Messages of solidarity and felicitations from religious freedom organizations have poured in for the newly created nation of South Sudan that broke away – partly on religious lines – from its northern counterpart Saturday, even as the nation takes stock of its challenges.
The Institute on Religion and Public Policy congratulated the world’s youngest nation and assured its support.
In a statement issued Friday, the IRPP chairman Joseph K. Grieboski said that the institute “reaffirms its commitment to their peace, security, and development, and guarantees its ongoing partnership to build a free, open and transparent system in South Sudan."
Grieboski, the founder of Alexandria, Va.-based institute, has been involved in both Muslim-majority north and Christian and animist south Sudan.
Over 2 million have died in two long civil wars that pitted the north against the south, on issues ranging from more regional autonomy for the southern Sudan region to resistance to imposition of Shariah law there.
In 2005, a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between the warring groups, which also stipulated a referendum. On January 9, 2011, nearly 99 percent southern Sudanese voted in favor of a new nation.
“We have walked with and fought alongside the Southern Sudanese for a very long time in their struggle for freedom and peace,” said Grieboski. “Today is a day of celebration, as well as a day of recognition that the work is not over and that we must remain vigilant and aggressive in the cause of South Sudan's development.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom also congratulated the new African republic.
“July 9, 2011 is a tremendously exciting day for the people of South Sudan and the world, marking the end of the Southern Sudanese’s decades-long struggle and sacrifice for religious freedom and human rights,” said USCIRF chair Leonard Leo in a statement Friday.
During the civil war of 1983–2005, USCIRF identified Sudan as the world’s most violent abuser of the right to freedom of religion or belief. Apart from Sudanese Christians and animists, hundreds of thousands of Nuba Muslims also were declared apostates and targeted in the same conflict by the Sunni-dominated regime of Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
USCIRF also noted that since the signing of the CPA in 2005, religious freedom has flourished in the South, while severe violations continue in the North against both non-Muslims and non-conforming Muslims.
However, solving the religion problem is only half the job done. South Sudan is a multiethnic and multicultural society with over 60 ethnic groups. Among the largest ethnic groups are the Dinka, Nuer and Shilluk. The South Sudan president Salva Kiir Mayardit is from the Dinka tribe and must work toward taking along all the tribes in his country.
“You may be a Zande, Kakwa, Lutugo, Nuer, Dinka or Shiluk, but first remember yourself as a South Sudanese. There will be equal access to existing opportunities for all,” said Kiir at his swearing-in ceremony in Juba on July 9.
He must also find ways to deal with rebels fighting his government, particularly at the contentious border areas. In his address to the nation, he offered amnesty to those groups.
“I want to offer public amnesty to all those who took arms against the people of South Sudan. Let them lay down these arms and help us in building this new nation,” said the leader of the 193rd country recognized by the UN.
The USCIRF statement observed much work remains in order to help ensure the viability of the new country in terms of religious freedom and human rights of all people in the South.
Besides a legacy of internal conflicts and the absence of rule of law, South Sudan also faces the challenge of underdeveloped infrastructure, food insecurity, inadequate access to social services, and limited government capacity to meet needs and govern effectively.
In his op-ed in The New York Times, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon underlined the challenges including those related to infrastructure: “I came to appreciate the sheer scale of these challenges, for myself, when I first visited South Sudan in 2007 – an area of 620,000 square kilometers with less than 100 kilometers of paved road.”
The Economist said it thus: “Tarmac is almost non-existent. The information minister, Barnaba Marial, says, ‘We never had roads. We are starting from below zero.’”
“USCIRF stands with, and is ready to assist, the people of the South,” Leo said as he emphasized the need of U.S. involvement in the country. “It is imperative that the United States and the international community increase its development assistance to South Sudan at this important time.”
In fact, even as South Sudan forges relations with its neighboring countries, the United States will come to play a key role in the rise of one the most underdeveloped nations in the world.
A Sudanese academic sees a relationship of patronage emerging.
Prof. Hassan Al-Saoury, chairman of the Sudanese Society for Political Sciences, told Xinhua that “the priority in South Sudan's external relations will be the United States, Uganda and Kenya."
"South Sudan's relationship with the U.S. will not be a normal relationship because Americans had played a great role in the negotiations between north and south Sudan, and almost all the agreements and protocols were written by American pens," he added.
"Before the separation, the U.S. was fully adopting the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, and presently the SPLM is working to develop this adoption into a full patronage. This patronage will make of South Sudan a new U.S. state," he said.