Published July 28, 2011
Under a relentless African sun, clouds of dust rise as revelers dance and drum the world’s newest nation into being.
Carried on a sea of endless smiles, thousands shake hands, hug and pump jubilant fists in the air. The declaration of independence booms loud across the crowd. The flag of the Republic of South Sudan climbs to full mast, and a nation lifts its voice to sing the national anthem.
Last night, the streets of Juba were packed with people holding candlelight vigils to honor the millions lost in the two-decade civil war with the north. Peace lanterns, instead of mortar rockets, lit the sky, and Sudanese emigrants — refugeed during the war — were home at last.
Today, the Republic of South Sudan celebrates independence. Tomorrow, it faces many challenges as an emerging nation.
The reality is this new country will be one of the least developed nations in the world, and there are many factors at play that could lead to escalations of violent conflict. With less than two weeks before independence, key issues remain outstanding including agreements between the north and the south on the division of Sudan’s substantial oil reserves and the demarcation of the north-south border.
In recent weeks, tens of thousands of people have been displaced and hundreds killed due to fighting between northern and southern forces in the transitional border regions of Abyei and South Kordofan and to a lesser degree, in the southern state of Unity. Further, large-scale displacement, destruction of property and civilian deaths have been destabilizing the south since the referendum, and south-south tensions manifest in the form of militia activity and aggravated cattle-related conflicts.
Nascent democratic, legal and governing structures are struggling to bring this infant state into existence in the globalized, high-tech reality of the 21st century. But here, the majority of about eight million citizens live a simple rural existence without telephone service, paved roads, sufficient health or education facilities or adequate water and sanitation services.
The population also falls into multiple ethnic groups, each with their own language, and resource conflicts in particular about the use of land are growing in number and intensity. The government of Southern Sudan is managing disarmament, demobilization, establishing a police force, writing a new constitution, introducing a new currency, determining citizenship requirements, international trade regulations … the list goes on.
While remarkable progress has been made, the escalating violence is a reality that cannot be ignored. The need for the international community to support the state-duty bearers in their efforts to reduce violence and protect civilians is an imperative of the utmost urgency. Over fifty percent of the population of Southern Sudan is under the age of 17 and the high school-graduation rate is less than ten percent. As the new generation grows up, its people have the potential to experience a life of peace and development unknown to former generations. However, if Southern Sudan is not sufficiently supported it could buckle under the weight of the innumerable challenges of building a nation. Some from the youth bulge could easily generate a new rebellion using violence — as their parents and grandparents did before them — to achieve their goals when it seems that nothing else is possible.