President Barack Obama this week named Donald Booth, the outgoing ambassador to Ethiopia, as the long-awaited replacement for the U.S. special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan.
“Don [Booth] knows what a pivotal moment this is for the region, and he is determined to help ensure it’s a moment to move forward instead of slipping backwards back into the cycle of violence, conflict, and mistrust,” said Secretary of State John Kerry.
Booth will work to settle ongoing religious, land, and oil disputes between Sudan and South Sudan, whose 22-year-long civil war ended in 2005 with 2 million dead. South Sudan voted to secede in 2011.
Booth replaces Princeton Lyman, 77, who left the position in March after informing the administration last December he would step down.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., has applied consistent pressure to the Obama administration to move quicker to fill the Sudan post and other vacancies at the State Department. Wolf had suggested a higher profile figure for the special envoy, such as former Sen. Russ Feingold, a Democrat, but in an email to WORLD, he said Booth seems like a “very capable person.”
“This appointment is long overdue, but I look forward to working with him since the situation in Sudan and South Sudan is grave and necessitates high-level engagement and attention,” Wolf said.
As a presidential candidate in 2008, Obama promised not to “turn a blind eye to slaughter” in Sudan and South Sudan, but domestic priorities and conflicts in Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere have drowned out continuing genocide in the African country.
Kerry said the appointment underscores the U.S. commitment to peace in the region: “The United States will do everything we can to support those working for peace and we will speak with candor about those whose actions undermine those hopes.”
Booth, a career diplomat, is not well known among the stateside groups advocating for Sudan and South Sudan. Faith McDonnell, director of the Church Alliance for a New Sudan at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, said she hopes Booth will make it his first priority to protect civilians in the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile State, and Darfur.
“We believe that the only way he can do that effectively is [to] strengthen U.S. Sudan policy to end impunity—hold the genocidal Khartoum regime responsible for the ongoing crimes against humanity it has committed in pursuit of imposing an Islamist agenda—and support those who want true secular democracy and religious freedom in Sudan.”
McDonnell said Booth needs to work closely with the government and civic leaders in South Sudan and recognize that Christians in South Sudan have collectively been the most stable and powerful element of civil society for decades.