The secession of South Sudan

July 11, 2011

Southern Sudan officially seceded from the north on July 9, 2011, becoming an independent state called the Republic of South Sudan.

Covering an area of about 619,745 square kilometers and with a population of 8 million, the new country has borders with the Republic of Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic.
In 2005, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between the National Congress Party of the North and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement of the South, which ended the 21-year civil war. The agreement called for a referendum on self-determination to be held on January 11, 2011 and the establishment of a coalition government from 2005 to 2011, in which the former rebels of the SPLM would be given a number of cabinet and deputy minister posts. During this period, a new constitution was drafted to govern the region.
The official results of the referendum were announced on January 30, 2011 and 98.83 percent of the citizens voted for the secession of South Sudan. The results were confirmed by the northern government. The independence of the Republic of South Sudan was officially declared on Saturday July 9, making it Africa’s fifty-fifth state and the 193rd member of the United Nations.
But the new government is facing numerous challenges in both the national and international arenas. Due to the lack of preparation for establishing a new government, scarcity of funds, and many other social and cultural problems, the international community has expressed great concern.
The most important problems are the following:
Border disputes: The boundaries of the new republic are not yet clearly marked. According to the Naivasha Agreement of 2005, the border agreement signed on January 1, 1956 was set to determine the boundaries of the country, but there are still five areas where there are border deputes between the North and the South and there is the possibility of a new war between the two countries.
Oil reserves: One of the main bones of contention between the two sides is control of the oil reserves. The new southern republic has plentiful oil reserves, but the landlocked country must export its oil through the north. Of course, Khartoum will charge a fee for such shipments, which has not yet been finalized because of the unresolved disputes between the two sides. This issue is so important that the African Union is making serious efforts to find a solution.
Ethnic diversity: South Sudan has no dominant ethnic culture and there are about 200 ethnic groups, the largest of them being the Dinka. This ethnic diversity could become a great challenge for the efforts to establish peace and security. The new president is a Dinka, which could cause some resentment among rival ethnic groups.
Security is one of the biggest challenges for South Sudan, and the new government should focus on the issue of security and the disarmament of the guerrillas of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, which must be transformed into a professional and national army. At the regional level, the new administration will have challenges in regard to border disputes with neighboring countries like Uganda and Kenya and with northern Sudan as well.
Sharing the water of the Nile: This issue is another challenge that can create problems with the governments of Egypt and Sudan. Egypt has announced that its quota will be the same as what was decided in the 1956 agreement and it will have nothing to do with the disputes between northern and southern Sudan.
Moreover, given the history of war and conflict in the region, the prospects for the establishment of a fair and democratic system in the country are not good.
Economic and social challenges: The lack of economic infrastructure such as roads, railways, power transmission systems, water systems, and health and social welfare services are the main concern for South Sudan. The lack of infrastructure prevents the optimal exploitation of the natural resources of the region.
The management and distribution of natural resources will be a key factor for sustainable development of the country. Moreover, the country needs to diversify its economy to reduce it dependence on oil. South Sudan has 85 percent of the total oil resources of the two Sudans and this provides over 98 percent of the new government’s revenues. However, the country possesses other natural resources, like timber, stone, urea, copper, and chromium, which can help efforts to diversify the economy.
Ethnic and racial diversity is the main social challenge for the new government. As a result of the long civil wars, the education and social welfare systems are not adequate for meeting the needs of the people.
War and poverty have also resulted in food insecurity in South Sudan and the country will be extremely dependent on foreign aid to address this problem.
Political analysts believe that if these problems are not solved soon, South Sudan will become a failed state. For example, in a report issued by the CIA in 2010, the possibility of genocide in southern Sudan was identified as a real threat for the international community. The new government needs to establish peace in order to rebuild the war-torn country. However, the long history of civil wars and the conspiracies of foreign elements could cause a dangerous situation to arise.
Despite its previous emphasis on maintaining the integrity of Sudan, the largest Muslim nation in Africa, the Islamic Republic of Iran should accept the new reality in order to establish more communication with the new state. Any delay could cause misunderstandings with the government of South Sudan, which would open the door for the intervention of foreign countries. After the signing of the North-South peace agreement in 2005, it would have been better if Iran had established consulates and other offices in the region. This would have set the stage for Iran to have excellent relations with the new republic from its inception.
Ahmad Bakhshi is the deputy director of the Center for African Studies at Tarbiate Modarres University in Tehran.