The Newest Country on the World Map


On July 9th, Southern Sudan finally enjoyed the fruits of its long quest for freedom, which it has been seeking since the independence of the country from British colonial rule in 1956. The Republic of Southern Sudan (SS) has become the newest, and the 193rd, country on the world map. The map of Africa has been redrawn, and the number of African Union member states has increased to 54. Once the largest country on the continent, what is left of Sudan will now rank second, after Algeria, in terms of land space.

It all happened in January of this year, in a historic referendum, which was characterized by the international monitors to be the fairest in Sudanese history. Southern Sudanese participated in record numbers, and more than 99% cast votes in favor of secession from the North. This was their right, enshrined in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) and other actors from the international community. Not only was the process smooth and transparent, but it also took place without violence.

As SS prepares to celebrate and build their new nation from scratch, some critical issues remain unresolved, including the division of oil revenues and debts, border demarcation, and citizenship rights. Sudan has been the third largest oil exporter in Sub-Saharan Africa, after Nigeria and Angola, and the economies of both Sudan and SS rely heavily on oil revenues.

Prior to July 9th, the Government of Southern Sudan and the Northern Sudanese government shared this oil revenue equally. With the independence of SS, the division of revenues will change: SS will get 75%, while the North will get 25%. This puts Northern Sudan in a critical situation, since it does not have any other viable exports. This loss prompted the Northern government to publically threaten SS, saying that the oil pipelines, which run through Northern Sudan, will be cut off if the South does not give them their full royalties.

Security-wise, the situation between the two states will remain tense for months, if not years, until they reach real agreements on the critical remaining issues. Border demarcation is a major one – their disagreement with the International Court of Justice on the issue of Abyei is a clear signal as to how they will handle this issue and others.

In May, the two governments almost went into war over Abyei, a disputed area and an oil-rich region. Abyei is home to both indigenous Dinka and nomadic Arab cattle-herders and the population is split on the question of nationality. The incident took place when the North attacked the area and took it over, claiming that they wanted to protect it from the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). The SS government in Juba did not reciprocate, but stated that they “are not going to war over Abyei.”

Al Bashir government interpreted this as cowardice, and went on to attack Southern Kordofan, attempting to disarm the SPLA by force. By taking these actions, the Northern Sudan has broken the security arrangements set forth under the CPA, since the SPLA were allowed to disarm within six month after the spilt of the South. With thousands of civilians displaced, and the continuation of the bombardment of the villages and towns in the oil and mineral rich state of Southern Kordofan, the security situation remains dire.

One possibility is that the ongoing tensions over Abyei may lead SS to attempt to annex it unilaterally. The SS government has already incorporated Abyei into its new constitution and has been making the case that the territory historically belongs to SS, given that the Ngok Dinka are the indigenous ethnic group of the region and should be the only ones allowed to vote in the referendum.

Many of the Darfuri rebel factions are already taking refuge in Juba, where many have organized, using it as a base. Moreover, the Nuba fighters of Southern Kordofan, who were part of the SPLA and fought alongside the South, will continue to fight against the North, seeking their fair share of the wealth and power.

The independence of SS is a major step towards the freedom of a long-oppressed people, but challenges remain. It will take years before these issues are resolved.