Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 August 2020

It's independence day for the world's youngest nation

Secession was hailed as the path to peace, but it is just a starting point

A 59 year old South Sudanese refugee man, sitting in waiting area. Via UNHCR
A 59 year old South Sudanese refugee man, sitting in waiting area. Via UNHCR

Today, July 9, South Sudan celebrates its ninth year of existence. Since the original creation of Sudan, one of Africa’s largest countries, in 1956, many inhabitants of its southern region and other peripheral areas were frustrated with what they described as a lack of autonomy, discrimination and neglect from the central government.

For decades, under the rule of its dictator Omar Al Bashir, Khartoum was either unable or unwilling to resolve these long-standing issues peacefully. The non-Arab citizens inhabiting those regions of the country undoubtedly experienced marginalisation and oppression, not least in Darfur, where the former government under Al Bashir stands accused of having committed genocide.

After the people of the south voted overwhelmingly for secession in a 2011 referendum, the newly formed South Sudan became the world’s youngest nation – a title it still holds – with Juba as its capital. The vote took place as part of a 2005 agreement to end Africa’s longest civil war, during which at least 1.5 million people were killed and 4 million displaced.

At the time, the US-backed secession was hailed as a way forward to peace, but it did not end the plight of the South Sudanese. Nine years on, violence is still a fact of life in many parts of the country. Fighting between Khartoum and Juba gave way to infighting among the South Sudanese.

Civil war broke out in South Sudan in 2013, when President Salva Kiir fell out with vice-president Riek Machar, who he accused of staging a coup. The two men represent South Sudan’s two largest ethnic groups. Their dispute provoked a largely ethnic conflict that displaced 2.2 million people and killed up to 383,000 others over five years. It also sparked famine. Although a peace deal was signed in August 2018 between Mr Kiir and Mr Machar, bloodshed and instability persist. The UN Mission in South Sudan recorded 415 violent incidents in the first five months of 2020 alone. Tragically, the world's youngest country has repeated humankind's oldest mistakes.

For South Sudan, thriving in its independence and becoming self-reliant will inevitably involve closer collaboration with Khartoum. This includes settling unresolved border disputes and devising a fair system to redistribute oil revenues. Despite a wealth of oil and gas, the land-locked nation depends on Sudanese pipelines to export its natural resources.

Tragically, the world's youngest country has repeated humankind's oldest mistakes

Now that power is no longer held by an inflexible dictatorship in Khartoum, relations between the two nations have a chance to become more amicable and productive. Sudan’s ongoing political transition can benefit both Khartoum and Juba. For instance, last year, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok's first official trip abroad was to Juba, where he met with Mr Kiir. South Sudan also hosted peace negotiations between Khartoum and armed Sudanese factions, acting as a mediator to help Sudan tread the road to peace.

Despite sharing a troubled history, the two nations, which are also bound together by culture and traditions, have the power to work together towards achieving internal peace on both sides of their shared border. It is in the interest of all countries in the region that both of their peoples achieve prosperity. The National wishes South Sudan a happy independence day.

Updated: July 8, 2020 08:57 PM

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