Sunday, 8 July 2012

Congratulations: South Sudan

I wrote this last year with the hope to release it on South Sudan's first birthday but even I couldn't imagine things going as bad as they did. A Part 2 of this post will follow but until then, read this and think of how much things have changed. 

I'm half Nigerian. Those of you who know Nigerians, will know that their children's names are often literally translated into sentences which describes the circumstances in which they were born. I will call South Sudan, Abeke. It is Yoruba and translates as "We begged for her to caress her". Africa's newest child was definitely begged for and she is a testament to the African spirit of perseverance.

It is rare that people from the African continent have something to smile and cheer about. Except for the South African World Cup there haven't been many positives penetrating Western media. I can think of a few nice things - Ghana discovered and tapped oil, Nigeria had genuinely free and fair elections, Senegal got a massive statue just for the sake of it! North Africa have managed to depose all but one of their supreme rulers. South Sudan gaining independence after years of conflict and months of preparation trumps them all. It convinces us that even the deepest of conflict such as those we have had to witness in East Africa, can come to a happy ending. It tells us that in the face of drought and famine and whatever else is attacking the Horn of Africa, people can find comfort in a new identity, a sense of being and true equality.

But it isn't all plain sailing for South Sudan. They will struggle immensely. Most African countries can compare themselves - at independence - to other countries and claim that they were in fact more advanced than some of the world's current leading economies. One I always hear is Ghana vs Singapore or South Korea. South Sudan won't have the pleasure of looking back to "the glory days". They lack the infrastructure. For example, South Africa had to lend it's Air Force services for the independence celebrations because South Sudan doesn't have an Air Force, neither do they have roads or well-established schools. They don't have much infrastructure because Khartoum didn't invest in them when the country was whole. So they'll have to build the country from scratch which will be a feat and a half considering they might not get much help from the AU or wider community. The IMF encourage countries to seek private foreign direct investment, but given years of war and destruction, poor life expectancy and low literacy levels South Sudan won't have much to attract multinationals - apart from the fact that the eyes of the world are on them and in support of anyone willing to help the country. A good example of a successful split will be the Koreas and the juxtaposition of South Korea's wealth against North Korea's poverty.

South Sudan's story may not match South Korea's entirely but it has the possibility to be the new shining star on the continent. The world's newest country can boast of three things as it begins it's new life. The first is a children's hospital, which is so necessary right now given the droughts and resulting famine attacking East Africa and particularly its children. The second, is national unity. It will of course be a struggle to condition people to seeing themselves as fully South Sudanese rather than Sudanese but this is an independence that was pushed for from the grassroots and so I expect that encouraging communitarian ideals should not be so hard. The final, asset that the new country can boast is that it is rich in oil. Currently, the oil is under South Sudan but tapped and refined in Sudan and so there will need to be a deal between the two countries concerning who actually gains from the revenue of the oil. I would expect that eventually South Sudan will become a truly thriving independent country through tapping and controlling their own resources and only then will we have something to really celebrate.

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