Yesterday in Juba I witnessed the birth of a nation. Watched by thousands, the flag of Sudan was lowered and the flag of the new Republic of South Sudan was raised.
The joy of the people was clear to see. After a long path from a twenty-two year civil war, to negotiations between North and South, to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, to January's referendum which returned a 98% vote in favour of secession, they had arrived at independence. It was also a moment for remembrance and reflection: the civil war claimed hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides, and all the South Sudanese present would have lost loved ones in the conflict.
Britain will support South Sudan as it joins the community of nations, including membership of the United Nations and, we hope, the Commonwealth. As a signal of support and of active British diplomacy in Africa we are opening a new Embassy in Juba. Vital to the future success of the Republic of South Sudan will be political openness, inclusivity and respect for human rights, as well as tackling the cronyism and corruption that hamper economic growth. British diplomats and experts from the Department for International Development are already on the ground helping the new Government of South Sudan with these issues.
South Sudan faces immediate challenges. Many of the terms of its split from Sudan are not yet agreed: how to divide the wealth from the oil that lies in South Sudan but is transported through and refined in Sudan; what rights citizens of Sudan and South Sudan will have in each others' countries; how to bring about a permanent end to the violence in Abyei and Southern Kordofan.
South Sudan also faces problems within its own borders. A South Sudanese girl is more likely to die in childbirth than finish primary school. The country is larger than France but has less than 50 miles of paved roads. Much basic infrastructure and many services simply do not exist. The humanitarian situation is shocking and tens of thousands of people have been forced from their homes by fighting in the last few months alone.
But despite this I share the optimism I saw yesterday, for three reasons.
Firstly, the determination of the people of Southern Sudan themselves. Their road to independence has been a long and difficult one. The establishment of a new state gives a chance for a new relationship with their neighbours to the North. I urge the leaders of both countries to resolve their differences as soon as possible to allow all their peoples to enjoy the benefits of peace.
Secondly, the establishment of an independent South Sudan demonstrates Africa's ever-increasing ability to resolve its conflicts and build democracy. Southern independence is not a precedent for further break-ups in Africa. But the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development and the African Union have worked with the United Nations and friends of Sudan such as the UK, the US and Norway to support a political resolution to the North-South conflict.
Thirdly, Sudan has good economic prospects with its abundant mineral wealth and huge potential in agriculture and forestry. Africa as a whole has three fifths of the world's uncultivated arable land, a fifth of the world's copper and half of the world's gold. Its combined GDP is set to have more than doubled between 2008 and 2020. So the UK will focus on helping South Sudan build its private sector, boost revenues and the economy and trade with its neighbours. At the same time, we want a strong and long term relationship with the North.
We want Khartoum to be a factor for stability in a region that has seen suffered too long from conflict. We urge the Government of Sudan to bring the conflict in Darfur to an end, to cooperate with the International Criminal Court over the indictment of President Bashir, and to play a constructive role towards its new neighbour and in the region as a whole.
Britain has an ambitious foreign policy which seeks to build up our standing and influence in the world, and to support our economy. Helping South Sudan establish itself, and enshrine political and economic freedoms, human rights and the rule of law is a part of that. I was proud to represent the UK at the start of the relationship between our two countries, and, despite the challenges, we are determined to work to turn the optimism and hope I witnessed yesterday into the reality of a better future.