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Southern Sudan chooses independence

February 10th, 2011

Southern Sudanese celebrate the formal announcement of referendum results in the southern capital of Juba on Feb. 7. (AP)

Ours is a lucky generation. One-hundred ninety-two countries have gained independence and are recognized as sovereign states. But for most of us, these countries’ births and their struggles during infancy is but a fascinating read about distant history.

The struggles of the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence, the composition of a national anthem, the writing of a constitution and the making of a nation—all these constitute the pieces that a new state must piece together to set the foundation for its, hopefully, perpetual existence.

In the case of Southern Sudan, our generation will not be reading from history books, but will watch it unfold bit by bit.

Nevertheless, the parts that have been consigned to history have not been insignificant. South and North Sudan have fought multiple civil wars whose casualties include over two million people dead and an additional four million displaced from their homes.

After the last civil war, which lasted over 20 years, the South and the North finally called a truce in 2005. That truce, and the negotiations that followed it, yielded the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The late John Garang, the first president of the semi-autonomous South Sudan who also signed the CPA, remains an iconic legend. Among the stipulations of the CPA, was that the Southerners would vote in a referendum on whether to secede from the North.

Not that the referendum’s occurrence was a foregone conclusion—numerous hurdles, and especially the Northern government led by President Omar el Bashir, threatened to derail the march to independence.

It took the world’s attention and intervention to make the referendum happen. One of Hollywood’s finest, George Clooney, left the comforts of Hollywood and repeatedly went to Sudan to create more awareness about the dynamics of the South-North conflict.

The UN kept watch, as did numerous countries around the world. Closer to home, John Carroll University, partnered with the Centre for Catholic Relief Action, was not left behind.

JCU hosted a five-person panel to promote awareness of the situation in Sudan and pray for peace. The panel featured Nico, a South Sudan native, who had lived through the Sudanese civil wars.

The referendum on secession happened last month. Its outcome was an overwhelming 99 percent in favor of secession. The remaining hurdle was whether the North would accept the will of the Southerners to secede.

That hurdle appears to have been cleared after Bashir went on Sudan’s national television station earlier this week and pledged to respect the wish of the Southerners. South Sudan is set to be fully independent in July becoming Africa’s 54th nation and the world’s 193rd.

South Sudan is euphoric, her people poured into the streets dancing and cheering after Bashir made his announcement. But the task ahead, of making theirs a nation, will involve less cheering and plenty of hard work. The capital, Juba, despite considerable construction in the recent past, is mostly constituted of tent camps, mud huts and makeshift houses: the illiteracy rate is almost 90 percent, and there is a higher chance that a 15-year-old girl will die in child birth than finish school.

For now they have a national anthem in the making. Forty-nine poets gathered in the capital and wrote the lyrics of the anthem. Then an American-idol-style search for the tune was conducted in which contestants tried to give the lyrics the best tune possible. The winner got to compose the national anthem.

The rest of the nation-building project will not be as easy.