- (Photo: Reuters / Paul Banks)
South Sudan became the world's newest country on Saturday (local time) as it declared its independence.
In anticipation of an uneasy transition to statehood, the United Nations authorized sending 7,000 troops and 900 police on Friday to help establish peace for the war-ravaged new nation. The U.N. resolution was drafted by the United States and approved by the U.N. Security Council by a 15-0 vote.
Southern Sudan has been in a civil war with its northern counterpart, its second since Sudan became a nation, since the mid-1980s. The split has partly been along religious lines. North Sudan is mostly Muslim while those in the South are mostly Christian and Animist. South Sudan sought independence, in part, over its objections to being governed by Sharia law.
Christian groups and celebrities, such as Bono and George Clooney, have been influential in bringing international attention to Sudan's civil war, especially over the last decade. Samaritan's Purse, a Christian relief organization, has been one of the organizations heavily involved in helping to relieve suffering caused by the war. Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse, made note of the unusual coalitions involved in helping southern Sudan in an interview with Foreign Policy magazine.
“I'm very grateful for George Clooney and what many of the Hollywood types have done. It's been extremely valuable in keeping Sudan in the center of attention,” said Graham. Graham also made clear that the work of relief agencies is far from over, even with South Sudan's independence.
When asked if South Sudan was ready to govern on its own, Graham replied, “No, it's going to have to have a lot of help. The United States, no question, has to get into that situation knee deep because if we just pull back, I don't see how they make it. Europe has to be involved. The United Nations has to be involved. The border has to be protected. China has to get involved. They have the oil leases. They are going to have to invest in the south. It's going to take a few years for this to function. Look how far they've come in such a short time, though.”
Graham will be in South Sudan on Saturday to attend the celebration.
Virginia Tech is helping to build an agricultural college in Juba, South Sudan's new capital, with the help of USAID. Parakh Hoon, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Virginia Tech, said, in an interview with The Christian Post, “Southern Sudan will need similar support of the international community to rebuild its human and physical infrastructure, which will take several decades.”
Concern over what will happen after Saturday's celebrations are over was also expressed by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in a Friday op-ed for The New York Times. “Critical issues of poverty, insecurity and lack of infrastructure must all be addressed by a relatively new government with little experience and only embryonic institutions.”
Ban also noted, however, that South Sudan “has remarkable potential.”
“With substantial oil reserves, huge amounts of arable land and the Nile flowing through its center, South Sudan could grow into a prosperous, self-sustaining nation capable of providing security, services and employment for its population,” he said.
Saturday's independence day for South Sudan is the culmination of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed by the two sides in January 2005. Ninety-nine percent of southern Sudanese voted in favor of secession in a January 9, 2011, referendum.
According to the BBC, South Sudan already has a national anthem, which portrays trust in God, joy for an end to oppression and commemoration for martyrs of the civil war. They also have a soccer and basketball team that have already started practicing together and hope to play in the 2012 Olympics.