Tomorrow Is Another Country: The World's Newest State, South Sudan, Will Come into Being Officially on 9th July, Following an Overwhelming Vote for Sessession from the North. but as Richard Seymour and Anver Versi Report, Enormous Challenges Still Lie Ahead
Seymour, Richard, Versi, Anver, African Business
To all intents and purposes, Sudan has been two countries since independence in 1956. An aerial view, taken from space, shows the barren, desert region of the north and the lusher, green landscape to the south. Much has been made about an Arab Muslim North and a black, Christian South but this is ingenuous at best. This vast territory is home to hundreds, if not thousands, of ethnic groups, with some, like the Dinka and the Nuer of the South existing in large numbers. The North is composed of a host of ethnic groups, many of which have mingled over the centuries, held together by a common Arabic language and a Muslim culture.
The division between the two owes much to geography and history. The North had been an important factor in the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium in the 1890s. The Northern Sudanese were provided with good-quality education, allowed to keep their language and customs and encouraged to take up official posts. Christian missionaries, who had descended on Africa in their thousands in the wake of David Livingstone's journeys of exploration, were actively discouraged from the North but allowed to proselytise in the South, which was otherwise neglected. This, according to several historians, led to the bitter animosity between the two halves and spawned the longest-running war in modern history.
At the time of independence in 1956, the difference in terms of institutions, health, education, income, agriculture and living standards between the two regions was glaring. The South, fearful of being marginalised even further, took to the bush in a series of guerrilla wars. Support for the guerrillas came from several sources, including Ethiopia, although the main backers were Western, mainly American, Christian groups. As part of its overarching global policy during the Cold War, the US became deeply embroiled in Sudanese politics and later became the lead broker in the various peace negotiations between the two sides.
However, it was relentless work by the African Union and retired heads of state that finally delivered a peace treaty acceptable to both parties in 2005.
The treaty included provisions for sharing the oil wealth generated mainly in Southern territories but piped through the North, and a referendum that could allow the South to secede from the North and establish its own independent state. The referendum was duly held in January and the results, published a few weeks later, showed that almost 99% of the Southern population wanted independence. Despite alarm in the West that the North would throw a spanner in the works during the referendum, the whole exercise went off remarkably smoothly and the North stuck to the letter of the law in all aspects. The US began the process of delisting Sudan from the list of states sponsoring terrorism and one expects full diplomatic relations to resume in the near future.
The 9th July will see the creation of Africa's newest country. But, for both Sudan and South Sudan, a whole new set of challenges is waiting to be met. The country's economy is already in a very difficult position and not just from years of war. Increasingly, the Sudanese economy has come to rely on the US dollar. The government has come in for criticism for allowing the unofficial and creeping 'dollarisation' of the economy. More and more business owners accept only dollars. When they are willing to receive Sudanese pounds as payment, the exchange rate to the dollar is usually set arbitrarily and bears no relation to international exchange markets.
As a result, prices have spiralled upwards, and large numbers of Sudanese can no longer afford basic goods and services. Moreover, Sudan's own currency has become devalued to the point where there is very little confidence in it, and currency speculation has only further fuelled the problem. If you are lucky enough to live in Sudan and be paid in dollars, you can meet the higher prices in the shops. …