South Sudan: World's Newest Country Is Born

Jul 11, 2011 By Deepa Gopal
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The Republic of South Sudan has now officially became Africa’s 54th newest nation and the world’s 195th country. Now you have a new capital city to add to your geography database -- Juba will be the seat of South Sudan's government. The people of this young nation were out celebrating their independence this past weekend with fireworks, drum beats, music and dance. 

In a referendum vote held on January 9 this year, citizens of South Sudan voted overwhelmingly to separate from the Republic of Sudan. The southern region was ravaged by decades long war, millions had died and millions more forced to move out of their homes and seek refuge in nearby countries. We had written earlier about this referendum, the landscape of the country and the challenges that will be faced by the young nation. 

A timeline of events

The United States has played a key role in supporting Southern Sudan’s quest for freedom. Sudan is split ethnically into the Arab-majority North who play a dominant role in the government. The Southerners, who are mainly Christians and Animists (people following tribal beliefs), were isolated and persecuted by the North. Many prominent U.S citizens including actor George Clooney were instrumental in bringing the world's attention the genocide (where one community instigates violence against another community), that was happening inside Sudan.

Al-​Bashir is a war criminal who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes committed in the region of Darfur. Sudan was isolated by most of the world community, although al-​Bashir has visited China and Iran recently.

In 2005, the U.S government under President George W. Bush brought the two sides -- the North led by Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir and the South under their leader Salva Kiir, to agree to a cessation of fighting and call for a public vote on independence for South Sudan. The next five years were mostly peaceful. The referendum was a thumping success for South Sudan when on Jan 9, 99% of the voters chose to separate from the North. July 9 was chosen as the day for independence and the official creation of a country that will now be known as the Republic of South Sudan.

Looking ahead..

Despite independence, some issues of contention remain between the North and the South. The border regions of Abyei and South Kordofan are divided between which side to join. Each wish to hold a vote to decide their fate; however, intense clashes continue in these areas. 

Even within South Sudan, the various tribes do not see face to face, and getting an agreement on how best to use the country's oil resources may not be easy. The region is highly under-developed and a lot of infrastructure like roads and communication links need to be built. The United States and other western countries have pledged to help this fledgling democracy. With a 78 percent illiteracy rate and nearly 90% of the population living under $1 a day, the new country has its work cut out for itself.