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JUBA, South Sudan – South Sudan’s capital is getting a fresh coat of paint. With just days to go until the world’s newest nation is born, citizens here are doing a bit of nesting.
Women were sweeping the street. Men have been painting walls and repairing potholes. All eyes will be on South Sudan this Saturday, July 9, and everyone wants to make sure that the country puts its best foot forward.
“Because it’s a new Sudan we need to make a new generation and need to make Sudan more beautiful,” said David, 25, a painter. “We have to work hard to make a new Sudan. I’m feeling great. I’m feeling like I’m in my own country and I’m happy."
The birth of a nation is a rare event. Kosovo did it in 2008, though it is not universally recognized. Serbia and Montenegro split in 2006 forming two countries. Before that, East Timor was the last to join the ranks of independent countries in 2002.
South Sudan recently finalized its new national anthem, and the southern minister of information announced that the NBA would soon arrive to begin training of the country’s national basketball team, the Bright Stars. In many ways, South Sudan has been preparing for this day since the 2005 signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA, that ended over two decades of war between the North and the South. The CPA called for a referendum on southern independence, through which southerners voted in January for separation by nearly 99 percent.
But a lot of details must be sorted out, like grappling with an undisciplined army as southern militias spring up, often playing up existing ethnic tensions; transitioning to its new currency, the South Sudan pound; joining the United Nations and other regional and international institutions; and sorting out citizenship and immigration procedures.
An independent South Sudan will be entering the international community with a number of issues still festering with its former rulers in the North. The outbreak of violence along the disputed border recently highlighted the stakes of this unfinished business. Northern soldiers recently invaded Abyei, a disputed border region claimed by both the North and the South. An agreement signed by both governments established that the northern army would redeploy from Abyei and that peacekeepers will provide security until the area’s status can be resolved. And the Nuba Mountains, another border region of southern sympathizers, has been under bombardment by the North for weeks.
While these tensions are currently an internal Sudanese problem, they will become an international dispute between two sovereign nations on July 9th.
Judging by the preparations, South Sudan is about to throw one raucous party, and the whole world will tune in to welcome the newest nation. But the world must keep the attention on the region long after July 9th. Otherwise, South Sudan risks being stillborn.
Laura Heaton contributed to this post from Juba.