department, François Lasalle, confirmed no South Sudanese diplomats are accredited to Canada yet, but South Sudan’s government is represented in Canada by its US embassy. It was recently added to a list of foreign representatives in Canada on the department's website.
The department won't discuss specific requests for accreditation, but its web page on the agrément process for bilateral heads of mission states the average processing time is 12 weeks.
The ambassador couldn’t say when plans for an embassy are likely to turn into reality. He said the conflict-torn country's economic situation must improve and peace and security must be established before it can open any additional embassies abroad.
A step back
That means there could still be a long road ahead.
Civil war between the north and south of Sudan had killed more than a million people until a peace agreement was signed in 2005, leading to South Sudan’s establishment as a sovereign nation in 2011.
But conflict still rages on in the new country. By 2013, President Salva Kiir had dismissed his whole cabinet and was locked in a power struggle with his vice president within the governing political party. The struggle led to ongoing violence. Despite attempts at peace, scheduled elections were put off due to the conflict. The country's problems have also led to a food crisis.
Noting an “alarming humanitarian situation," a press release from Doctors Without Borders May 22 said the provision of aid and medical care in the country has been severely restricted because of fighting.
The oil-rich country also faces economic problems. The fighting has cut oil output by at least a third, to about 165,000 barrels per day, Bloomberg reported this month, citing the country's oil ministry.
Though Canada continued to provide aid, some observers worried Canada was taking a step back after South Sudan gained independence. In 2014, the head of Amnesty International Canada told the Globe and Mail that Canada should “come off the sidelines” and engage more in the country.
A South Sudanese liaison office that had been operating in Ottawa closed shop in 2012 and a Foreign Affairs task force focused on Sudan and South Sudan was shut down in 2013.
The liaison office was one of many operating across the world, including in the US and the United Kingdom, that shut down when South Sudan became its own country, Mr. Akuong said.
“They were closed down…to convert them to embassies. Hopefully, we are going to convert that office into an embassy,” he said, referring to the Ottawa office.
‘A very good sign’
Liberal Senator Mobina Jaffer, Canada’s peace envoy to Sudan from 2002 to 2006, said Canada establishing an embassy in Juba is a “very good sign” for diplomatic relations.
In an interview May 25, she said she has returned to South Sudan several times since independence, and she’s “very, very worried” about the situation in the country.
“I think Canada should really get involved in the peace process,” she said. “Canada was very involved…We now have moved on to other conflicts.”
Ms. Jaffer lamented the shutdown of the Foreign Affairs task force, which was co-ordinating Canadian military and development response to the Sudanese conflict. Her previously held role as peace envoy doesn’t exist in that region anymore either.
“We urge the government of Canada to get involved behind the peace process. We need everybody to get involved,” Mr. Akuong said.
Focus on aid
Posted on the Canadian Embassy’s website, a message from Mr. Coghlan states: “programming to support the basic needs of South Sudanese is proceeding in a modified form; humanitarian assistance has been redoubled. The principle task of our small new embassy in Juba is the oversight of these programs.”
Mr. Lasalle wrote in an email that Canada “supports regional and international mediation efforts towards a peaceful and sustainable resolution of conflict.”
South Sudan is listed as one of Canada’s 25 development countries of focus. Aid to Sudan, which was in the top three Canadian aid recipients at one point before the country split up, has been scaled back. It doesn’t make the list.
Development assistance to South Sudan focuses on food security, livelihoods and maternal and child health, Mr. Lasalle said. In April, 2014, the department announced $24.85 million in humanitarian assistance and $51.5 million in development assistance.
According to the department’s web page on bilateral relations, Canadian Armed Forces personnel are deployed to the UN Mission in South Sudan that has operated since the country’s birth “to consolidate peace and security and help establish conditions for development.”
Through the Registration of Canadians Abroad service, 128 Canadians have listed themselves as residing in South Sudan, “but the actual number may be higher,” Mr. Lasalle wrote. According to Canadian census data from 2011, before South Sudan’s independence, 16,600 people in Canada claimed Sudanese ethnic origin.
The foreign affairs department is telling Canadians to avoid all travel to South Sudan “due to the present high level of armed conflict, inter-ethnic violence and violent crime,” according to its website.
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