By Uduma Kalu
The whole of South Sudan has been in a festive mood since its January referendum in which the people voted massively for independence from the North. But the drums blare out their music more than ever before as the region declares their independence from the North today.
The birth of Africa’s newest nation comes after a peace deal between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) and the Government of Sudan represented by the National Congress Party ending the Second Sudanese Civil War six years ago. The conflict was Africa’s longest-running civil war . The new nation will be named Republic of South Sudan. Over 70 countries have so far recognised it.
But there are skeptics questioning the ability of the new country to succeed. One of them is the Northern president, Omar al-Bashir. Bashir seemed unconvinced of south’s independence. According to him, “The south suffers from many problems. It’s been at war since 1959. The south does not have the ability to provide for its citizens or to create a state or authority,” he said. In April 2011, he stated that he would not recognise the independence of South Sudan if its government claims the Abyei region, which is part of South Kordofan state in northern Sudan. The two sides clashed over the region in May, which resulted in its seizure by the north. Bashir was accused by the International Criminal Court of genocide and crimes against humanity.
South Sudan is likely to struggle with border and trade issues, violence within its borders, lack of infrastructure, and division of oil revenues. UN says more than 2,360 people have been killed in violence in the south so far this year. A mass influx of roughly 360,000 people have entered the south since October to participate in the birth of the new nation. At independence, it will become one of Africa’s most oil-rich countries; its oil revenue last year accounted for nearly 98 percent of the southern budget.
Thousands of people from civil groups and student groups chanted, sang and welcomed the new nation as they walked toward the parade grounds that would host today’s ceremonies last Thursdat.
Juba, capital of southern Sudan, is reportedly buzzing with excitement as the country prepares to officially declare independence today. The ceremony holds at the John Garang mausoleum – a stadium that honours the man who led southern rebels during Sudan’s 20-year civil war. One of the most anticipated moments will be the first performance of the country’s brand new national anthem. The words, written by students and faculty at Juba University, reflect hope, a respect for God and a commemoration of those who died during the years of conflict.
The presence of the military on the streets of Juba is said to be overwhelming. Soldiers and police had been conducting security checks, and occasionally shutting down the town’s few paved roads to help prepare for the festivities. Hundreds of foreign dignitaries, including the heads of state of 30 African countries, are expected to arrive for the ceremony. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is listed as one of the key speakers. And in another much anticipated moment, entering the parade grounds to the tune of Sudan’s current national anthem, will be President Omar al-Bashir.
Southern Sudan, a landlocked autonomous region located in the southern part of the Republic of Sudan is bordered by Ethiopia to the east; Kenya, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the south; and the Central African Republic to the west. To the north lies the predominantly Arab and Muslim region. The Southern region has a population of about 8 million.
The economy is predominantly rural and relies chiefly on subsistence farming. The region has been negatively affected by two civil wars since Sudanese independence – the Sudanese government fought the Anyanya rebel army from 1955 to 1972 in the First Sudanese Civil War and then SPLA/M in the Second Sudanese Civil War for almost 21 years after the founding of SPLA/M in 1983 – resulting in serious neglect, lack of infrastructural development, and major destruction and displacement.
More than 2.5 million people have been killed, and more than 5 million have become externally displaced while others have been internally displaced, becoming refugees as a result of the civil war. War-related disputes still remain, such as sharing of the oil revenues as an estimated 80% of the oil in the nation is from South Sudan, which would represent amazing economic potential for one of the world’s most deprived areas. The region of Abyei still remains disputed and a separate referendum is due to be held in Abyei on whether they want to join North or South Sudan.