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WorldVoices: Celebrating Statehood

[Editor’s Note: WorldVoices—a recurring feature of the WorldPolicy blog—links to opinion and analysis of current events from English-language news sources around the globe.]

By Cameron S. Parsons

On July 9, a new nation was born.  

After decades of civil war and the loss of some two million lives, the Republic of South Sudan formally celebrated its independence from the north on Saturday with a ceremony worthy of newfound statehood. Days ahead of a United Nations vote which will formally recognize the young republic as its 193rd member state, tens of thousands of triumphant Sudanese revelers converged on the capital city of Juba to witness the country's first president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, lower the national flag of Sudan and hoist the standard of the new republic.

As church bells tolled, cannons blared, and the National Choir led the world's youngest country through its national anthem for the first time, the world breathed a collective sigh of relief for one of its most war-torn nations.

It was by all accounts a joyous end to a tumultuous journey, and a hopeful start to a new beginning.

However, as the following world dignitaries and commentators have observed, the path that lies ahead for South Sudan is by no means secure:

In an Op-Ed in The New York Times on Friday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon reflected on some of these challenges:

On the day of its birth, South Sudan will rank near the bottom of all recognized human development indices. The statistics are truly humbling. It has the world’s highest maternal mortality rate. Estimates of illiteracy among the female population exceed 80 percent. More than half of its people must feed, clothe and shelter themselves on less than a dollar a day.

Critical issues of poverty, insecurity and lack of infrastructure must all be addressed by a relatively new government with little experience and only embryonic institutions.

I came to appreciate the sheer scale of these challenges, for myself, when I first visited South Sudan in 2007 — an area of 620,000 square kilometers with less than 100 kilometers of paved road. Within this larger context, the risk of increased violence, harm to civilian populations and further humanitarian suffering is very real.

At the same time, South Sudan has remarkable potential. With substantial oil reserves, huge amounts of arable land and the Nile flowing through its center, South Sudan could grow into a prosperous self-sustaining nation capable of providing security, services and employment for its population.

Alone, South Sudan cannot meet these challenges nor realize its potential. Doing so will require partnership — a full (and on-going) engagement with the international community and, most especially, South Sudan’s neighbors.

Among those pledging support for the Republic of South Sudan was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in this op-ed published by the Washington Post:

Millions of people are celebrating a new national identity and new national promise. Like on our own July Independence Day 235 years ago, there is reason to hope for a better future — if the people and leaders of both Sudan and South Sudan commit themselves to the hard work ahead.

This day was far from inevitable. For more than two decades, Sudan has been riven by intense fighting over land and resources. Just a year ago, talks between the Sudanese government in the north and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in the south had stalled. Preparations for a referendum on southern independence had fallen behind. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005 appeared close to collapse. A return to open conflict seemed likely.

Thankfully, people on both sides and across the world worked together to chart a different path.…

But just as independence was not inevitable, neither is a lasting peace between Sudan and South Sudan. Decades of war have left deep distrust on both sides and significant social, political and economic challenges. Both nations will have to take decisive steps to consolidate progress. …

After decades of conflict, the people of this region have reason to hope again. When I met with leaders of Sudan and South Sudan last month in Addis Ababa, I reminded them that they have the power to chart a better future for all Sudanese. As they do, they can be assured that the United States will be a steadfast partner.

Writing for the Madrid newspaper El Pais, its East Africa correspondent Jose Miguel Calatayud offers his readers some stark perspective on life in South Sudan after independence: (translated from original Spanish)

The event held in Juba—where there is no running water and the electricity network is incomplete and prone to failure—reminds us that in spite of the grandeur of the independence celebrations, the path faced by Southern Sudan as a new state is still full of obstacles. …

The North and South have yet to arrive at an agreement over the administration of joint oil reserves, and tensions remain high on the new border where there are armed conflicts in the Abyei Region and Nuba mountains in the South Kordofan Province. …

The official statistics of the United Nations about Southern Sudan read like a guide to a horror movie: 85percentof the population is illiterate; 90percentof the people live on less than a dollar a day. One in every seven pregnant women will die during childbirth and a girl of 15 years is more likely to die in childbirth than to finish school.

Writing for the website, Obiageli Ezekwesili, a World Bank Vice President in Africa, offered a roadmap to help South Sudan transform itself from a country with "one of the worst human indicatorsin the world to prosperity…":

First, the new country’s leaders and the political elite must involve citizens early on in devising any development strategies. The approach and process has to be bottom-up, inclusive and consultative; carefully analyzing opportunities and weaknesses, defining the roles of the government, private sector, civil society and ordinary citizens. Leaders can and should provide a clear and shared sense of joint investment if South Sudan is to set a solid foundation for a prosperous future. The elite should not articulate the vision of the nation behind closed doors.

Secondly, South Sudan must foster private sector growth and the emergence of small business, the engine of jobs and wealth creation in any economy. The economic strategy should be broad-based, prioritizing the needs of the population. Africa’s youngest nation urgently needs a diversification strategy that moves it away from a mono-product economy. It needs to explore opportunities, notably in agriculture which is a bigger and more sustainable asset than oil on which Juba currently depends for 98 percent of its revenue. …

Thirdly, it must build the institutions it needs to guarantee security for its citizens, provide basic social services (health, education, and low-income housing), create jobs and enhance livelihoods, bridge its infrastructure gap, and boost political and trade relations with its neighbors, including the North. …

Lastly, South Sudan must resist the temptation to adopt quick-fix, populist solutions, with little chance of sustainability. Yet, the new nation must move with a high sense of urgency, recognizing that the poor and hungry cannot wait generations for solutions to their most urgent problems.

However, despite the inevitable concerns, Luk Kuth Dak, a former anchorman at Juba Radio in Sudan, gives reason for hope. In his column in the Sudan Tribune, he explores the true meaning of independence for the people of South Sudan:

 Not even in my wildest dreams have I ever thought that this day will eventually emerge. After all, it took a little over five decades of vicious oppression and countless innocent lives lost in the process for the Sun to ultimately shine in the skies of South Sudan, announcing that a new day has indeed arrived

On July 9, 2011, the world’s newest nation named the Republic of South Sudan (ROSS) was born. A nation of God given rights. A nation of patriots, who because of their bravery , honor and sacrifices, there will live a free people on that soil.

Like any baby, ROSS will be vulnerable and fragile. Indeed, any mother will tell you, the hardest part of delivering a baby is not the pain, but what awaits the newborn. Obviously, any women can deliver a baby, but not every woman can raise a child to become a good member of the human society. In another word, the toughest part is the upbringing of that child, especially if the mother is a single one. […]

Yet, as challenging as the events may be around us today, I truly believe we will overcome them if we continue to be solidly united as we have demonstrated during these past few days of our independence. We cannot turn back the clock. We must move forward. But, as we do so, we must always remember those who paved the way for us with their precious blood and soul. Those are the real heroes of this historical moment.


Cameron S. Parsons is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal

[Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of State]

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