South Sudan isn’t the first place most people would consider visiting, but for Scott Lyons, 38, traveling to the world’s newest country is part of his job. As democracy and governance officer for Sudan and South Sudan Programs at the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, he gives technical advice and support for U.S. government projects in the region.
The Los Angeles native also teaches corruption in health services as an adjunct professor at the Uniformed Services University.
Lyons attended University of Michigan as an undergraduate and earned both a law degree and master’s degree in international affairs from American University.
When he comes home from trips to Africa, he is greeted at his Columbia Heights rowhouse by his wife, three daughters, one son, one dog and a cat.
We recently talked to Lyons about his work in South Sudan, having a big family in the city and long-distance hiking.
What is the status of Sudan and South Sudan at the moment?
South Sudan just signed a peace agreement after an internal civil war that lasted approximately 20 months. It was just formally signed within the last couple weeks and so we’re now in the process of helping the implementation and monitoring it. And then Sudan has had internal strife and conflict going on for a number of years in which we’re actively involved in providing humanitarian assistance.
What are the biggest challenges in enforcing international law?
South Sudan is a new country, and so all legal institutions and framework and things have had to be established and started from scratch. They had an interim and transitional constitution, but at some point, it’s helping them establish all the institutions and laws and things like that of becoming their own country.
Have you seen progress made in conflict resolution?
I’d have to say that we’ve made progress because we played a leading role in helping to support the end of the conflict in South Sudan and we were actively engaged in encouraging the parties to negotiate peace. They sat down at the table and just recently signed something, so I think that shows a win for helping to bring parties together to resolve conflict.
What is your favorite thing about living in Washington?
There’s a lot going on at that’s free and family-friendly. My kids and I can decide to go to the zoo for an hour or two and just see one or two animals and we don’t have to press to do a full day and things like that and the same thing with the museum. We can go to a museum, see an exhibit and when we’re done, we’re done, we don’t have to trek through it for a full day because we spent $40 or $50 or whatever to get us in.
What is it like having such a big family in Washington?
It feels kind of normal. I don’t know any different. My wife and I always wanted a big family. We like having lots of kids and everything around us at all times. My kids get along really well and play together, so it just makes for a really nice environment.
Do you have a favorite hobby?
I like long-distance hiking. I’ve done about 200 miles of the Appalachian Trail. I’ve climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. I’ve done some long treks in New Zealand and Nepal.