South Sudan: Safeguarding Independence

Ethnic groups celebrate South Sudan's independence in the capital of Juba.

On July 9, African and international leaders gathered in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, to welcome the newest nation on earth. The former southern provinces of Sudan, South Sudan will become the 54th nation of the African Union and the 193rd member of the United Nations. 

The new nation emerges in spite of two prolonged civil wars over a period of 56 years and the loss of 4 million lives. Millions of its new citizens have known only refugee camps in neighboring countries as home, fleeing brutal military tactics directed from Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. Hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese settled around the world, including an estimated 150,000 in the United States. Unsurprisingly, nearly 99 percent of the people of South Sudan opted for secession from Sudan, the largest country in Africa (about the size of Western Europe) in a January 2011 vote.

Like all post-conflict nations, South Sudan faces a daunting task of safeguarding a hard-won independence as well as tackling massive development challenges. The new nation also faces the extraordinary expectations of its long-suffering citizens.

Partnering North and South

In order to safeguard this new freedom, Juba in the South and Khartoum in the North must first be joined at the hip, no matter how awkward, as long-term peace and development partners.South Sudan must share oil revenues with Khartoum (75 percent of viable oil fields are in South Sudan, while pipelines and refineries are mostly in the North); negotiate delicate border demarcations and movement of people, goods and services across borders; resolve citizenship issues (at least 1.5 million citizens of the new nation live in the North); and reach final decisions on a monstrous shared national debt of $35 billion.

In addition, the two nations must cooperate in resolving joint obligations and assets held in foreign countries. They must also resolve the disputed oil-rich border district of Abyei, where a mandated referendum could not take place in January due to violence and disagreements on eligible voters. The recent upsurge of violence in Abyei and others areas in the country suggests trouble ahead. As key milestones are met in the peace process between the two countries, Khartoum should be rewarded accordingly, economically and diplomatically.

To ensure that Juba and Khartoum are on their best behavior, the troika (United States, United Kingdom and Norway) responsible for the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement should continue its work for peace, maximizing leverages on both sides. China, a powerful, economic ally of Khartoum, has an important role to play in the peace process. The United Nations, with its strong peace keeping presence in the disputed border regions, and the African Union will continue to be indispensable to the peace effort. The ultimate goal is to do everything humanly possible to avoid future wars between South Sudan and Sudan.

Infrastructure and development

The government of South Sudan should hit the ground running tackling massive infrastructure and human development woes.South Sudan will debut as one of the poorest countries in the world. According to various U.N. and NGO data, South Sudan may have less than 50 kilometers of paved roads in a country the size of the state of Texas. The adult illiteracy rate is just more than 70 percent. At least 75 percent of South Sudanese do not have access to health services. Nine of every 10 citizens live on less than a dollar a day.

However, South Sudan will have access to enhanced revenues. The new country will control up to 375,000 barrels of crude oil a day, with its national budget reportedly set to quadruple from $2 billion a year to $8 billion. The new country has the potential to become an agricultural powerhouse due to abundant fertile soil. It can also benefit from reported rich deposits of minerals such as gold, copper and iron ore. Furthermore, South Sudan produces 50 percent of the gum arabic in the world, a key product used in the food industry and other industrial applications. A boom in tourism is likely due to abundant wildlife and nature reserves. Bilateral and multilateral assistance is likely to pour in from around the world. With prudent management of resources, South Sudan can tackle its infrastructure and human development woes.

National institutions

National institutions need to be built that can safeguard democracy, sustain the rule of law and assure fundamental human rights.This may turn out in the long run to be the foremost challenge for South Sudan, due to its long years of civil war and the inevitable militarization of the political process. However, current political leaders are promising a nation of strong democratic traditions. South Sudan needs durable institutions to ensure the independence of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, to legitimize the role of the civil society and the media in national life, and to assure the role of private enterprise in the economy.

National institutions are important in guiding the practice of statecraft in a tough neighborhood, in managing relationships with bilateral and multilateral agencies, and in ensuring the subordination of the nation's powerful armed forces to civil authority. Maintaining equity and fairness in a multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic, multi religious and multi-cultural society is vital to the future prospects of the new country. Although South Sudan has an official population of 8.5 million, an accurate national census will be necessary to establish a valid baseline for planning purposes and to account for the millions of returning former refugees.


In the short term, the relationship with South Sudanese in the Diaspora is indispensable as the government looks towards the Diaspora to fill out its rank of technical and logistics experts. In the longer term, the relationship will remain special as thousands of young men and women complete their education abroad and return home to contribute to nation building. Remittances from the Diaspora (estimated to account for 3.5 percent of the GDP of North and South Sudan by the World Bank) will also play important catalytic roles in helping rebuild family and community life.

The sky is the limit for South Sudan. The future will depend on the determination of its leaders and citizens to forge a new path of peace and sustainable development.

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Chinua Akukwe.