Africa has welcomed a new nation. As a result of the January 9th referendum, Southern Sudan will remove 640,000 square kilometers of land, nine million people, and a plethora of natural resources, including oil, from the control of Sudan's central government under the National Congress Party (NCP).
Since civil war broke out between the North and the South in 1956, the Sudanese have endured perpetual conflict and the loss of millions of lives. In addition to disagreement on economic and political issues, religious tensions have fueled the clash between the Islamic north and predominantly Christian and animist south. The NCP's ongoing battle for Darfur has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Southern Sudanese as well as an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for President and NCP leader Omar al-Bashir.
The recent vote was held in accordance with the 2005 Naivasha Agreement between the Northern Sudanese government in Khartoum and the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), a rebel movement based in the south. For the most part, the international response to the orderly and legal referendum was optimistic. Southern Sudanese, 85 percent of whom are illiterate, poured into polling stations during the week-long voting period to make a choice between unity and separation--illustrated by images of a clasped hands or a solitary hand. However, over a month after the election, Southern Sudan finds itself at the juncture of an impoverished, war-torn past and a very uncertain future.
Even after Southern Sudan officially becomes Africa's 54th nation in July 2011, it will not be able to function with complete autonomy. Southern Sudan faces a wealth of economic concerns as a result of the massive debt that Sudan has accumulated from foreign nations since the 1970s to fund development projects. The governments of both Sudans have requested the international community to relieve the debt, as the north will face a loss of oil revenues and the south is in the midst of structuring a new nation. With its rich oil fields, present border disputes with Uganda, and location at the center of a ring of conflicted countries, Africa's newest country will likely be at the heart of several international debates.
The existence of two separate Sudans would require shift in the economic dynamics of the region. According to UN reports, Southern Sudan's land is fertile enough to feed the entire Middle East. Its output of 490,000 barrels a day makes it sub-Saharan Africa's third largest oil crude oil exporter. It will undoubtedly take time for the north and south to agree upon how to transfer the management of the oil industry to Southern Sudan, and even longer to resume business with foreign countries.
In anticipation of its independence, Southern Sudan had been ramping up efforts to diversify its economy and improve business. Investors in China, Kenya, and the Middle East have expressed interest in projects that would develop infrastructure and build food-processing plants in Southern Sudan. …