The nation of South Sudan will attain formal independence on July 9. Dan Ryan (JD ’09) has been helping South Sudanese legislators to prepare for independence. Here are excerpts from a June 30 interview with Dan. Listen to the entire interview on Legal Talk Network.
Rappaport Center: Dan, why don’t we start by telling us a bit about what first took you to South Sudan.
Dan Ryan: Well, after I finished law school in 2009, both my wife and I were looking to return overseas. We both worked overseas for about six or seven years prior to school. I went to law school, and my wife went to nursing school, but prior to that, we worked overseas for years. We were interested in going back and applying our new degrees to working in either humanitarian or development work.
South Sudan was a good place for us to go and find opportunities to use our skills. South Sudan recenty concluded a peace agreement with the north that ended their civil war of over twenty years. There was a tremendous amount of reconstruction work, development work, and humanitarian assistance. . . . We came over here, and my wife got a job with Save the Children as a health manager. Shortly after that, I was able to join Mercy Corps, which is a US organization working with the local government, building the capacity of local government in the autonomous region of South Sudan.
RC: Recently, you’ve been working as an advisor to the Southern Sudan legislative assembly. What are the major projects you’ve been working on in that role?
Ryan: I joined PACT, another organization, a little over a year ago, and I started working with them as advisor to the Parliament. Particularly, I’ve worked with the Committee on Peace and Reconciliation.
Sudan has a long history of conflict — the first civil war began at independence in 1956 and ran for twenty years, the second civil war ran for another twenty years. So there was a tremendous amount of . . . deep-rooted structural violence that all has to be overcome if South Sudan is to become a peaceful country.
So I work with the Committee on Peace and Reconciliation to look at various policy issues related to peace building, conflict resolution, and reconciliation processes. I also work with the Ministry of Peace, which is on executive side of the government, with tasks of implementing peace programs.
What this really means in practice is looking at supporting grassroots dispute resolution processes that are mediated by community leaders and elders . . . to prevent conflicts or at least intervene and try to resolve them when they arise. At the macro level, it’s looking at the long-term processes that are going to be needed to make South Sudan an inclusive society where no one is discriminated against. There are big challenges.
RC: What’s been the most surprising thing for you since you’ve been there, the thing that really struck you as the most interesting aspect of your work?
Ryan: There have been a number of very interesting things . . . [For example] the elections happened last April when I first joined PACT working in this role with the Parliament. These were first elections Sudan had had in twenty-five years . . . After the elections, there were quite a lot of political differences that arose, so working on smooth out those political differences.
And working with new members of Parliament. The previous Parliament had been appointed, and after the elections, there was a seventy percent turnover . . . So working with them to help get them oriented to the Parliamentary processes, help build up their understanding of the constitution and the way that the laws function in South Sudan, and now a year later working with them on more complex issues related to the budget.
And today, we’re working on the transitional constitution . . . [This] is definitely the high point in my work here in South Sudan. The [initial] constitution was drafted by a very small group of about fifty people in a very much closed-door process. From a peace building, conflict prevention point of view, we try to encourage a more participatory democratic process in something as important as the constitution.
So the Parliament is really taking that to heart and has called a lot of public consultations. They’re proposing a lot of major amendments to the constitution. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to provide technical support to the committees of the Parliament, looking at how they can make the constitution more sensitive to the many diverse groups that are within South Sudan. If they don’t do that . . . there’s a risk that the constitution could be actually a divisive instrument and lead to more problems than solutions.
RC: While you’ve been in South Sudan, you’ve also been supporting our pro bono program here at Suffolk Law. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Ryan: I’ve had great assistance from a former 3L student, Logan Kincheloe. He just graduated this year. Logan [has been] looking at how oil is a driver of conflict here at South Sudan. Oil was one of the major factors that allowed the most recent civil war to continue for much longer than it should have . . .[He’s] been doing comparative analysis of other countries and how they’ve used their oil resources for positive development and to promote peace, looking specifically at what are some of the dispute resolution processes that can be used between the communities, corporations, and the government to prevent conflicts from arising . . .. Right now, we’re sharing this policy brief that he’s written, which includes different legislative and policy options, with the Ministry of Energy and Mining, as well as working within the Parliament and with the Committee for Oil Resources.
RC: Now Dan, we we’re speaking, we’re only a few days away from the formal independence date of July 9. What’s the mood in the capital right now?
Ryan: It’s one of tremendous celebration. The preparations are going around 24 hours a day. Everybody is really excited. It’s not every day that a new country is born. There will be thirty heads of state coming to Juba to applaud the new country. There are trees being planted all over town. It’s all everybody is talking about, Independence Day. They fought long and hard for independence. The people voted in a referendum, so it’s truly an expression of self-determination of the people.
RC: What do you think is going to be the single biggest policy problem they’re going to need to work on after independence, on July 10?
Ryan: The security situation is probably the prevailing problem. At present, there are a number of insurgencies throughout Southern Sudan. There are ongoing conflicts along the border. There is the presence of the Lord’s Resistance Army, an infamous terrorist group or insurgency from Uganda, that has now been pushed out of Uganda and into South Sudan. So South Sudan has a number of violent conflicts, which are undermining the stability of the state.
[S]o far, the military has been the main tool for resolving these conflicts and that really hasn’t improved [security] as effectively as people would have hoped. [We need to look] holistically at the root causes of the conflict . . .Trying to provide alternatives for youth, alternatives to joining the militia, and instead giving them opportunities for work or education.
Supporting infrastructure development and provision of basic services, that’s also going to be a challenge. The government was voted in on a platform of getting independence, and they’re going to deliver that on July 9. After that, the government’s platform is really going to be about security and basic service delivery. It’s going to be a big challenge to fulfill those promises to the people. On the other hand, there’s a tremendous amount of good will from the international community, and from organizations like PACT, Mercy Corps, and other organizations working here in South Sudan.
RC: Dan, thanks very much for talking with us today. Enjoy Independence Day!