South Sudan: Warm welcome to unsteady nation
Throngs of thousands came out to cheer, dance, party, and shed a few tears at the birth of a fragile new African nation. After decades of instability and conflict, the southern Sudanese now have a country to call their own.
In the new capital, Juba, people stood under a blazing sun for hours on July 9 to watch the raising of the new country’s flag and see Salva Kiir sign the constitution and take oath of office as president.
Act for Peace, the international aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia, has been working through its project partners in what is now South Sudan since at least the 1970s, with emergency airlifts of food and other supplies, help to so-called “lost boys and girls” in refugee camps, and assistance resettling Sudanese refugees.
Long-running efforts to bring about the referendum for southerners on secession in January involved significant work by partner agencies.
However, self-determination has come at a bitter price for the oil-rich country. The people endured no less than half a century of struggle including a civil war which killed 1.5 million Sudanese.
South Sudan is born into trying circumstances. As one of the world’s least developed countries, it has the worst maternal mortality rate, and an illiteracy rate among women of 84 per cent. Most children under 13 do not attend school. One-in-seven dies before the age of 5.
South Sudan must also contend with the matter of dividing debts and oil reserves with the north, border disputes and the citizenship of southerners in the north.
It has seven rebel groups. Fears of a new war recently arose following fighting in two border areas, Abyei and South Kordofan.