Yesterday, July 9th, was the official foundation of the independent Republic of South Sudan, born of a referendum in January of this year (in which an unsurprising 99% of South Sudanese voted for secession from the north). Needless to say, and in spite of the vast hardships ahead, citizens of the world’s youngest nation are more than ecstatic to have their new-found freedom. While now out of date, this interesting slideshow depicts images of both sides of Sudan on the eve of it’s split.
The history of conflict between the northern and southern segments of Sudan – largely a colonial construct that ignored complex demographic and geographic factors – goes back decades and converges ethnic, tribal, religious, and linguistic differences, interceded by practical conflicts between land and resources. It would take me quite some time to go into all this, though a concise timeline courtesy of the BBC does admirable justice given the difficulty of the topic. The site also includes a nifty country profile of the now-divided Sudan, in addition to quite a few related links located on the right hand side, covering everything from future prospects to reactions of the north.
I for one celebrate South Sudan’s independence. The country was clearly not suited to be converged with the vastly-different north, which I noted before was a completely artificial and colonially-enforced arrangement in the first place. While the horrific atrocities in Darfur, in western Sudan, have received much more attention – and by the way, have yet to be resolved – there were as much brutality and conflict between the north and south as well. With that in mind, such a split was as sensible as it was expected, though the relatively orderly and procedural manner in which it was accomplished – through a series of agreements, frameworks, and a referendum – was quite a welcome surprise.
However, while South Sudan has come a very long way, it has an even longer way to go. The new country is barely a viable state, as it lacks anything akin to a national power grid, infrastructure, civil service, and sense of nationhood (while South Sudanese identify themselves in the context of their shared grievances and conflict against the North, tribal and ethnic divisions remain rife, especially as grazing pastures and arable land becomes scarce). There are few schools, clinics, police stations, and the new government has little real control over the country, let alone the sort of qualified personnel needed to run it. The north is far from out of the picture either, and will no doubt make an awkward neighbor for some time. Add into the mix the usual source of blight for most African nations – poverty, ecological degradation, disease, over-population – and one has much cause to be cynical about the prospects of one of the most underdeveloped regions in the world.
But the South Sudanese have at least earned the freedom and right to self-determination that predicates such problem-solved, and that is certainly a good start. While corruption and various differences between it’s denizens remain serious problems, most of it’s citizens seem keen on forging a unified nation, and their independence may yet invigorate both their enthusiasm as well as the considerable international support they’ll no doubt need. There is also a diaspora of relatively well-off and experienced expatriates that may yet return to offer their support, or to at least invest in developing their new-found nation.
Needless to say, as an International Relations buff, I’ll no doubt be keeping a close-eye on the developments of South Sudan. I’ll also have to search anxiously for a new map to replace the now-dated one that adorns my room. That’s the least any South Sudanese has to worry about.