South Sudan celebrates independence amidst hopes and fears

Mahmoud Al-Nubi and Asmaa Al-Husseini in Juba, Saturday 9 Jul 2011

On South Sudan's celebration today of their first day of independence, their officials say 'We share the fate of the North and we will not be part of any hostile action against Arab states'

People dance on a car during South Sudan's independence day celebrations in Juba (Photo by REUTERS)

Today, 7 July 2011, is the official birth date of the state of South Sudan, the newest African state and member 193 of the UN. Amidst popular and official optimism in the South, they celebrate in hopes to establish a stable and secure state that cooperates with its neighbours and is able to meet the immense challenges along the way, many caused by the decades-long civil war with the North.

Many southern leaders and citizens told Ahram Online that they are overjoyed about independence because it crowns a long journey of struggle, ends bitter suffering by the people of the South and years of pain, displacement and diaspora. They aim to be on good terms with all their neighbours and in the region, but did not hide their concern over domestic and foreign problems – especially tense relations with North Sudan.

Celebrations, marches and religious sermons in public places yesterday in the city of Juba and all across South Sudan marked the birth of the new state.

Meanwhile, beautification efforts continued in the capital in anticipation of the roughly 600 leaders and international figures from regional and world organisations, including 30 African heads of state and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, according to Abdun Aqaw, the secretary general of South Sudan government and chairman of the celebrations coordination committee.

The declaration of independence of the southern state will be made in the public square opposite the John Garang Mausoleum. The Juba Airport was closed for commercial flights to receive official delegations coming to attend the celebrations.

Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister Yehia El-Gamal arrived last night as the head of a delegation from Egypt, accompanied by Foreign Minister Mohamed El-Orabi and Minister of Electricity and Energy Hassan Younes.

“Egypt has completed the necessary step to recognise the state of South Sudan,” revealed Ambassador Mohamed Morsi Awad, assistant foreign minister and head of the Sudan desk. “As soon as independence is declared, the Egyptian consulate in the South will become an embassy.” Awad emphasised Egypt’s keenness on establishing excellent relations with the southern state.

“The message we want to convey by attending the celebration of independence of the state of South Sudan is that we wish the country progress and prosperity,” stated Ambassador Mohamed El-Khamlishi, assistant secretary general of the Arab League who is heading the organisation’s delegation to the ceremony. “Also, that peace and security will prevail in all of Sudan - North and South - and that the two states live in peace to pave the way for comprehensive recovery in all economic, political, social and cultural sectors. The Arab League will pursue this endeavour and hopes for success through promising Arab investments in the South, which is the main guarantee for stability.”

The Arab League has taken an interest in the affairs of South Sudan for years, participating in some projects in South Sudan, such as the recent project for mobile hospitals which operate throughout the South. Meanwhile, El-Khamlishi added, AL officials have frequently visited the South, and the organisation was witness, partner and monitor in implementing Sudan’s peace treaty, and “will continue working to ensure stability and security in the South as well as propelling economic development in both North and South Sudan.”

He said that the AL intends to hold a second Arab conference for the reconstruction and development of Sudan, which was scheduled to take place in Manama.

“The Arab League continues to welcome the state of South Sudan as a member,” asserted El-Khamlishi, “but the South government must put in a request for membership, so it depends on them. We will try to help resolve the problems between North and South, especially on the issues of Abyei, borders, and economic and social relations. There are southerners in the North and northerners in the South; these problems will not be resolved just by the South declaring independence, but [rather] through calm objective solutions, serious dialogue and a brotherly spirit.”

The South Sudan parliament has ratified the interim constitution which will rule the country for the next four years. This constitution grants extensive powers to the president of the republic, including hiring and firing governors and appointing new members of the incumbent parliament, which will become a transitional parliament starting Sunday, 8 July.

The constitution stipulates a de-centralised system in governing South Sudan. The House of Representatives announced the independence of the South from inside parliament chambers yesterday, one day before the official declaration of statehood.

Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir will arrive in Juba today and will give an address to the people of the South with South Prime Minister Salva Kiir Mayardit. Other leaders from the North which have already travelled South ahead of Bashir included Hassan Al-Turabi, leader of the Popular Conference Party, and Sadeq Al-Mahdi, leader of the Umma Party who also led the Friday prayers in Al-Ateeq Mosque in Juba.

South Sudan’s Minister of Education Michael Mili Hussein said that he and the people of South Sudan are joyful about this historic event, not only for independence, which was the outcome of an intense struggle and sacrifice, but because this represents putting to rest problems, death, hunger and destruction. “We hope that today’s big event will be the beginning of a new chapter and prosperous future,” Hussein said.

He seemed to leave a door open for reconciliation and reuniting. Independence will not be the end of the road with their brothers in North Sudan, he added that the Berlin Wall came down and Germany united, despite the wars. “If there are good intentions Sudan, too, will also be able to reunite,” Hussein added, asserting that North Sudan will always be a primary candidate for good relations with the South because both countries share the same fate. “The South is extending its hand but does not find any response,” he stated. “There is a long history of broken commitments and agreements.”

Edward Leno, a leading figure in the Sudan Popular Liberation Movement (SPLM) in charge of Abyei, the contentious north-south border region, and former chief of intelligence, asserted: “What is occurring today is the birth of a nation whose people aspire for a better life, which means that we will concentrate on resolving our internal problems. We want to change our status quo and rise up.”

Leno admitted to the immense challenges that the nascent south faces, most prominently the issue of the armed militias who are hostile to the government in the South, which Juba accuses the North’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) headed by President Omar Al-Bashir of funding, arming and supporting.

Leno added that the problems of the South will increase if the NCP continues to run the North in the same manner it did in the past, which includes exporting problems. The southern official cited that there are 13 million citizens living on the border between North and South and that they need to coexist in peace after the South becomes independent.

On the eve of independence, officials in the South government were reassuring about their intention to continue negotiations with the North to reach just acceptable solutions on pending issues between the two sides, most importantly Abyei, borders, oil, citizenship and others. Minister of Trade and Industry in the South Sudan government Stephen Dhieu Dau said that his country will never join any political alliances, asserting that any such reports are attempts to undermine the nascent state.

Dau denied that the southern state will be party to any hostile or damaging action against Arab countries; on the contrary, it will be keen on cementing ties with Arab states. He called on Arab states to pay more attention to the South and not make its people feel they are traitors or that they have an agenda against the Arab world, because this may make some leaders feel unwelcome and alien to that region.

“The government of the South wants to build excellent relations with North Sudan because each side will always need the other,” the official emphasised. “The fate of each is intertwined with the other. If the North obstructs transporting oil from the South and exporting it through Port Sudan, the South will not suffer alone but the North also will be hurt. If the North prevents goods and supplies from reaching the South, the South will find an alternative route in East Africa and elsewhere.” He insisted that negotiating pending issues is bound to succeed in resolving differences, citing other countries which were divided, such as Yugoslavia and others, especially on economic issues.

Asked if the new state in the South could fail, Dau countered that this will not happen because it has many assets for success in terms of human resources, land and government. He added that the land mass of the southern state, estimated at 700 sq km, is larger than the combined size of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda. It is also larger than France and its 10 million citizens include a 3,000-4,000 graduates from Egyptian universities, because Egypt had been giving 300 annual scholarships to southern citizens since the early 1970s. Accordingly, the volume of human resources is many times more what was available in African states during their independence era of the 1950s and 1960s.

Dau added that 30 per cent of the land in the South is agricultural, 23 per cent is forests of the finest wood, 40 per cent pastures and seven per cent water. There is no desert in the South, he stated and mango groves grow by themselves. He further noted that 80 per cent of Sudan’s oil is found in the South, and it is also rich in gold and other minerals.

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