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South Sudan, Young And In Need, Visited By Clinton


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Susan Stamberg. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on a seven-country trip through Africa, talking about strengthening democracies, building economic growth. Yesterday, she dropped in South Sudan - that's the world's newest country - to encourage the infant nation. But she warned of so many challenges ahead. NPR's John Burnett was in South Sudan when the secretary was, and he joins us now on the line from Nairobi. Hi, John.


STAMBERG: You have some good news, I hear, from that beleaguered region this morning.

BURNETT: Well, yes. A seven-month impasse over oil production broke yesterday. There's now a financial agreement over how the two countries, which are archenemies, will share in the oil wealth. The problem was this: South Sudan has the oil and Sudan has the pipeline and the seaport on the Red Sea. So, both nations depended, to a great degree, on this oil revenue for survival. South Sudan had shut down oil production in January when the two sides couldn't agree on how much South Sudan was going to pay Sudan in per-barrel transit fees to use that big thousand-mile pipeline and move the oil to the Red Sea. And they were negotiating in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and there was a lot of pessimism that they weren't ever going to come to agreement and then suddenly there was, you know, this announcement yesterday. They still have a lot of work to do. They have to negotiate basically where the new border is since South Sudan broke away from Sudan last year. And there have been armed confrontations over that.

STAMBERG: Sure. Well, as we said, it's the world youngest nation. Why is this oil agreement especially good news there?

BURNETT: Well, South Sudan is one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world. And they have really no foreign currency coming in except for oil revenues. South Sudan needs investment in everything. I just took my first trip there. They need highways, health clinics, schools, clean water systems. It's a country nearly the size of Texas with almost nothing in it. They now have 200 miles of paved road. That's some good news, but vast reaches of the country are just inaccessible, especially now that the rains have started. Just one little anecdote: I met a doctor who described to me how remote access can be. He said in the rainy season, there's a health worker that works for him. He pulls on hip waders and he walks for 12 hours through the swamp with vaccines and a cold box to reach isolated villages and vaccinate kids.

STAMBERG: Oh, my goodness.

BURNETT: It's really primitive.

STAMBERG: Yeah. So, Secretary Clinton just left South Sudan. What did she talk about there with the leaders?

BURNETT: Well, I was at the press conference in Juba, and really again and again she told the South Sudan leaders that before you can begin to develop as a new country, you have to turn the oil back on. You can't expect to succeed with this big economic hardship hanging over your head. So, she's here in Nairobi today, and I'm certain she and the whole Africa section at the State Department are very pleased with this development. This is a really poor country, but South Sudan is considered a big foreign policy success for the U.S. Washington backed the southern rebels and their long fight for independence in the middle of what's a really volatile region here in South Africa. The U.S. wants a stable, democratic, non-militarized friendly country. And so they're encouraging South Sudan and its long journey ahead.

STAMBERG: Thanks very much. NPR's John Burnett, speaking with us from Nairobi.

BURNETT: Thanks, Susan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.