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As representatives of the international community assemble in Juba, the capital of the newly-independent Republic of South Sudan, Spineless Liberal takes a look at the challenges facing the world’s newest country.

In a fitting return after our extended leave of absence, our next entry on South Sudan marks its official independence from Sudan.

Since Sudan’s independence from Britain in 1956, it has been an incredibly divided country. Split between the semi-developed, Arab, Muslim north, and the poorly developed black, tribal, Christian south, this state was in the midst of civil war for 39 of its 55 years of existence. Finally, north and south have decided to part and go their separate ways.

Over the past few hours, since independence was officially declared today at 8.45 GMT, the recongition has been rolling in. South Sudan has become the 193rd country recognised by the UN and the 54th UN recognised state in Africa. Sudan was the first state to officially recongise its newest neighbour. The UK, the US, France, Russia and China have all lined up to recognise the new state, along with Kenya, Egypt, Uganda, Canada, Australia, Brazil, South Africa, the Holy See and Taiwan, to name but a few. In fact, the most fascinating wikipedia page to read at the moment is the list of recognising states – it changes every time you refresh.

South Sudanese government officials are taking a positive outlook on the challenges of setting up a new state. The agriculture minister is placing his faith in a plan to quadruple the output of South Sudanese farmers by 2012. The education minister, Michael Milli Hussein, is aiming to found 8 new universities, to join the extant universities in Upper Nile State and Central Equatoria State (Juba), in order to give Sudan South a university in each of its 10 states.

But despite this optimistic mood, many challenges assail this fledgling state: demobilisation; development; and its relationship with Sudan itself.

The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between north and south Sudan required each side to demobilise 90,000 of its troops. South Sudan has only demobilised 12,000 of its 200,000 soldiers. While they are planning to demob a further 15,000 soon, it is not enough to relieve the burden of the army on the national budget. The post-rebel forces drains as much as 60% of South Sudan’s annual budget – one diplomat in Juba quipped it was effectively “the state’s welfare system”.

A welfare system badly needed – now counted separately from the more advanced North, South Sudan takes the bottom place from Zimbabwe on the list of least developed states. Literacy averages 20%, dropping to just 8% for women. There are less than 500 trained doctors in a country of c. 8 million people the size of France. Statistically, a 15-year old girl is more likely to die in childbirth than to finish school.

The most pressing concern for South Sudan may be its previous capital of Khartoum – its relationship with Sudan is easily strained. Immediately of concern is the issue of currency – the question of how quickly the south will separate its currency from the north’s has no clear answer. At present, the South claims that it has printed its independent currency and it will be issued “within the next few weeks”, according to information minister Bamaba Marial Benjamin – despite Khartoum’s fears that it will devalue the Sudanese Pound the north still uses.

On Friday, the UN Security Council voted to establish a 7,000-strong peacekeeping force in South Sudan, and send 900 uniformed police to the country. However, this is mostly a re-branding of the already-existing force in the region. The force has to centre on the disputed region of Abyei and the north-located, south-orientated South Kordofan, major centres of oil production in the area. Both would prefer to move South, it appears, but the North is already losing much of its oil resources. South Kordofan and the Nuba mountains remain part of the North, but Abyei is contested by each side. The division of revenue between the oil-producing South and oil-refining and exporting North has also yet to be decided.

A telling sign in relationships came when the north Sudanese minister for Presidential Affairs, Bakri Hassan Salih, stated “The Republic of Sudan announces its acknowledgement of the establishment of the Republic of South Sudan as a sovereign state within the 1956 boundaries”, this placed Abeyi in the North. This region is the size of Connecticut, and is home to a branch of the Ngok Dinka people, most of whom are located in the South, but it also serves as grazing land for the northern Misseriya tribes.

Valentino Achak Deng, a former refugee from the war, said: “Really in my heart what makes me happiest is that from today, when people ask me where I am from, I do not have to say Sudan.” This shows how deep these wounds go. And that some who may wish to not say Sudan, still must, only delays healing.

Today, the Republic of South Sudan declared its independence and founded a new state. It’s journey to becoming a fully-functioning member of the community of nations is long, and this is merely the first step.

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