Dear committee members, thank you very much for the invitation to speak on the situation in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan.
Oxfam works in over 90 countries to support long-term development and provide humanitarian assistance in times of crisis. Our insights and recommendations are informed by our partners working on the ground, as well as my own personal experience, having worked in all three countries and having lived in two.
I will begin with an overview of the context and key issues for each country before highlighting certain crosscutting themes and recommendations.
The situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has become extremely alarming due to a confluence of factors. Conflict has cost the lives of over six million people, more than any other conflict since World War II. In addition to the 4.5 million people currently internally displaced, Congo is hosting over half a million refugees who are fleeing neighbouring crises.
The humanitarian situation is nothing short of catastrophic. Thirteen million people are in need of assistance, including six million people in need of food aid and 2.2 million children suffering from severe, acute malnutrition. In August of this year, a new Ebola epidemic was declared in North Kivu, Beni territory specifically. This is the first time we've seen such an outbreak in an active conflict zone.
Last week, we saw the murder of seven UN peacekeepers in the Ebola-affected area. Conflict is putting the Ebola response at risk, which could lead to the epidemic spreading to neighbouring countries, notably Uganda. Given their traditional role as caretakers of the sick and the shocking level of conflict-related sexual violence that they face, women are disproportionately affected by the Ebola epidemic. Sixty per cent of probable or confirmed cases are women and girls.
However, the impact on women doesn't stop there. As a result of the Ebola outbreak, the Congo's weak health systems are further strained and front-line responders are overwhelmed, leaving many women, particularly survivors of sexual violence, without access to crucial services such as maternal, sexual and reproductive health care.
While Canada's contribution to the Ebola response is most welcome, it will be crucial to ensure additional and sustained commitment from donors like Canada, as the response continues to be critically underfunded. Funding should prioritize the needs of women and girls and should be additional funding, not affecting the already insufficient funding for other humanitarian crises.
Somalia continues to face severe humanitarian development, and peace and security challenges. Armed groups regularly launch violent attacks, notably in the east and the south. Earlier this month, there were the car bombings in Mogadishu, which killed 50 people.
Recurring climate events are causing incredible suffering. Drought has caused many subsistence farmers to become displaced and lose their livelihoods. Right now, 2.6 million people are displaced and 4.6 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.
The loss of livelihoods has fundamentally altered the social fabric of Somalia and has had a disproportionate effect on women. A recent Oxfam study in the northwestern region of Somaliland found a sharp increase in the number of female-headed households due to family disintegration caused by drought. Men are migrating and are abandoning their families for economic reasons. Women who are left behind are vulnerable and overstretched, shouldering many responsibilities and insecurities on their own. Cultural barriers limit their ability to find alternative livelihood options, and women report constraints in accessing humanitarian services due to their restricted mobility.
This situation underscores the urgent need to combine humanitarian aid with initiatives that will help transform gender roles and relations at the local level.
For over five years, South Sudan has been locked in a year-on-year worsening humanitarian crisis due to prolonged conflict. Over seven million people are now in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Conflict has made it very difficult for humanitarian aid to get to those in need. In 2017, for the third year in a row, South Sudan was the most dangerous country in the world for humanitarian aid workers, with regular incidences of shooting, detention of staff, looting of humanitarian property and denial of access at roadblocks.
Conflict has also driven the economy into the ground, which has led to widespread hunger. Early and forced marriage, which was already widespread before the crisis, has increased as a result. As poverty rises and livelihoods are disrupted, marriage has become a source of income and survival. Through bride price, which comes in the form of either cash or livestock, families can gain the means to feed themselves, and the marriage of their daughter means they have one less mouth to feed.
Early and forced marriage is the most common form of gender-based violence in South Sudan, with over half of South Sudanese girls married before the age of 18. Early marriage makes girls more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth, deprives them of the right to education, puts them at higher risk of gender-based violence and has broad negative impacts on the health and education of their children. It perpetuates underdevelopment and fragility.
Hunger and gender inequality are clearly driving early, forced marriage in South Sudan. Once again, the situation points to the need for humanitarian interventions to address gender inequality, as well as humanitarian needs.
Based on what I've just described, I would like to make the following recommendations, which can make a difference for the women and girls in a humanitarian context such as Somalia, DR Congo and South Sudan.
First, we need to tackle gender inequality through humanitarian interventions. Research has found that extreme gender inequality is correlated with conflict and fragility. Investing in women's rights in these countries is a powerful tool to promote lasting peace and development. Canada, with its feminist agenda, including the feminist international assistance policy and the national action plan on women, peace and security, is already leading the way globally on this front. One area that can have profound impacts, but has so far received little attention, is gender-transformative humanitarian action, meaning humanitarian programming that aims to change power relations and aims to empower women.
We are calling on Canada to fund more core gender humanitarian work by establishing a dedicated pool of funding for gender in emergencies. This pool should comprise at least 15% of humanitarian assistance to bring Canada's humanitarian aid in line with the rest of the feminist international assistance policy. This would allow Canada to fund more humanitarian work that transforms power imbalances between men and women. This could, for example, include a cash for work program, where displaced women acting as caregivers for their families are included in cash programming, challenging social norms about what constitutes work.
Broader, system-level interventions are also needed, such as building the capacity of local women's rights organizations to respond to humanitarian crises, or advocate for the inclusion of women's needs and priorities in humanitarian responses.
Second, we need to increase support for local women's rights organizations doing humanitarian work in these countries. Since they understand local culture, women's rights organizations are often best suited to do the type of gender-transformative humanitarian work I described. Canada and the world have recognized the importance of strengthening local actors in humanitarian responses, committing to directing 25% of global humanitarian assistance as directly as possible to such organizations by 2020. In meeting this commitment, Canada should endeavour to direct one-quarter of its funding for local actors to local women's rights organizations specifically.
Third, we need to ensure humanitarian access and the safety of humanitarian workers. A common trend in the DR Congo, Somalia and South Sudan is limited access for aid delivery, due to the security situations. The Canadian government and its diplomatic missions in these countries should continue to support humanitarian actors to overcome systemic access issues, support on-the-ground access negotiations and continue to promote the safety of humanitarian front-line workers.
I hope that my testimony has shown the urgency and enormity of the humanitarian needs. Humanitarian access must be a top priority.
Lastly, we need to better support refugee-hosting countries. To be comprehensive, this study should also consider how Canada can better support the countries dealing with the fallout of these three crises. Uganda, for instance, is currently home to over 1.3 million refugees from South Sudan, Congo, as well as Somalia. Speaking on the importance of scaling of support for local communities that are absorbing refugees in countries such as Uganda, it is clear that these countries are doing far more than their fair share.
Thank you very much.
My name is Atong Amos. I'm the executive director for the ARUDA development agency.
I recognize the Canadian feminist policy that is being implemented now in South Sudan that focuses on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls to achieve real change, sustainable development and peace, particularly in sexual violence and reproductive health, education and the fight against early child marriage, which is enabling access to formal economic decision-making. Some of us are now decision-makers.
Since the onset of the civil war in South Sudan in December 2013, the parties to the conflict engaged in widespread, systematic and ethnically targeted attacks on civilians, including mass killings and looting, forced displacement, raping of women and girls, and other forms of sexual violence and forced marriages, including sexual slavery. Men and boys have also been the victims of the violence.
On the development side, the lack of delivery of essential services to the population experienced during the conflict has caused huge damage to humanitarian access and the access of civilians to all the services: access to education, access to health and access to food. The impact of this has been a huge famine. South Sudan had a famine last year, which still continues. We thank you for the Canadian support and for the aid that was given last year.
In the rural areas, countless villages have been destroyed. Thousands of children have been recruited into the ranks of child soldiers in the government forces and other various armed groups, which is a serious concern for us. The African Union commission of inquiry has documented these atrocities, and where possible, they identified the people responsible that caused this fight for us in 2014. There is a need for accountability. The African Union commission of inquiry found that international crimes of a widespread or systematic nature were committed, pursuant to or to further the state policy.
In March 2018, reports by the United Nations commission on human rights in South Sudan came to a similar conclusion. All the parties to the conflict were confirmed in having had a hand in these human rights violations. Last month, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report pursuant to United Nations Security Council resolution 2406 (2018). It concluded that the atrocities that have been committed by all parties constituted violations and abuses of international human rights laws.
Among the organizations in South Sudan is Human Rights Watch, and from the time the conflict started, civil society has been really active in pushing for the issues. Therefore, the peace agreement was signed three months ago, and that includes the hybrid court of South Sudan, in article 18.104.22.168 in the recently signed peace agreement.
I think I can now take questions.
If I understand correctly, you're asking generally what measures are made to access those in need in the conflict.
The conflict in Congo has become worse. It started in the mid-1990s. Various peace agreements have seen the shifting and the regional elements of the conflict. It was once occupied by a number of neighbouring countries that were for and against the Congolese government, and now we're seeing it has shifted significantly toward local armed actors.
When I was first in the Congo about 20 different armed groups were operating, and when I left earlier this year in April, we're now up to 140 different armed groups, with different levels of interests and ambitions, many of them murky at best.
The presence of armed groups throughout the east of the country, in addition to the southeast and, since 2016, the centre, has reduced humanitarian space, which is the technical term for being able to reach those in need.
The conflict has made it very difficult for humanitarian actors to deliver life-saving services, to move goods into the areas where people are affected, and it limits the presence that humanitarian actors can have. Even in my own experience, I've had to deal with different armed groups that are very violent, that have turned war into a business, that understand the humanitarian system and know that goods are often procured locally in order not to disrupt the local economy but instead to support it, and that have found ways to benefit from that. Negotiating with armed groups, not only for access but also for impartial humanitarian assistance, is critical.
Organizations like Oxfam have very robust security policies to make sure its staff is rarely in harm's way. We have different grades of essential and non-essential staff. When things become very difficult, we evacuate most of the staff but we maintain the most essential, meaning those engaged directly in life-saving assistance. We always have security managers who define the security context and the security rules. We have all the assets that require us to maintain communication such as satellite phones, radio systems, and we rely quite a bit on the coordination mechanisms that exist to ensure that we're always sharing security information with our colleagues through the OCHA system—the cluster system—making sure we're in good contact with organizations that have had much more experience in certain areas, going back to some of the local actors I spoke to who master the areas much better than others, who know the local languages and understand some of the pressure points.
On behalf of the UN human rights office, thank you for the opportunity to speak on how Canada can better address conflict, gender-based violence, justice and respect for human rights in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is heavily engaged in these three countries. In DRC, the United Nations Joint Human Rights Office, with 150 staff in 19 locations, is the main component of the United Nations peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO. In South Sudan, the human rights division of 91 staff in 10 field offices also operates as a component of UNMISS. In Somalia, the human rights and protection group of 33 staff in six locations is part of the UN assistance mission in Somalia.
Our human rights teams, which I have the great pleasure of overseeing globally, are mandated by the Security Council to monitor, investigate, report, mediate and advocate on key human rights issues, and to provide technical support to government, civil society and other stakeholders to end and prevent violations and to change policies and practices, in line with the high commissioner's global mandate to impartially and independently promote and protect human rights for all people, everywhere.
The DRC, Somalia and South Sudan, as you know, remain among the world's most violent and entrenched conflicts. Their civilian populations have borne the brunt of this violence, devastating communities, livelihoods and people.
In our report on recent human rights violations in Unity state, which our colleague just spoke about, my colleagues interviewed a 14-year-old girl from Leer County. She said to us:
All the violence I have witnessed...I can never forget. How can I forget the sight of an old man whose throat was slit with a knife before being set on fire? How can I forget the smell of those decomposed bodies of old men and children pecked and eaten by birds? Those women that were hanged and died up in the tree?
It is our job, our obligation—I submit the obligation of all of us—to not forget, and to use our best efforts to protect and prevent. Protection of civilians in DRC, Somalia and South Sudan is the UN's main goal. We focus on early warning and risk analysis aimed at protecting the civilian population by monitoring, advocating and mobilizing those with power to act to prevent civilian harm.
Human rights intelligence about perpetrators, be they government, pro-government forces, armed groups, or anti-government elements, their methods and conduct—past conduct also—informs the UN's protection of civilian strategy, strengthening physical protection by peacekeepers and the UN's political leverage to prevent mass atrocities.
In DRC, in the first 10 months of 2018, we documented some 5,703 human rights violations, a 14% increase compared to the same period last year—an indicator of deteriorating security in the run-up to the December elections.
In Somalia, our team documented 1,010 civilian casualties. These are deaths and injuries in September 2018, alone, with 55% attributed to al Shabaab and 22% to state actors. This shows the relentless impact of conflict on civilians and that more targeted prevention is needed.
We urge Canada to increase support for improving civilian protection efforts to strengthen early warning leading to early action, and for accountability among you and mission leadership, and other actors, for the protection of civilians.
In Somalia, efforts to restore state authority are encouraging. We ask Canada to prioritize human rights obligations in the counterterrorism activities it supports through its capacity building with police and security. Without human rights due diligence, these operations risk increasing violence and extremism, and they undermine efforts to strengthen rule of law institutions.
This is a recent example from one of our reports. In July of last year, four male civilians accused of being affiliated with al Shabaab were executed. One of the victims was a Somali who had returned from Ethiopia and had been detained for seven months without charge. Two others had been arrested a few months before their execution. The fourth was arrested the day before his execution. No links between the victims and al Shabaab were confirmed, and the minister for the area said that, in principle, their execution should have followed a determination of guilt by an established court of law. What happened is that the families of the victims received diya and the officers were released who put these men to death.
Impunity remains a major concern in Somalia. Extra-judicial executions, abductions, tortures and sexual violence are largely uninvestigated. This impunity affects women and girls disproportionately, requiring extra efforts. In addition to a weak legal framework, customary law contributes to impunity for sexual violence, as traditional leaders mediate between families of sexual violence survivors, a process in which compensation to the family trumps justice to the victim.
As one girl told us, “Four men who gang-raped me were released by the police. This, after my family and the families of the perpetrators agreed to pay compensation. I was not consulted, neither was I given any of the money, and the men were free to rape again. I'm very unhappy with the way this case has been handled and I'm angry with both my family and the police, who are supposed to protect people like me from such incidents.”
Our team supported the Somalian ministry of women and human rights in civil society to draft a sexual offences bill, which cabinet adopted recently but religious leaders continue to oppose. We also support specialized units to address violence against women and children and conflict-related sexual violence. Training is provided to the Somali national army. We suggest that Canada increase support, including to Somali civil society, to address gender-based violence and boost women's and girls' rights.
In DRC, with Canada's support, we are assisting women and girls to gain better access to medical and psychosocial assistance for endemic conflict-related sexual violence. We also provide support to Congolese authorities on protection plans for such victims before, during and after trials of those responsible for conflict-related sexual violence are held. People worry about reprisals, of course.
An encouraging sign is that between August and October of this year, 43 soldiers and 13 police were convicted for human rights crimes, including gender-based and sexual violence.
South Sudan, unfortunately, has had few prosecutions of human rights violations, and in August, President Kiir granted a general amnesty to rebel commanders without due consideration for their possible involvement in international crimes, sending a message that perpetrators will be shielded from prosecution and impunity rules. No progress has been made on establishment of the hybrid court.
Canada could increase support and advocacy on the imperative of accountability for serious human rights violations and war crimes, including sexual violence in South Sudan, Somalia and the DRC.
Another core element of human rights protection and support to national human rights actors is the protection of civic and democratic space. In Somalia, we're promoting women's participation in public life and with the national human rights commission. Canada's support is needed to build and strengthen these civilian institutions.
We're also documenting increasing violations and attacks against free speech.
In South Sudan, intimidation, surveillance, threats and harassment of national human rights activists and journalists has stopped them from exposing the realities of war and corruption and denouncing those who should be held to account. We're interested in partnering more on these issues. In August, Journalists for Human Rights held a forum in Juba aimed at promoting press freedom with support from Global Affairs Canada.
We encourage Canada to support work that protects civic space. In the DRC, with presidential elections imminent, ensuring the electoral process does not restrict civic and democratic space is an urgent concern.
In September, we reported on the government's violent suppression of peaceful protests by civil society and opposition political parties, and urged authorities to respect rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. We and our national human rights colleagues need Canada's support in calling on Congolese authorities to end harassment and intimidation of civil society activists, including incommunicado detention.
The confidence-building measures of the December 31, 2016, agreement on opening political space and respect of fundamental rights and freedoms have yet to be implemented and the election is a few weeks away.
My final point, in answer to how Canada can better address conflict, gender-based violence, justice and human rights in the DRC, Somalia and Sudan, is to say to be a stronger advocate for durable peace and conflict prevention through justice and accountability and improved protection of civilians, and to step up political and financial support to protect civic and democratic space and the participation of women in all forms of public life.
Good evening. It's a pleasure to be here before the committee. Thank you for continuing to bring focus to the situation in South Sudan, Somalia and the DRC.
My name is Susan Stigant and I am currently the director for Africa programs at the United States Institute of Peace.
For those of you who don't know USIP, USIP is an independent, non-partisan institute that was established by the U.S. Congress over 30 years ago with a mission to prevent, manage and resolve violent conflict globally. Given that it's an independent, non-partisan institute, the views that I express here are my own and do not represent those of USIP.
In preparation for today's meeting I've had the opportunity to read the transcripts and the briefs from the other witnesses, and I think they have very clearly documented the fragility in the three countries that are under study. They have underlined the depth of the humanitarian crisis and truly some of the worst things that humans do to other humans around the world.
They have highlighted the critical role of both Canadian and national civil society in designing and delivering development assistance. They have underscored the need for political solutions to conflicts, and they have identified clear opportunities for Canadian engagement around Canadian policy objectives.
Rather than talking about the specific dynamics in each country I thought I would draw out three themes that I think resonate across the three countries.
The first, for me, is that it's helpful to look beyond the horizon, both forwards and backwards. So often we are focused on the emergency and the urgent matter at hand—and we should be. These are serious human rights and humanitarian situations. But it gives us little time to reflect on where we have come from and where we are going.
For example, in the DRC the focus today is on getting the elections done by December 23, or maybe with a slight delay. This is an awesome task, with 100,000 polling stations, new voting machines, logistics, very little logistics capacity, the opposition efforts to come together falling apart and civil society struggling. The priority has been very much to hold the elections and to ensure that President Kabila does not run again.
The history of elections in the DRC tells us that the international community needs to be prepared for post-election disputes. We know that it's very likely the opposition will reject the results. We know it's very likely that there will be an outcry over disenfranchisement because of violence and armed group action. We know that there will likely be confusion and chaos around tabulation and transmission and counting.
Consistently in DRC we've seen that this has led to people going to the streets to protest and often to heavy-handed response by the government.
Ultimately then we will have a new government that inherits all of the challenges of the past and ends up, in fact, further behind in trying to establish the healthy state-society relationship that we know is needed.
Today what's needed are preparations to know what happens in the immediate post-election period, and then what next. This means sustained engagement and inclusion with civil society as well as with political parties. These transitions that take place very quickly are often the culmination of a very long period of development that we don't always see because we're so focused on what's immediately ahead of us.
Similarly in South Sudan there has been considerable focus on making the revitalized peace agreement work. The narrative that I continually hear is that this is all that we have and it's the best chance for the South Sudanese.
I spent six years living and working in South Sudan during what people call the “good days” after the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement. I will tell you that South Sudanese people hoped for much more than what they're experiencing today.
It's a challenging balance to strike. You clearly hear the hope and determination of the South Sudanese to make the most of the space. The door is open, wedge your foot in, hold it and get as much as you can out of it. But we also see an agreement that does not fundamentally change the underlying logic that puts together a power-sharing arrangement that has failed not once, but twice, and really, the odds seem to be stacked against it.
The guarantors are an unlikely pair of countries—Uganda and Sudan—that have never agreed on very much in the last while, but now have come together towards this. This isn't to say that the international community shouldn't do its best to take advantage of where things are and to make the most of the situation, but it also means that there needs to be a clear plan B.
For example, the end of the peace agreement is premised on an electoral transition in a three-year period. I would recall that this civil war started because of the political competition leading into the anticipated 2015 elections. What is our strategy to get things changed so that the game is played differently and that the result will be different this time?
I also find that there is less attention to some of the dynamics of the political economy of the conflict. The conflict isn't the parallel to the economy. The conflict is the economy. It's important that we understand how assistance and other engagements play into those dynamics.
On the economic front, there has also been little conversation about the massive infusion of funding that will be needed to stabilize the economy. In a workshop that we did recently, we asked people to calculate on the back of a napkin what it would cost to stabilize, and the numbers were around $400 million for the first year. This is just to back the pounds that are currently in circulation. There's a disturbing article in The Washington Post today that says an associate professor at the University of Juba would have to save for more than two months to be able to buy a chicken to feed his family. This is how far inflation has gone in the country.
My second theme is about calibrating regional and transregional dynamics. So often we tend to look at policies and approaches focused on a single country. In the DRC, however, we know that the relationship with Uganda, Rwanda and the other Great Lakes countries is critical, and that the role of South Africa in advancing a political solution will be absolutely critical going forward.
Somalia is particularly interesting in this regard. We've always looked at Somalia and understood its strategic positioning because of maritime security and piracy. There's been less attention to what flows across the Red Sea region. Many times we think of the Red Sea as the border between Africa on the one hand, and the gulf and the Middle East on the other, but increasingly we see that transregional security, economic and political dynamics are impacting peace and security in the Horn of Africa.
For example, over the last year, the division in the gulf between Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates on one side and Qatar on the other, is beginning, it seems, to be reflected in engagement in the Horn of Africa. The federal government of Somalia took a formal position that they would remain neutral in this division in the gulf. However, there was a perception that the Prime Minister received funding from Qatar, and that maybe Qatar was being favoured. Shortly thereafter, negotiations started between the United Arab Emirates and some of the federal member states in Somalia to build ports, a strategic economic and security interest for the UAE in the war in Yemen. This further undermined the delicate balance that is trying to be built between the federal government in Mogadishu and the federal member states outside.
This is a classic multilateral problem that requires a multilateral solution, but at this point there aren't any forums that are fit for purpose. The European Union Council has called for a new Red Sea forum. The African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development are thinking about how to take this forward, but a way forward still very much needs to be identified.
My third theme is the opportunity to link the domestic to the international. I know that many of you in this room have significant populations that come from South Sudan, Somalia or the DRC. We know that conflict and violence are no longer spatially contained. Because of technology and the movement of people, if there is conflict in a country in Africa, it very much affects the populations. We also understand the reverse is possible, where the tensions and dangerous speech that are taking place in the social media space can, in fact, impact the violence in the country.
There are important opportunities to engage diaspora populations and understand that the deep divisions we see in a community are also reflected in the communities in Canada. I would commend to you a recent initiative by the Australian government to try to facilitate dialogue among the South Sudanese diaspora.
In thinking forward, in how Canada could prioritize engagement, I would first encourage a widening of the aperture. So often we are focused on countries, but a regional strategy is really needed. The European Union and the United Nations have envoys who cover the Horn of Africa and look at a broader regional perspective. This allows calibration of priorities across different countries. It allows a single ambassador to travel around and get access to heads of state. This is more than any one, even amazing, ambassador could take on himself or herself. I know that Canada has a past experience of having a special envoy, with Senator Jaffer to Sudan, and then South Sudan, between 2002 and 2006, and that there is the ongoing experience with Bob Rae in Myanmar.
My second recommendation is around Canada's catalytic capacity. I'm struck by the degree of cohesion, and the emergence of a narrative around women's participation and around the Vancouver principles on peacekeeping. I've been struck by the success story I've seen of Canada's engagement in South Sudan. I witnessed that Canada brought together a working group focused on child soldiers and helped to provoke a very important conversation that was not taking place to the degree that it needed to. I witnessed that Canada saw a priority to engage women in the peace process and reached out and worked together with UN women to do that.
But as important as those specific activities are, I was struck at the public diplomacy initiatives that took place where the embassy took visits to the development assistance projects around the country and made them highly visible. Primarily they were around maternal and child health initiatives, so that in communities people were seeing women not just as victims but as survivors.
It also made the point that South Sudan isn't just Juba. It's also about the people who are living outside. It made a clear point that the international community was watching and seeing what was happening outside the capital.
My third recommendation is around Canadian experience and expertise. Canada has unique experiences in managing conflict, diversity and promoting pluralism. This type of approach would be resonant as Somalia continues to figure out their federal system and how to put that into practice. South Sudan is contemplating whether they will keep 32 states or shift to 10 states, but ultimately, this is a question about the relationships between the centre and the state governments.
The role of the Parliament in a federal system is an incredibly difficult and important question, where Canada can play a role.
I will end on something that I think is perhaps the most important, so I saved it for last: a recognition that in these three countries, the population is incredibly young. Africa is going to be the youngest continent. In some countries, more than 70% of the population are youth. In our engagement, we need to think about how we work with that next generation. How do we buffer them from the challenges and the systemic corruption and conflict issues that have plagued the countries, and how can we start to forge relationships with them at an early stage?
I will end on a personal note of thanks. I started my career with the international youth internship program that then-DFAIT ran, where I worked with the parliamentary centre in South Africa. I think that youth engagement very much applies to Canada as well as to our partners in Africa.