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July 11, 2012 2:33 pm

South Sudan’s Independence, One Year Later

avatar by Ari Zoldan

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South Sudanese assemble during Omar al Bashir's visit to Juba in 2011. Photo: wiki commons.

Twelve months ago, to the date, I landed in South Sudan not knowing much about the country’s history. Throughout my journey, I was given the honor of getting to know the South Sudanese people and understand the hardship they had to endure. During the civil war, the northern Sudanese invaded South Sudanese villages and pillaged, raped and killed about 1.5 million people. The remainder of Southern people, mostly children, were shipped off to the North to serve as slaves for the Northern Sudanese.

During my trip, I was given the chance to witness a slave liberation festival, a celebration commemorating the freeing of slaves from northern Sudan. Watching the faces of these previously enslaved people finally experience freedom was indescribable. As citizens of the United States, a country where freedom is a luxury we are all privileged to experience and sometimes take for granted, it is essential to understand the importance of aiding struggling countries like South Sudan. The developing country does not only require monetary support, but is also in need of guidance on effectively and efficiently building a country that will prosper and successfully serve it’s people.

After years of civil war with the North, on July 9th, 2011, The Republic of South Sudan finally gained independence as a sovereign country of Africa. The infant country is made up of the 10 southern-most states of Sudan that cover tropical rainforests, swamps and grassland. South Sudan is exceedingly diverse ethnically, religiously and linguistically; however, the official language of the country is English. Most of the population in South Sudan is animist and Christian. Although the country contains a large percentage of the oil that has fueled Sudan for decades, as one of the least developed countries in the world, South Sudan has many tribulations to overcome before ensuring the success of this new entity.

Conflict between the North and South has existed since Sudan prepared to gain independence from the British and Egyptian colonial rule during 1899-1955. Southern leaders claimed the new authorities in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, would institute an Islamic and Arab government instead of the proposed federal system. In the mid-1950s Southern army officers rebelled against Sudanese authorities, triggering a long and brutal civil war that was lead by the Anya Nya guerilla movement. The war only ended in 1972, after the Addis Ababa Agreement granted the South a measure of autonomy. However, in 1983, following the termination of the South Sudanese autonomy agreement, the South, led by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), started a rebellion against the oppressive government. Over the following 22 years a vicious war took place between North Sudan and the South, leading to the death of approximately 1.5 million people. The Sudanese government bombed villages and organized militias that murdered many civilians and enslaved countless Southern Sudanese people. The conflict finally ended in 2005 after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was established, granting the South regional autonomy with assured representation in a national power-sharing government. Additionally, the accord provided an internationally approved referendum in the South regarding independence in 2011. And in January 2011, 99 percent of the region’s voters backed a split from northern Sudan. In the following June, South Sudan seceded from the North after the decades-long fight for independence. However, the secession did not spur a lasting peace between the two countries.

Since the split, Sudan and South Sudan have fought over how to separate the border and share oil profits. South Sudan cut the production of oil, one of the biggest contributors to the country’s economy, because of the tension between the countries. Violence between the two sides is constant and will remain until an agreement is reached. However, because of the ongoing fighting, the issue may have to go to international arbitration. As the first anniversary of independence arrives, the cruel reality that the country has not met the expectations of the South Sudanese people has set in. The country has yet to build road, electricity and water distribution networks. Additionally, the government corruption, growing inflation and ethnic conflicts have further sparked fear throughout the country. The rate of secondary school enrollment is only 6 percent, and the literacy rate remains at 73 percent. However, the UN development agency continues to work with the newborn country. As one of the least developed nations, South Sudan has many difficulties to overcome; nevertheless, continued international support from Western countries, including the United States, may aid the country in eventually becoming a thriving independent nation.

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