Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The birth of a nation

For the first time since Eritrea split from Ethiopia in 1993, a new country has been born. Africa's largest country has been divided: on July 9th, 2011, midnight (local time), South Sudan became an independent state. They had held a vote in January 2011 wherein the response was overwhelmingly in favor of independence. The region had been torn by civil war for decades, leading to deplorable conditions and the deaths of as many as two million people. In 2005, a peace deal was signed, and six years later the plans for secession have come to fruition.

Image from http://www.itbhuglobal.org/chronicle/archives/2011/02/sudan_leader_to.php

Sudan is predominantly Arabic and Muslim, while South Sudan has much more diversity, with over 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Islam and Christianity. These religious differences were a major cause for the strife between the two regions, as the North wanted to enforce Sharia law over the entire country.

The BBC has a great series of maps that show the differences between Sudan and South Sudan in many different areas, including ethnic groups, education, and food insecurity.

Though people are euphoric over the separation, South Sudan still has a lot of work ahead of it. It needs to disentangle its economy from Sudan. The first step is introducing its own currency, which will happen later this month. But another difficulty is the fact that South Sudan has the means to produce oil, but pipelines to transport it are in the North. There are huge problems with access to clean drinking water, food, and education. Infant and maternal mortality rates are high. And of course there is always the danger that a war-torn region might fall back on violence.

But there is hope for the fledgling nation, and Sudanese who left the country while it was under the rule of the North are making their way back home to the newly-independent South Sudan to help give it the best beginning it can have.

There is a lot of information out there, but here are a few good places to start: News from the New York Times, news from the BBC, and South Sudan's own website.

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