August 28, 2010 -- Greetings, and Ramadan Kareem. I'm writing this from the road to update you on my recent travels to Sudan and Kenya.
The holy month of Ramadan serves as a valuable opportunity to reflect on our shared objectives of peace, stability, and prosperity for Sudan and its neighbors. Whatever one's religious beliefs, the teachings of patience, sacrifice, and humility emphasized during Ramadan are helpful lessons for all of us working in the fields of international diplomacy and development.
As the countdown to the referendum accelerates, the United States is redoubling its efforts to engage our Sudanese and international partners. I arrived in Sudan last week, with the goals of addressing the humanitarian situation in Darfur; discussing preparations for the January 2011 Referenda for Southern Sudan and Abyei; and furthering the negotiations on North/South post-referendum arrangements.
After completing meetings with high-level officials in Khartoum and Juba, I had the opportunity to travel throughout Southern Sudan, where I visited the towns of Aweil, Wau, Mapel, and Rumbek. The visits provided an opportunity to connect with our local partners in the Southern states, to hear their challenges and objectives firsthand. By offering an opportunity to reflect on priorities and build consensus on how to solve anticipated challenges in the months ahead, the weekend trip reinforced my belief that lasting peace will be built at the grassroots level just as much as at senior-level negotiations.
One of the major objectives of my trip to Sudan is to ensure that preparations are on track for the January 2011 referenda on self-determination for Southern Sudan and Abyei, and this was the key topic of discussion during my trip to Aweil, the first stop on my journey. I met with the Acting Governor of Northern Bahr Al-Ghazal state (a key border state with the North), where we discussed the state's preparations and security planning for the January 2011 referendum on Southern Sudan. I was impressed by Governor's commitment to ensuring that the conditions required to conduct a credible referendum in his province will be in place for the January vote.
In Wau I visited the province's Deputy Governor, and we discussed the security preparations for the referendum, and the state of agricultural development in the state. As a retired military officer, I was impressed to see the work of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) training center in Mapel. I'm confident that the training provided to help professionalize the SPLA's 5th Division will have a positive and long-lasting impact on security and stability in the region. In Rumbek, the Governor very graciously hosted a dinner for me with 11 state ministers, and we met with the Governor and visited the Rumbek Secondary School. The students invited me to plant a tree at the school, a symbol of our shared commitment to building a more prosperous future for the people of Sudan.
From Sudan I flew to Nairobi, where I co-sponsored a very successful Southern Sudan Agriculture Conference with the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) and USAID. The conference brought together over 180 attendees, including officials from the GoSS, the U.S. Government, agricultural research organizations, financial institutions, and multinational agribusinesses, as well as key figures in the private donor community. The conference was held in honor of the late GoSS Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, His Excellency Dr. Samson Kwaje, who passed away earlier this month. Continuing his legacy, during the two-day conference, we examined the short- and long-term objectives to significantly increase production, to move Southern Sudan from subsistence farming to income-generating agribusiness. I'm extremely pleased that the conference was such a success, as agricultural development will be a critical component of the economic development of Southern Sudan in the years ahead.
On Wednesday evening, I returned to Khartoum for additional meetings, and I'm now in Cairo, where I attended the AU Envoys for Peace Summit. I promise to keep you posted on major developments as we work for peace and prosperity at this critical juncture.