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Beyond the euphoria of Southern independence

Women carry a flag in southern Sudan Jose Miguel Calatayud/IRIN
Women carry a flag in southern Sudan

South Sudan becomes the world's newest nation on 9 July, the final step in the six-year Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), a deal that ended the 1983-2005 North-South war.

The government is upbeat, but after the euphoria of celebrations and the pomp of speeches, the new nation faces a mammoth task.

"South Sudan is not starting from scratch," the South’s information ministry said in a release timed for independence. "For the past six years, the Government of South Sudan has enjoyed considerable autonomy, with an elected assembly, government and a functioning judicial system."

South Sudan does have the trappings of a state: flag, national anthem, and a coat of arms but building the new nation will require more than unfurling the colours of the new nation.

Relations with the north

Exactly how North and South Sudan divorce is critical to the future for both states. Key negotiations still remain - most importantly over oil.

Border conflict has already forced thousands to flee, including some 110,000 people following the northern occupation of the contested Abyei region in May.

Bombings continue in the northern oil state of South Kordofan, where fighters once loyal to the South complain they have been left abandoned as the South splits away.

Both sides have traded accusations that the other is backing rebel movements, claims also rejected by both.

The two sides are masters of continuing to talk, despite the violence and accusation.

“Both parties have clearly demonstrated that from now on, no unilateral action, no provocation could bring them back to war, and their remaining disputes shall be resolved through dialogue,” said Haile Menkerios, the UN Secretary-General’s special representative, in a speech on 7 July.

Temporary agreements have been reached on Abyei and on Southern Kordofan as well as the creation of a 20km-wide demilitarized border buffer zone - these must still be implemented.

Border tensions and oil

But the high tensions still raise significant concerns.

"The worst-case scenario is a return, a re-ignition, of this long-running North-South civil war that lasted over 20 years," said Gerry Martone, director of humanitarian affairs for the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

The equal sharing of oil revenues under the CPA ends on 9 July, but both sides depend on the income and diplomats warn that the creation of two viable states will require the South to pay some of the profit to the North.

The South holds the bulk of reserves, but, despite a determination not to share its profits any longer, it must still export via pipelines through the North.

It is hoped that the source of greatest contention could also be a pragmatic economic driver of peace.

"They are in fact mutually dependent on each other," Martone said. "Neither one can survive without the other, and that is largely because of oil revenues.”

South Sudan has often talked about breaking that connection by building its own pipeline, but that remains far off, experts say.

"The conventional wisdom is that the South would have to have new oil finds in order to make that pipeline economically viable," said Jon Temin, of the United States Institute of Peace. "So the pipeline is possible, but it’s not something we’re going to see any time in the near future.”


Shiny new government buildings are being built in South Sudan's capital, Juba.

"Given the regional autonomy with which the South operated… much of the architecture necessary to govern at the national level is in place, even if rudimentary,” the International Crisis Group said in an April report.

But effective officials are still absent, or woefully lacking in even basic skills, at state and county levels.

The South has only "the highest levels of the executive branch set up”, said Ronald Wasilwa from the Africa Peace Forum. "The structures that have been put up in South Sudan are good, but they need to go down to the people."

Forging those institutions into effective providers of the rewards of peace and independence that the people expect will be a giant task.

Many accuse the government of rampant corruption, and of domination by the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) over smaller opposition parties.

The drafting of an interim constitution in recent months sparked walkouts by the committee overseeing the process by opposition groups, who claimed the SPLM dismissed their concerns.

"While the South has made some progress in state-building and reforms, the early signs of governance - forcing through constitutional changes, restricting the media, centralizing power in the office of the President, and resorting to military violence over mediation in conflicts with rebel groups - have not been encouraging,” a recent report by a coalition of 22 international and Sudanese campaign groups, Beyond the Pledge, warned.

"The South should be urged to break from the politically repressive and divisive patterns of governance characteristic of the North," it added.

Such criticisms are echoed by many others.

"There are real concerns about the Southern government and its capacity," Temin said. "There are concerns about its real commitment to democracy; the process of developing a new constitution has been troubled; there are worrying reports of pretty high levels of corruption in the South."

Rebels, the army and conflict

The ex-rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) will change its name at independence to the South Sudan Armed Forces.

The challenge, however, will be to ensure it also begins to change its ways: it has been accused of rape, massacres, extra-judicial killings and abuse.

This has been the most violent year for South Sudan since the peace deal was signed six years ago, with the SPLA battling at least seven rebel militia groups.

More than 2,300 people died in violence across the South, according to figures collated by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), from local, government and UN assessments.

"This violence has of course brought human rights violations with it because the SPLA, in its clashes with armed rebel groups, has often engaged in indiscriminate killing of civilians, arrests and other violations that we’ve documented," said Jehanne Henry of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

She added: "We’d like to see it take steps to ensure accountability for abuses by security forces."

The government has admitted mistakes but says the transition from guerrilla force to army has not been an easy one.

"When you have a five-year-old baby, there may be breakages that are not intended," said the Information Minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, speaking to diplomats in a recent address. "But you don’t throw the child out, because you know they can grow up into a responsible person."

Legal hurdles

Experts argue that the new state is not lacking a justice system: it is just very far from perfect.

"Thousands of cases are being heard and very often settled every week across South Sudan, often by chiefs and magistrates with limited formal legal education but with an understanding of the source and context for disputes,” said Cherry Leonardi, a Sudan expert from Britain’s University of Durham.

Many, however, are drawn from an "authoritarian, centralizing and security-focused culture of government", and they have been joined by many people coming from a military background and similarly authoritarian army hierarchies, she added.

Humanitarian needs

South Sudan has some of the worst health and development indicators in the world, but while it is already struggling with its existing population, more people continue to flood in.

At least 309,000 people have returned from the North since October 2010, and still more are expected.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) said it helped feed about half the population last year, or some four million people.

Addressing those needs will be crucial not only to improve lives, but also to ensure wider stability of the new nation.

"If South Sudan is to have a chance of a peaceful future then basic development is urgently needed," said Alun McDonald from Oxfam. "There has been progress since the end of the war, but at nowhere near the scale needed and people are becoming increasingly frustrated at the slow pace of change."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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