South Sudan Independence – Celebrations, but challenges ahead

Flurry of pre-independence activity in the capital of South Sudan, as workers clean up and dignitaries arrive – Published on AlJazeera, by Gregg Carlstrom, July 8, 2011.

… Many of the symbols of statehood have already been decided upon. There is a new national anthem, which will be sung in public for the first time at Saturday’s independence ceremony. The six-coloured flag already flies from buildings around the capital, sometimes alongside the Sudanese flag; the latter will be retired after Saturday. A new constitution was approved on Wednesday night.

New policy for a new country: 

For all the preparations, though, there are daunting issues that will confront the government after Saturday’s celebrations.

Public expectations are reasonable – few South Sudanese expect their long-neglected nation to prosper overnight – but enthusiasm will turn to frustration if the government does not start to provide basic services. Most roads are still unsealed dirt tracks; health care is extremely basic; and essential services like trash collection and sewage are not provided.

“I think education will be the key,” said Clara Benjamin, one of the women at the Safari Hotel beauty salon. “We need training colleges that give people a chance at a future. It’s a blank slate.”

South Sudanese officials are generally optimistic about the prospects for setting up a new state. The agriculture minister has a plan to quadruple the output of farmers by next year. The education ministry wants to establish eight new universities over the next four years.

“This would give us one university for each of the states of Southern Sudan,” said Michael Milli Hussein, the education minister. (Upper Nile State and Central Equatoria State, which houses the capital, already have universities.)

But the government has struggled in the past to turn its plans into reality. One example is demobilisation: The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between north and south Sudan required both sides to demobilise 90,000 soldiers. Just 12,000 have successfully completed the programme so far in the south.

Nonetheless, the country’s disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration commission has already announced a second round of the programme.

“We are a new country, and we need a new policy,” said William Deng Deng, the head of the commission. “If the policy is approved, we are talking about another 15,000 soldiers who will be disarmed and returned to civilian life.”

It is an admirable goal – the army, now approaching 200,000 men, chews up more than half of the national budget – but a difficult one, as the first round of disarmament shows.

Petroleum and pounds:

Then there are the major political questions which the new government will need to tackle.

Dozens of women with pushbrooms have been cleaning up Juba all week
One is, of course, oil – the share of revenues allocated to South Sudan, which produces the oil, and to Sudan, which refines and exports it.

The government has said little about this issue, and a senior official at the petroleum ministry declined to comment. Analysts expect a final agreement between Khartoum and Juba will take months.

A more pressing concern is the question of money – how quickly the south will separate its currency from the north. Last month, the government said it would issue the new currency immediately after independence. It quickly backtracked, after officials in Khartoum warned that such a move would massively devalue the Sudanese pound, and said it would postpone the currency question for one year.

Now the government’s position has changed again: The new currency has already been printed, according to information minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin, and will be issued “within the next few weeks”.

“Definitely, we will have our currency going,” he said. “It will be issued at the appropriate time after negotiations with the Central Bank in Khartoum.” (full text).

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