Earlier this month we witnessed a momentous and rare event–the birth of a new nation–when the Republic of South Sudan became an independent country after a long and bloody struggle in the heart of Africa. The Sudanese war spanned some 20 years and took 2 million innocent lives as the government in Khartoum sought to repress the ethnic and religious Christian minority in the south.

Sudan has seen some of the worst violence and most horrific atrocities in recent history; yet on July 9, people in the new southern capital city of Juba raised their voices in celebration of a hard won freedom.

As African Americans, we know that all freedom comes with a cost. We look to South Sudan with hope for a better future, and excitement for the possibilities that exist.

As a new member of Congress serving on the Foreign Affairs Committee with a keen interest in Africa, we should all feel heartened that U.S. Rep. Donald Payne from New Jersey is a leader with overflowing knowledge of and immense concern for Africa. It was Rep. Payne who first called for the right to self-determination for the people of South Sudan; who helped call the world’s attention to the atrocities in Darfur; and who shone a light on the Sudanese regime’s attempt to displace tens of thousands of its people.

Things will not be easy for South Sudan. Violence and crushing poverty are still daily concerns in this new nation, and they will certainly be the most pressing issues that newly elected President Salva Kiir will have to contend with. Nearly one in five people in the new nation do not have access to safe drinking water, and the country has the highest incidence of maternal death in the world.

But in this small nation–on a continent which has seen its share of struggle–there is good reason to be hopeful. With their enormous natural resources and empowered citizenry, South Sudan’s potential is immense.

As we have seen time and time again, mere independence does not cure what ails a nation–only hard work, time and good governance can do that. But it is my hope, and I believe the hope of all free peoples the world over, that South Sudan’s new government will raise this burgeoning democracy from the ashes of civil war and create a vibrant new voice in Africa.

In Congress, I will join my colleagues to fight for Africa, to support South Sudan, and to ensure that foreign aid for this fledgling nation is made available. There will be opposition from many of the usual suspects, but this is an issue too important to disregard.

Karen Bass represents the 33rd Congressional District, which includes Los Angeles, Hollywood, and Culver City and was the 67th Speaker of the California Assembly.

DISCLAIMER: The beliefs and viewpoints expressed in opinion pieces, letters to the editor, by columnists and/or contributing writers are not necessarily those of OurWeekly.