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By Brendan De Souza on 10.2.2024

South Sudan Gains Independence

The latest from Sudan, Brendan De Souza reports. Following the much anticipated referendum on independence last month, the people of Southern Sudan were greeted on Monday with the news that their new state had been born. South Sudan, the 193rd state in the world, will come into being officially on the 9th July this year, exactly six years after the establishment of a peace deal which ended the latest internal conflict in the country.

The turnout for the referendum reached 60%, a high figure for such an underdeveloped country and with many Southerners living in the North. Almost 99% of those who voted chose independence, or the ‘open hand’, a rather symbolic image which represented the independence movement and was used widely in the South where illiteracy is high. The other option was a ‘closed hand’, representing continued unity with the north. Only Southerners were allowed to vote in the referendum, giving many people the impression that independence was inevitable.

Huge crowds gathered in Juba, the capital and largest city of the South, where the result of the referendum was broadcast whilst taking place in Khartoum, capital of Sudan (now North Sudan). The overall mood was one of excitement, yet many people could not forget the human cost of independence – 2 decades of civil war and almost two million people dead.

Perhaps the greatest cause of the conflict, which in its entirety has lasted for almost 60 years, was the colonial era political map of Africa which was drawn up at the behest of European bureaucrats and did not reflect ethnic divisions on the continent.

The situation on the ground in Sudan is vastly different to that seen on a map. For a start, the North and the South are geographically very different – the former consisting mostly of desert and the latter being jungles and swamps. In terms of religion, the North is much more akin to its North African neighbours, with its Islamic nature, whilst the South is predominantly Christian, along with traditional religions. Finally, in terms of development, the North is far ahead of the South which could barely be called developed at all. These divisions have manifested themselves in an overall cultural sense as well, which has seen the North preside over the South for most of the post Second World War era and neglect its interests. Amongst other things, the North has tried to impose Islamic law in the South and indeed upon the independence of the South President Bashir has announced that he will seek to implement a stricter version of Sharia Law in the North.

Now that independence was been announced, and a new flag and national anthem created, there are a great many issues for the new state to deal with. A new, official border with the North needs to be drawn and questions need to be asked over its nature – specifically in regards to migration.

Division of assets and debts must also be decided. The largest share of the country’s overall oil reserves lies within the South, yet the North is seeking to secure a greater percentage for itself. South Sudan, being landlocked, needs to decide how best to approach the oil situation and export its valuable resource. The new country must also decide whether to have a new currency – an important question for a country whose economy is small and weak.

Overall, the South is not ready for independence. Statistically speaking, it is in a dire situation and will need all the help it can get if it is too succeed. The country’s infrastructure is substandard and there is but only a smattering of doctors, schools and other basic necessities. There is little in the way of independent governance in the state as well. The SPLM, the former rebel group now acting as the de facto government, have precious little experience in governance and it will be some time before effective government can come into place in the new state.

South Sudan has many problems to deal with but the enthusiasm of the people and their will to succeed in creating a new, successful country is unfaltering. Over the coming years we will see how the people of South Sudan rise to the challenge of statehood and just what becomes of the 193rd state.

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