South Sudan’s Big Day

The results of last months’ South Sudan independence referendum are being officially announced today.   Reading the writing on the wall, Sudan’s President preempted the announcement today by saying he would accept the results of the referendum.  By the end of June, South Sudan will become the newest sovereign country in the world.

It is hard not to feel hopeful for South Sudan.   Still, once independent, South Sudan will beset by problems of a failed state. It has all the indicators of a country that will be mired in the “bottom billion.” It is landlocked, plagued by a history of violence, located in an volatile neighborhood, and is dependent on commodity exports (oil) to drive its economy.

The security situation is also very precarious.  Just yesterday, some 50 people will killed in armed clashes when one militia group resisted being disarmed by the emerging state security force, the Souther People’s Liberation Army.

So, as we rightly acknowledge the historic nature of today’s announcement, it is worth keeping in mind that South Sudan is in for a long, hard slog.  The good news, though, is that the world is pretty much rallying for them.

UPDATE FROM JUBA: Maggie Fick just sent me this dispatch from Juba:

More than a thousand people gathered at the burial grounds of the late southern hero war hero and leader John Garang to watch the live feed of the announcement of results from Khartoum. Ironically, many in the crowd of toddlers, men with greying hair, and well-dressed women could not understand the Arabic spoken by the chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil.

As international journalists sought to ask southerners how they felt about the freedom that had finally been achieved, many in the crowd insisted the results had not yet been declared while the wires had already blasted out the news. Before the feed from Friendship Hall in Khartoum began, the Southern Sudan official TV network showed footage from the civil war and images of Garang, to cheers and chanting from the crowd.

When the Muslim prayer began to kick off the announcement ceremony, the divide between north and south felt clearer than ever. The crowd was agitated and impatient as the Quranic prayer dragged on for ten minutes. When the Christian prayer began, many in the crowd bowed their heads. “It is a great day for these people, for this nation,” said the Christian leader who gave the prayer. “It is a new era,” he said. Although the referendum officials and diplomats who spoke at the results announcement called for amicable relations between the two new countries, everyday southerners were clear. “Today we have kicked the Arabs out,” said Santo Akwai Wol, 30.