Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Drowning in Independence

by Matthew Barlet

On July 9th, South Sudan gained its independence, splitting Africa's largest nation into two. The referendum came after five decades of civil war that claimed the lives of millions. News of the success of the 2005 peace deal spread through the media quickly, and just as quickly burned out, leaving the story of South Sudan's future untold.


The fight started, as many do, as a result of religious and racial differences. The British and Egyptian governments who had previously controlled Sudan granted it independence in 1953. Until this point, the northern and southern regions of the country were administered separately, as the north was primarily populated by Arab Muslims, whereas the south boasted a majority of black Christians and animists; those believing that non-human entities are spiritual beings.

Tensions built over the next two years without an outside authority present to prevent one political power from overtaking the other. The southern Sudan region demanded more autonomy and representation in the government. The north refused. By 1955, initial guerrilla warfare began which persisted and escalated throughout the next seventeen years, resulting in the deaths of half a million people.

An agreement was made between the regions, temporarily staying the bloodshed. The tensions that caused the original conflict, however, were not resolved. As a result, war broke out again in 1983 – a war that lasted an additional twenty-two years. The Second Sudanese Civil War claimed around two million lives, stopping only in 2005 with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement or CPA. The CPA quickly granted autonomy to the southern Sudanese. It was another six years before they finally gained independence, emerging as the world's newest nation. Since then, South Sudan was admitted into the African Union and became a member of the United Nations.

The second civil war brandished more than a death total, however. Over four million people in the southern region of Sudan were displaced during this conflict, including over twenty-thousand boys of the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups. Commonly referred to as the “Lost Boys of Sudan” by aid workers in refugee camps in Africa, these displaced and often orphaned boys traveled on foot for years in search of safety. Their journey took them first into Ethiopia, until civil war broke out there as well. They then traveled south to Kenya, bringing the total distance of their journey to well over a thousand miles.

In 2001, four years before the signing of the CPA, the United States Government agreed to a resettlement program, allowing nearly four thousand of the refugees to resettle in the US. Today they are scattered across nearly forty cities including Boston. Several Lost Boys currently attend school at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Despite the progress, however, many negotiations between the two countries are still ongoing. Neither country has agreed on the actual border between them, nor have they resolved issues involving citizenship and splitting revenue from southern oilfields – and revenue, it seems, is only one of several issues currently plaguing the South Sudanese.

In addition to being one of the poorest countries in the world, South Sudan also has one of the worst health situations. According to an article from the Sudan Tribune, the region has a unique combination of the worst diseases in the entire world, due in part to the geography and environment of the nation. Besides the Ebola virus which was first discovered there, parasites, bacteria and viruses claim lives almost uninhibited due to a lack of infrastructure for health care and clean drinking water.

Although the United Nations and African Union will assist in negotiations between Sudan and South Sudan, the world's newest country is still a long way from achieving stability. It seems that it will take more than independence to recover from half a century of civil warfare.

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