A New Nation Is Born

Today a new country came into existence in Africa. On Saturday, July 9, Southern Sudan proclaimed independence. The move effectively strips Sudan, Africa’s largest country, of a quarter of its area — and the world has a new country, the youngest on the continent of Africa.

Not only Africa, but the entire world is anxiously watching to see what happens in South Sudan. The new state is roughly the size of France and will have sole possession of and authority over more than 80 percent of Sudanese oil reserves.

“The Republic of the Sudan announces its acknowledgement of the establishment of the Republic of South Sudan as a sovereign state within the 1956 boundaries,” announced Bakri Hassan Salih, Sudanese minister for presidential affairs.

The reference to the 1956 boundaries, however, was controversial because that puts the contested region of Abyei in the north. The region, which is about the size of Connecticut, is home to the Ngok Dinka people, who are closely allied with the South, but it also serves as grazing grounds for northern Misseriya tribes.

For 40 years, the Muslim north and the Christian and animistic south have been at war — disputes between the ethnic groups with Arab roots in the north and the Nilotic peoples living in southern part of the country have likewise always been part of the problem.

The two areas were joined into one country in 1947 — though without any input from the south. And, in 1956, soon after Sudan was granted its independence by Britain and Egypt, civil war broke out.

Brief interludes of peace notwithstanding, the conflict lasted five decades and cost more than 2 million people their lives. The south, despite being blessed with oil, plenty of water and fertile soil, became one of the poorest areas in the world as a result of the fighting. Around 80 percent of Southern Sudanese are Christians. During the 20-year civil war, the Muslim north tried to convert the believers in indigenous faiths to Islam, but people turned to Christianity.

A half dozen warlords, veterans of the war of liberation, are now looking to stir up fresh conflicts. They had laid low until the referendum held in early January because they didn’t want to hurt the chances of independence, but they never have been truly integrated. In recent weeks fighting has erupted in Abyei again, sparking fears of another war.

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to send up to 7,000 peacekeepers and 900 uniformed police to the new country of South Sudan. The Security Council is expected to meet again Wednesday to discuss U.N. membership for the new nation.

The government in Khartoum is doing nothing that might contribute to stabilizing the south. And why should it? The north has debts of some $38 billion and the conflict surrounding the country’s oil reserves has not yet been resolved. From the north’s perspective, a stable government in Juba is not helpful.

Most of the oil is pumped in the south, but all of the pipelines run through the north on their way to the refineries in Port Sudan, on the Red Sea. The proceeds have long been split, but now, the south is claiming a bigger slice of the earnings.

Officials in Juba, the future capital of the south, seem unfazed by such quarrels. In the Ministry for Regional Cooperation, State Secretary Majok Guandong raves about the more than 40 embassies scheduled to open around the world by 2013. A clock standing in the city’s main intersection counted down the days and hours until July 9. Huge billboards herald the “last step to freedom.”

But in addition to freedom, the new state would have to focus on a long term battle against poverty and hardship. The south has the world’s highest incidence of women dying during childbirth, and nine out of 10 women are illiterate. Half of the region’s population has to make do on less than a dollar a day.

The designated president of the new state of Southern Sudan is 59-year-old Salva Kiir, a former rebel leader and freedom fighter. Kiir lacks the charisma of his predecessor, John Garang, who died in a helicopter crash in 2005. But he is a skilled tactician — a skill that could ultimately tip the scales.

The only issue that Kiir hasn’t managed to settle with the north is that of oil revenues, which will undoubtedly ignite serious disputes after January 9. While the wellheads are in the south, the pipelines run north to Port Sudan, on the Red Sea. There, the oil is refined and put on ships for export. At the moment, the north and the south split the proceeds almost fifty-fifty. But the south wants to alter the arrangement: Since it has most of the oil wells, it thinks it should get a bigger cut of the earnings.

In addition to freedom, the new state will have to focus on a long term battle against poverty and hardship. The south has the world’s highest incidence of women dying during childbirth, and nine out of 10 women are illiterate. Half of the region’s population has to make do on less than a dollar a day.

On July 6th, President Barack Obama announced the designation of a Presidential Delegation to the Republic of South Sudan to attend the ceremony marking the Declaration of the Independence of the Republic of South Sudan on July 9, 2011. He named Susan E. Rice, United States Representative to the United Nations to lead the delegation. In addition to attending the ceremonies, Ms Rice is scheduled to meet with President Salva Kiir and will attend a ribbon-cutting to officially transform the U.S. Consulate in Juba into the U.S. Embassy to the new Republic of South Sudan.

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