OPINION

A new country is born

The birth of the Republic of South Sudan has suffused a conflict-ridden part of the world with euphoria. South Sudan, whose eight million people comprise Christians and followers of other African religions, voted in a referendum in January 2011 to separate from the Arab-Muslim dominated north Sudan. The referendum itself was the culmination of a 2005 peace treaty that came after a four-decade long armed struggle by the south Sudanese, backed by the United States and other western powers, in which more than a million people are estimated to have been killed. At the independence celebrations in the new country's capital Juba, the attendance of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir signalled that the Sudanese leadership had come to terms with a separation it long tried to prevent through the use of force and repression. President al-Bashir's participation in the celebrations was crucial. Even the U.S., which is in the forefront of efforts to bring him to trial for alleged genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in Darfur, seemed thankful for his presence alongside other international leaders — India, among the first to recognise the new country, was represented by Vice-President Hamid Ansari — for the swearing-in of the first President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit. The reason: ironical as it seems, having achieved a hard-fought liberation from Sudan, Africa's 54th nation is now almost entirely dependent on the good wishes of the parent country for its well-being.

This is the big challenge facing the new country. South Sudan has inherited the bulk of the undivided Sudan's oil wealth, with which it hopes to transform its present poor economic conditions. It has already generated investment from the world's major economic powers. But the oil refineries are located in Sudan, as is the seaport from which the oil is exported. The pipelines that take the oil to the port are laid across the length of the north. Key to how the two countries divide their oil wealth is whether they can resolve their rival claims over the border area of Abeyi. As recently as May, the Sudanese Army occupied the area in an operation in which 100 people died and over 45,000 were displaced. There has also been fighting in South Kordofan — Sudan has sent its forces there to retain a region whose people fought on the side of the south Sudanese but now find themselves north of the international border. Much will depend on how President al-Bashir views the west's considerable influence in South Sudan, given the troubles in Darfur and the ICC charges against him. Fortunately, since Sudan too needs the money from the oil, it should be as interested in a peaceful resolution of its disputes with its newest neighbour.

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