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South Sudan Independence: New Country, New Problems 

By Francis Wache

Juba, the world’s newest capital, Saturday 9, 2011. The flag fluttered in the sky. The national anthem boomed through the loudspeakers. Copious tears – and sweat (the sun was scorching) – streamed down their sooty faces. They ululated. They raised clenched fists. Shrieks of joy rent the air.

The Southern Sudanese had, after 20 incessant years of war, become independent. The people danced for joy. But, now, the champagne party is over. The euphoria is over. Or should be. The task of building a new country begins. The challenges are legion.

First, it will be difficult to transform the ragtag liberation army into a national defence force. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army, SPLA, after freeing their country from the shackles of North Sudan, must, henceforth, learn how to defend the boundaries of that territory now known as independent and sovereign South Sudan.

Second, the government will have no rest as it will be expected to work relentlessly in exploring diverse strategies that will enable it bring about development to the beleaguered nation by providing direly needed services, especially roads, education and healthcare.

Sadly, to some people, the independence of South Sudan simply means that another elephant has been mauled from the African forest and that, its pioneer President, Salva Kiir Mayardit and his cohorts – family, friends and praise singers – can now pull out their pangas (machetes) and proceed with an orgy of looting. No. Everything should be done by the friends of Africa’s 54th nation to disabuse them of such a skewed view of what a nation stands for.

Also, there is the ever-present problem of the volatile situation with its neighbour, North Sudan. This particular issue should be tackled promptly before it escalates. Negotiations and dialogue should speed up in finding lasting solutions to this lingering problem. Peaceful co-existence between the North and the South is a prerequisite for the socio-economic prosperity of the new nation. For, although South Sudan boasts of tremendous resources – including oil – they can only be exploited if peace reigns.

Tension continues to simmer at the borders, particularly around Abyei, the oil-rich zone. Clashes have occurred before and the least conflict could spark a conflagration. On the contrary, South Sudan must endeavour to eschew the litany of woes that have plagued her elder sisters: corruption, embezzlement, mismanagement, gross violation of human rights, blatant disrespect for democratic practices, tribalism…

If care is not taken, it might soon become evident that, on July 9, this year, another tin African dictator was enthroned in Juba. Soon, the newly sworn President, as has been the case with his peers elsewhere on the continent, will jettison the constitution, dump the principle and practice of the rule of law into the dustbin, concoct ministerial portfolios and distribute them like lollipops to family, friends and lackeys; entrench tribalism in the award of contracts; trot the globe on extravagant trips; review the constitution, introducing a clause that makes him the Life President. Live an ostentatious lifestyle and abandon the people to wallow in misery and grinding poverty.

In the process, he will stifle any dissenting voices, ban the opposition or any semblance of it and muzzle the press. In this manner, he will install an iron-fisted one-man rule. Welcome, another African autocrat, to the Club. And, so, the giddy dream, for which the people danced themselves lame, will shrivel. Still, as a new country, independent South Sudan raises manifold hopes. The foreboding question, however, is: will these noble hopes be dashed; will the expectant people be disillusioned?

During the independence celebrations, a symptomatic event occurred: the public address system momentarily failed. Later, when it was repaired and Kiir took to the rostrum, he did not ignore the incident. He mentioned it with humour. He apologised for the hitches – including the late start of the ceremony – asking for indulgence because, he said, "this is the first time we are organising such an event, Next time we’ll do better." That is the spirit. The nation will have to admit all its warts and blemishes and, then, tackle them frontally.

In his inaugural speech, the President of Africa’s youngest nation quoted an African proverb which says that, no matter how long the night might be, day dawn, ultimately, comes. South Sudan might have emerged from its longest and bleakest night of warfare into the dazzling dawn of freedom and liberty.

But, as Mwai Kibaki, Kenyan President, told the citizens, "the difficult task (of nation building) has just begun." For now, welcome, South Sudan, to the international community as Africa’s 54th nation and the world’s 193rd country!

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