South Sudan has been waiting nearly three generations to form its own nation after Sudan was given autonomy from British and Egyptian rule in 1953. But the path of transition to two nations has been rocky with borderlines, debt, and oil issues complicating the already vast racial, religious, and political disparities of the Sudanese people.
Excitement for the July 9 secession has been mounting since January and southerners are full of high hopes and euphoria.
“I am one of the most excited citizens of the globe,” said Juba resident Deng Mabior, 43, father of five children speaking to journalists working with the humanitarian relief organization World Concern. “I am living through history and becoming part of history. I am definitely one of the happiest.”
Agnes Nyombe, another resident told a reporter, “I am just so excited about being in my own land. It feels as though those who are dead are back into life again.”
Empathy for the violence in the border regions of Abyei and Southern Kordofan is also largely on the minds of southerners. Tensions are high and there has been fighting for months between the north and south over exactly where the new border will be drawn and who will control the oil resources. Ethiopian peacekeepers were deployed in Abyei in late June to mitigate tensions.
“The Abyei issue is the only one that has become a thorn in the flesh of otherwise a healthy baby nation,” Mabior said. “The best solution is [that] one side concedes the area. If south Sudan concedes it, it could save us lots of lives. We have been living together for years as brothers, it is only these politicians who came to spoil us with their oil matters.”
“I am not happy about things in Abyei,” Liberio Yugu, also from Juba, said told a reporter. “My greatest worry now is that we may lose Abyei as the Addis Ababa Agreement gives no permanent solution about to whom the region belongs.”
As of July 4, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir continued to oppose aspects of the accord made last month in the Ethiopian capital saying that the northern sector of the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) has not complied with the laws for forming a political party, according to a report by the Sudan Tribune.
Fiscal loss is not the only cause of concern for many Sudanese in the north. Rebecca Hamilton, author of the investigative book “Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide,” said that while covering the referendum vote in south Sudan in January, she got calls from people in the north who were sad to lose the south of the country.
“People always talk about the loss of the south as a loss of the oil-rich part of the country,” Hamilton wrote. “That is true and for the ruling party the economic implications of southern secession are a huge concern. But for many ordinary Sudanese I have met in the north, there is a sense of loss that is not about resources, but about their emotional connection to the south.”
And many northerners also told her that they are happy to see southerners getting what they have sought for many war-torn decades.
Desperation on the Border
In the Abyei and Southern Kordofan, where the brunt of the secession violence has happened, independence is a distant concept.
“I spoke with our team in Sudan this week, and they said that in these areas no one cares about the independence, as the situation for the displaced people is so desperate,” Joy Portella, director of communications at Mercy Corps told The Epoch Times in June.
A man identified only as Ngong, said that he barely escaped death when he fled conflict between north and south armies in Abyei last May, according to World Concern.
“On Tuesday, May 17, we heard that the Sudanese armed forces attacked the Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Army outside Abyei town. When the situation grew tense, I had to run with my family. I returned with five other men to try to collect some clothing since we had run without anything except what we were wearing. The soldiers saw us and began shooting at us. We left everything that we carried and ran. The five colleagues were shot and died instantly. I was shot in my right arm but kept running, holding my arm until I reached a village called Jongenth, where I slept for a night without first aid.”
Another displaced Abyei resident, Mary Kiir Deng, told a reporter that she and her family were also forced to flee with nothing in mid-May.
“We heard the gunshots and the rumors that the armies were fighting each other and we were terrified,” she said.
“I have seven children and six grandchildren. My son’s wife is pregnant. We all fled together when the fighting started. The situation was so unbearable that we had to run away. It was such a terrible moment that most people ran with nothing. Others even forgot to carry a container for water, which caused deaths, especially to young children. My heart ached for one mother with a 2-year-old baby that died due to lack of water and food. She had to leave the baby’s body in the bush and continue running.”
What Comes Next
A proclamation of autonomy will of course not undo years of pain and violence, and the task of healing and forming a functioning state is formidable.
On the July 9, the south will lose the benefits of infrastructure in the relatively better developed north and will have to build its government institution and economic system.
The north however has more to lose, lead by a president indicted by the ICC for genocide and crimes against humanity. After secession the north will lose a third of its territory that harbors most of its oil reserves and source of revenue.
The north and south agreed last month that both will lobby foreign creditors to relieve the country’s $38 billion debt.
Mariya Nedelcheva, a Bulgarian member of the European Parliament and member of the European Union delegation to Africa said in a telephone interview June 21 that in addition to preparing a new constitution, building government institutions, and setting up public services like education and health care, the new government has to make sure that it has fair representation for all groups.
The main root of destabilization in Sudan, Nedelcheva said, is actually not conflicts between the north and south, but conflicts created by armed minority groups that use violence to make a place for themselves in politics.
“Until there is a government with representatives for all in the new state, we will be paying very close attention to the political situation to see what needs to be done first for the people in south Sudan,” Nedelcheva said.
There are already doubts as to how smoothly a new government will be created in the south. According to Ayman Elias Ibrahim, a northern Sudanese reporter for Khartoum-based daily, The Citizen, although most people believe that independence has actually brought them what they have fought for in the last 55 years, some citizens have expressed dissatisfaction about how the government is being run.“These are the people who may rise one day and say no, this is not the type of governance we want,” wrote Ibrahim in an e-mail.
Juba resident Yugu, told a reporter. “I am sure the independence will change our lives to better as long as the government does not forget that they have been elected to serve, not just to enjoy names.”