A decade ago, the map of East Africa was redrawn, as South Sudan, the world's youngest nation was born. That moment was an opportunity to end years of conflict and suffering that affected so many in the region. It was a moment of hope for a more peaceful future and for greater stability.
The United Kingdom welcomed this moment, with Lord William Hague, then UK Foreign Secretary, declaring on Independence Day in Juba that the UK will stand with the people "as they seek a future of stability and prosperity... lasting peace with their neighbours, [and] full integration into the region."
Ten years later, I restate that spirit of optimism and hope for the people of South Sudan, and affirm my gratitude for the role South Sudan's neighbours have played over the last decade.
South Sudan has faced a difficult path to deliver the high hopes we all shared for independence. Far from the rich promise of peace and prosperity, the first ten years have been beset by violence and suffering.
Today, more than 60 percent of South Sudanese (over seven million people) do not have enough food to eat and over eight million depend on humanitarian support.
I am deeply saddened that the hopes of a decade ago remain unfulfilled. And I mourn with all those who have lost loved ones.
Despite challenges, the UK recognises the positive steps that have been taken, including by South Sudan's leaders in agreeing the 2018 Peace Agreement and the significant role the region has played in supporting the path to peace.
Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda have all hosted peace talks, and with IGAD (the Intergovernmental Authority for Development) were instrumental in securing the compromises needed to deliver the Peace Agreement. The personal role of regional heads of state and government is commendable -- supporting and working with South Sudan's leaders, this spirit of peace and brotherhood has helped deliver breakthroughs.
The generosity shown by neighbours, hosting 2.2 million refugees displaced by conflict, is incredible and a credit to those who have supported so willingly.
As South Sudan enters its second decade, positive relations and constructive regional engagement remain as important as ever.
Accelerating implementation of outstanding peace agreement tasks and addressing the humanitarian crisis must be prioritised, including ending obstructions to humanitarian access and terrible attacks on those delivering aid.
South Sudan's first elections will also be an important opportunity for ordinary people to elect their future leaders, ensuring the country's destiny rests where it should: with the people.
I saw the impact of conflict and humanitarian crisis for myself when I visited South Sudan in October 2020, most notably during my field visit to Pibor.
I witnessed how flooding and conflict has devastated lives, and the international community is helping people survive, including through UK Aid-backed food assistance, which reached over 300,000 of the most vulnerable in South Sudan in 2020.
As I approach my third decade working on African issues -- as a banker, as a politician, and as a minister -- I and my government are clear that we want to see this suffering end, and for South Sudan's second decade to deliver the hopes we all shared in July 2011.
I wholeheartedly affirm the UK's commitment to the people of South Sudan and its leaders on this journey. And we will continue to work in-step with the region to deliver the promise of stability and prosperity, which would bring immeasurable benefits for South Sudan, the region and the UK.
James Duddridge is the UK Minister for Africa