On July 9, the world’s political map was enriched with its 193rd state, emerging from the referendum-approved secession of the southern part of Africa’s largest country, Sudan. The event also marks the end of one of the longest civil conflicts that has bled the African continent, so far causing over one million deaths and millions of refugees. The new independent state – South Sudan – is itself one of the biggest on the African continent. Ceremonies talking place on Saturday in new country’s capital city Juba enjoyed the presence of the UN secretary general as well as heads of state and government from all over the world.
South Sudan lies in one of Africa’s most volatile regions, neighbouring Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, D. R. Congo and the Central African Republic. In the north-west lays the Darfur region of Sudan, which is the theatre of a prolonged war many deem to rank among the first to be caused by the climate changes recorded in the previous decades.
The new state stands on a total area of approximately 620,000 square kilometres, making it larger than countries like Spain and Portugal combined, and has a population of 8 to 10 millions. The spoken languages there are English, Arabic (both of which are official), as well as Juba Arabic and Dinka. The religion is based on local systems, with a strong Christian minority. The country’s main export commodity is oil.
The process of the new nation’s birth has been fostered by a process commencing back in 2005 with the signing of a truce between the southern rebels and the government in Khartoum and completing with a recent referendum that sanctioned the proclamation of independence with a score of 99 per cent.
The ‘parent’ Sudan from which the new international actor cut away was the first to recognise the new country with its capital at Juba. This kind of attitude gives hope for the future, after long differences between Khartoum and the secessionist region which seemed to become more or less eternal over an internal conflict with ethnic, identity-related and most of all economic connotations. Virtually, three quarters of Sudan’s oil reserves are now in the underground of the new state. The presence of Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir at the ceremony is a promising indication that the tensions that have so far underlain relations between Khartoum and the South will be resolved. On the other hand, the path of the borderline separating the two countries has not been agreed on yet and Khartoum is facing insurgent movements in Darfur and South Kordofan, regions lying near South Sudan. Before going to the ceremony occasioned by the proclamation of South Sudan, al-Bashir had stated : ‘I would like to stress … our readiness to work with our southern brothers and help them set up their state so that, God willing, this state will be stable and develop.’
The new state has a series of external and internal challenges ahead. Drawing its border with The Sudan is one of them, just as the negotiation of an agreement on sharing revenue from crude export is another one. Until now, the revenue has been equally shared. Now that South Sudan owns three quarters of the common oil reserves, a re-negotiation cannot be evaded. From this point f view, it is important to consider that the main export pipelines (leading to the Red Sea ports) cross Sudan, which gives it a certain competitive edge in the upcoming bargaining. Another item of dossier of relations with the North is the citizenship of the over 1M inhabitants of the South who, during the civil war, sought refuge in the North. Khartoum has recently withdrawn the citizenship from all southern refugees in its territory. Another very important issue is the activity of the peace-keeping force in South Sudan counting some 7,000 soldiers whose mandate will need to change (on the one hand with regard to South Kordofan and, on the other hand, for the new border region).
However, domestic challenges are much ampler. A few rebel groups are active on the new state’s territory and they are a threat to internal stability. On the other hand, a healthcare system is virtually absent, child mortality is one of the highest in Africa and the education system needs reforming in order to provide schooling for children – most under 13 have never attended school – and women, 64 of whom are illiterate.
The emersion of this new state on the world’s political map also bears a few quite important international connotations. A demonstration has been made – crucial for the African continent where state borders that had been artificially laid down during the colonial era have been the cause of numerous wars with decisive consequences for economic development – that peaceful secessions are also possible. As Financial Times foreign policy commentator G. Rachman sates on his blog, ‘A peaceful partition would also obviously have implications for the rest of Africa. It is a commonplace that many of the borders inherited from the colonial era make little sense. But there is understandable anxiety about the potential for conflict, if African borders start being withdrawn. If the division of Sudan demonstrates that this can be more or less peacefully, it may not be that long before the world has 200 states.’
This new state can therefore be a sign telling a few things about the future of Africa and its peaceful birth definitely deserves praises.