The Two Stories of South Sudan's Independence


At 12:01 am on July 9, South Sudan became the youngest country in the world. This news has been greeted globally by both excitement and trepidation, sometimes from the same sources. There seem to be two stories about South Sudan, one that is very hopeful and one that is much more bleak. It’s for you to decide which carries more weight.

There are a number of reasons to be excited and hopeful about the creation of a new South Sudan.

The Second Sudanese Civil War, fought between the North and the South over two decades, resulted in over 2 million deaths and millions more displaced. When the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was finally signed in 2005, few believed it would last as long as it has. Despite several hitches along the way, the referendum was completed successfully and relatively peacefully six months ago, and today marks the final step in the CPA - the independence of the South.

In case that’s not reason enough to celebrate, there are a number of other factors that could make one hopeful:

1) Explicit American Support The Obama administration has made a point of taking a strong lead on the issue of South Sudan. The U.S. was one of the main reasons the CPA was created in the first place, and President Obama and his team have shown their dedication to ensuring a peaceful and mutually agreeable outcome to the Agreement. There are two Special Envoys to Sudan at the moment, as well as a team of diplomats that have been working to smooth the transition into an independent state. The administration has pledged hundreds of millions in aid to professionalize the army and government of the new country. Additionally, a roadmap to taking Sudan (the Northern one) off of the State Sponsors of Terrorism list may be enough encouragement to keep President al-Bashir in line, at least to a certain extent.

2) UN Support The UN has just created a new mission, UNMISS, to take the place of the old Sudanese mission, in order to aid in state building and economic development of the new country. As there are few paved roads and little economic development in the country, this support will be greatly needed. The UN has also pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to help the government in the early months. 

3) Omar al-Bashir The President of Sudan has made many statements of support for the newly independent South Sudan, including at the actual independence ceremony in Juba. The president was quoted giving his blessing to South Sudan and wishing them success. If that’s not a hopeful sign, what is?

But there are also many factors that could derail the newfound independence. 

Though in many ways the independence has gone better than expected, many experts on the conflict think that peace is far from certain, and that war may very well be likely. Violence in two main areas seems to defy any hopeful thoughts:

1) Abyei A border town that used to be graced with enormous oil wealth, Abyei is also the site of the largest unresolved conflict between the North and South. Disagreements over who could vote — just the Dinka population of the town or also the Arab herders who pass through the region — have led to the referendum’s being pushed back. The North has made statements saying they won’t accept an independent Abyei, while the South has said the same. A temporary agreement made on June 16 between the two governments has held for now, but ongoing violence and tensions could potentially cause an outright civil war. Over 110,000 people are reported to have fled the region already.

2) South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains. Again on the border, South Kordofan is a mountain area where an ongoing humanitarian situation is threatening to disrupt any hope for peace in the region. A campaign against the Nuba people has displaced and killed thousands, while threats against humanitarian workers and UN troops have made it impossible for any outside help or press to get in. “Door to door executions” have been reported, as have air attacks by government aircraft. The North has made clear that a UN force will not be allowed in the area, and the violence seems to only be getting worse as time goes on.

So, what do you think? Is South Sudan’s independence a cause for celebration or a reason to worry?

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons