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South Sudan’s Independence Gets a ‘Rocky’ Start

South Sudanese celebrate their first independence day in the country’s capital Juba. Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images.

In the year since South Sudan became an independent country, it has seen violent flare-ups between ethnic groups and a financial squeeze brought on by its decision to cut off oil to its northern neighbor, Sudan.

“It’s been a rocky first year, but I don’t think that’s surprising,” said Jonathan Temin, director of the U.S. Institute of Peace’s Sudan program. South Sudanese had high expectations when they became independent on July 9, 2011, but the process of nation-building is a long one.

One of the country’s top challenges remains security. Deep animosities exist between different indigenous groups in South Sudan, said Temin. “We’ve seen thousands of violent deaths in South Sudan, particularly cattle raids in Jonglei state” in the western part of South Sudan.

To address it, significant reforms are needed in the security sector, including professionalizing the army and police — who can be at times more part of the problem than the solution, Temin said.

Also, fighting along the border region between the northern and southern armies is causing people to flee to the south, where they remain indefinitely in refugee camps.

Related Resource: In May, we spoke to GlobalPost correspondent Tristan McConnell about what he saw when he traveled to border areas in South Sudan, where people had taken refuge from fighting nears their homes.

The ethnic rivalries in South Sudan also are making it hard for its population to develop a national identity, Temin added. Coming up with such an identity is a long-term process that will take generations, “but you have to start now,” he said, by doing things such as establishing museums and national holidays.

Another major challenge a year after independence is economic. South Sudan’s economy has taken a hit since it shut off oil to Sudan in January over a dispute over transit fees. South Sudan holds most of the oil fields, but it must send the oil north to Sudan for processing and exporting from the Red Sea port.

Related Resource: What’s at the Crux of Sudan and South Sudan’s Oil Dispute?

Oil revenues make up 98 percent of South Sudan’s budget, and it has implemented belt-tightening measures to deal with the loss. But the longer the oil issue remains unresolved, the more vulnerable both nations will become, said Temin.

Corruption in the government also has come to light. In May, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir took the unusual step of sending a letter to current and former government officials asking them to return $4 billion in stolen resources. About $60 million has been returned so far.

Concerns about corruption, security failings and the decision to cut off oil have raised questions among the international community, which had rallied in support of South Sudan when it first became independent, Temin said.

Despite the problems, however, South Sudanese aren’t turning against their government or regretting their choice to split from Sudan, said Temin. “It’s hard to put a value on their sense of independence, this thing they’ve been craving for 50 years.”

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