Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

Building a USAID Program in a Country With No Roads: The Case of South Sudan


USAID Mission Director William Hammink’s troubles began shortly before his 2009 arrival in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital; President Omar al-Bashir had just expelled 13 international organizations providing humanitarian assistance in Darfur.  While negotiating to permit the return of these organizations, Hammink’s team also had to help a new, inexperienced government in southern Sudan build infrastructure, deliver basic services, and manage the return of tens of thousands of refugees from decades of civil war.  The soon-to-be independent country had “not one tarmac road outside of the capital,” Hammink recalled in his ADST oral history.

During his time as mission director, Hammink ran large development programs in both Sudan (Khartoum) and southern Sudan (Juba).  He also led USAID’s efforts to support the 2011 referendum that marked the birth of South Sudan–the world’s youngest country. Conflict between Sudan and southern Sudan stopped in 2005 with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

William Hammink previously served as a USAID program officer in Swaziland, Senegal, and Madagascar; as deputy director in the West Bank/Gaza strip region; and as mission director in Ethiopia. After Sudan he would direct USAID missions in India and Afghanistan.

William Hammink’s interview was conducted by John Pielemeier beginning on February 26, 2018.

Read William Hammink’s full oral history HERE.      

Drafted by Vinicius Storck

Excerpts:
“In South Sudan, an area the size of France, there was not one tarmac road outside of the capital, Juba.”

Institution Building in South Sudan:  I spent half my time… in Juba, and half my time in Khartoum. I would take and fly on this local airline that the British and the other Europeans would not allow their teams to fly on. They were, like, 50-year-old planes…. And it was always crowded…. I’d be taking those flights crammed on an old plane at least once a week.

. . . In Juba, we were working with the Government of South Sudan that was totally nascent. You can imagine in South Sudan a situation where you’ve had decades of civil war, extreme animosity, tribal groups against each other, a very, very high illiteracy rate.

You had a large percentage of the population that had left the country as refugees and were now coming back with this peace agreement in place. And those who had stayed were unhappy with those coming back. Most of the returning refugees had some schooling in the refugee camps. Those who had stayed were basically mainly illiterate and resented these South Sudanese who were coming back and most of them getting jobs and the like.

… It was a difficult time…. Before you had zero infrastructure, because the North had not spent much money at all on sewer systems, water systems, and roads…. In South Sudan, an area the size of France, there was not one tarmac road outside of the capital, Juba.

And a lot of these government institutions had no procedures, no process, no buildings. Nothing. So, everything was starting from scratch. And I remember we funded a group to come in and do a study on very basic key functions of government…. What are those areas that a brand new government in a new country would have to carry out, at a minimum? And then we focused on those key basic functions in our support to a dozen or so ministries.

“From one day to the next there would be a new country; the youngest country in the world.”

The Independence Referendum: The CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] was signed in 2005. Sudan, including in the north and the south, had national elections in summer 2010. USAID had a large program of support for this election, which was necessary for the north to agree to support an independence referendum in the south. And then in January of 2011, the referendum for independence was scheduled… where people from South Sudan got to vote whether the south should stay with Sudan or become independent. This was an historical vote and historical moment, the outcome after decades of civil war and five years of a peace agreement. Even those south Sudanese who lived in Khartoum were allowed and encouraged to vote in the referendum. Many had fled to Khartoum during the civil war.

… And so, USAID was very much part of the support for pulling off a referendum that was on time and that was deemed to be fair by international observers.

… We brought in partners: NDI [National Democratic Institute], IRI [International Republican Institute], IFES [International Foundation for Electoral Systems]. I spent a lot of time in coordinating with the government authority set up to run the referendum, the other donors, our implementing partners and USG leaders. It was complicated, because under the CPA, there was an electoral body that was chaired by a northerner. And the deputy chair was a southerner. And members were a mix. And then, they had to agree on the process and players, and they had to agree on the “rules of the game.” It took a lot of upfront time, bringing in electoral experts, referendum experts who had worked on these types of activities before.

I still remember that we were behind the curve, and we were in Juba on a porch of the U.S. Consul General on the compound there. And the Presidential Special Envoy, General Gration, was very unhappy and very upset that things were going so slow. And if you look at the timeline of number of days to do everything that needed to be done, such as to print the ballots and get them out, we were falling behind. And he was threatening to basically take USAID out of it, because he didn’t think we were doing a good job. And the Deputy Mission Director at the time, whose name Susan Fine… She and I had a four-hour meeting with General Gration…. He was basically letting us figure it out. And we walked through everything. We drilled down on all the issues….

And that was a useful kind of example of how important it is for leaders in USAID to, one, keep your calm and keep your cool. Use facts. Speak as much as possible based on evidence. And then, drill down and pull issues apart and agree on the main sub-issues that you could then agree on the specific steps to move things forward. So, after four hours, using this approach, we could calm down the Special Envoy and agree on next steps to move the process forward. It was a very, very tough meeting.

And then, General Gration and I went to Khartoum and we met with the head of the electoral and referendum commission. We knew exactly what we wanted to see. We wrote some letters with clear descriptions of needed actions from the electoral commission. And within a few days, we got where we needed to be. So, it was kind of a call to action.

…The referendum took place. And the vote was 90-plus percent to secede. And then Independence Day was scheduled…. From one day to the next there would be a new country; the youngest country in the world. So, we used those six months to work through bureaucracy back here in Washington to basically set up a new USAID Mission for South Sudan. The State Department set up a new (U.S.) embassy for South Sudan the moment the country became independent.

Just before I arrived, the government of Sudan had abolished about 60 percent of the emergency assistance capacity in Darfur.

Negotiating the Return of INGOs [International Non-Governmental Organizations]: Just before I arrived in Khartoum—while I was on my way in fact—the Government of Sudan expelled 13 NGOs—13 international NGOs and all their expatriate staff, as well as three or four larger Sudanese NGOs, out of Darfur. With one fell swoop, just before I arrived, the government of Sudan had abolished about 60 percent of the emergency assistance capacity in Darfur. So, I faced an immediate emergency the moment I landed in Khartoum.

We were the largest donor by far, providing food aid and other assistance for Darfur. It took a lot of effort and a lot of time to work through this new emergency. And the presidential envoy at the time, who was a former general, Scott Gration, flew out to Khartoum and started negotiations with the Sudanese government to get the INGOs back into Darfur. If I remember right, three or four of those 13 were U.S. NGOs.

And so, we were negotiating to allow them to go back, one way or another. With the U.N., other donors and the INGOs and Sudanese NGOs still allowed to work in Darfur, the immediate issue was to fill the immediate gaps so that life-saving humanitarian assistance could continue. The international community and Sudanese humanitarian NGO community came together and many organizations and people picked up the work where the expelled NGOs had been working. Because of the immediate response, people’s lives were not in danger and emergency assistance continued….

It took a while in the negotiations to allow some of the American NGOs back. But for example, Save the Children-U.S. could only work under the flag of, if I remember, SAVE-Sweden or SAVE-Norway. And so, it was very tricky. But in the meantime, we were able to continue the vital kind of life-saving humanitarian foreign assistance.

TABLE OF CONTENTS HIGHLIGHTS

Education

     BS in Psychology, University of Minnesota                                                                            1974-1978

     MS in Public Affairs, University of Minnesota                                                                       1978-1980

Joined the Foreign Service                                                                                                 1981

     Washington, D.C.—International Development Intern (IDI), USAID                              1981

     Mbabane, Swaziland—Assistant Program Officer, USAID                                                  1982-1985

     Washington, D.C.—Development Planning, Bureau for Africa, USAID                           1990-1991

     Antananarivo, Madagascar—Program, Project Development Officer, USAID                1992-1995

     Moscow, Russia—Director of Democracy and Governance Office, USAID                      1996-1999

     Addis Ababa, Ethiopia—Mission Director, USAID                                                               2003-2006

     Washington, D.C.—Director of Food for Peace Office, USAID                                           2006-2007

     Khartoum, Sudan—Mission Director, USAID                                                                        2009-2011

     New Delhi, India—Mission Director, USAID                                                                          2011-2012

     Kabul, Afghanistan—Mission Director, USAID                                                                     2013-2015

     Decompression at the U.S. Institute for Peace (USIP)                                                         2015

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