South Sudanese Rejoice On Eve Of Independence
MICHEL MARTIN, host: Now we turn to a story of a new beginning. South Sudan will become Africa's 54th country tomorrow. After decades of conflict with the North, the people of South Sudan voted overwhelmingly in January to separate from the North, breaking what was Africa's largest country by land mass in two. Frantic preparations are under way in the South, ahead of Saturday's independence celebration, and people there are already singing the new national anthem.
(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)
MARTIN: Those were children from the Juba Commercial Secondary School. NPR's West Africa correspondent, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, is with us now, on the phone from South Sudan's capital of Juba. Ofeibea, welcome, what's the mood there?
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Well, you can hear. Everybody, Michel, is singing that national anthem. And as they sing it, they clap, they shake with their hands, proudly, proudly singing the national anthem. Everybody getting ready and town is busy, busy, busy.
MARTIN: I was going to ask that. Along with learning the new anthem, what are some of the other preparations taking place?
QUIST-ARCTON: Well, there are going to be lots of heads of state, we're told. There's a lot of goodwill toward South Sudan after this long, 20-year civil war. People feel that they have invested in bringing peace. So lots of people, including a very big American delegation headed by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, are going to be here.
So South Sudan wants to make sure that all its visitors are very well-received. This used to be a small town but slowly, it is becoming more of a capital city, Juba. Right in the middle of the city, Michel, they have what they are calling the countdown clock. and it flashes up messages like 9th of July, free at last; Africa's 54th nation; the United Nations' 193rd country; and all these positive messages.
So there is an atmosphere here of expectation, and an atmosphere of - really, of hope that there will be peace in Sudan. And the Southern Sudanese want everybody to share it with them.
MARTIN: And, finally, Ofeibea, I don't know if that news has reached you there, but North Sudan officially recognized the independence of South Sudan. A government minister announced on state television - the message was that the Republic of Sudan declares that it recognizes the state of South Sudan from July 9th, said Khartoum's minister for presidential affairs, Bakri Hassan Saleh. That has to be welcome news.
QUIST-ARCTON: Well, that was on the cards. And already, President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, who you know has been blowing hot and cold about the South seceding and voting overwhelmingly - as it did in January - to split from the North, said that he was scheduled to be here in Juba for the declaration of independence. That is a good sign but relations between these two neighbors, after so many years of war, are still frosty. And there are still unresolved problems that they have to deal with.
But everyone says hey, we will deal with that. Right now, what we want is sovereignty, independence. We were second-class citizens in a united Sudan. Now, we will be our own bosses and our own citizens, and we'll be dealing with our own problems. But this is a country facing huge challenges - like the infrastructure, illiteracy amongst the young people. All those hurdles face a new, independent South Sudan. But the South Sudanese say they are hopeful and that God willing, they will succeed.
MARTIN: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is NPR's West Africa correspondent. She joined us on the phone from South Sudan's new capital, Juba. Ofeibea, thank you so much.
QUIST-ARCTON: Happy South Sudanese independence. You want me to sing a little bit of that national anthem?
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
QUIST-ARCTON: I tell you, that song is going round and round and round and round in my head, Michel. I like the atmosphere here. And everybody is wishing South Sudan well now.
MARTIN: All right, thank you, Ofeibea.
If you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin, and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
We're talking about tomorrow's historic independence of South Sudan. We're going to hear now from Rebecca Hamilton. She's a special correspondent on Sudan for the Washington Post. She spent much of the last year in Sudan. And she's the author of "Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide." She's with us from our studios in New York. Rebecca, thank you for joining us.
REBECCA HAMILTON: My pleasure.
MARTIN: Could you just pick up a little bit on what Ofeibea was talking about? First, I'd like to ask you, what were some of the conditions that led the South Sudanese to want this split to begin with?
HAMILTON: This separation comes after literally, generations of war. There was the second civil war that went for 20 years. But there was a civil war before that, that began right on the eve of Sudan's independence from the British back in 1956. And what Southern Sudanese have been fighting for all this time is the right to be first-class citizens in their own country.
Under the government of Sudan, they've always felt like they were second-class citizens. And you can see that, in very concrete terms, in South Sudan. The soon-to-be new country has just 40 miles of paved roads in an area that's the size of Texas. There has been no development in this area by the Sudanese government. And it's led South Sudanese to say, we think that we can do this better for ourselves.
It also has come at an incredible human cost. Two million Southern Sudanese lives were lost in the struggle for independence and liberation. And so - there's an incredible amount of joy around this day and this just infectious enthusiasm that you heard from Ofeibea. For a lot of Southern Sudanese, it's also a moment to reflect on just the enormous human toll that it took to get to this point.
MARTIN: Well, speaking of that human toll, we understand that there is still ongoing violence on the border. What's motivating that? Despite, as we heard, the North is officially recognizing the South, what's this ongoing conflict about?
HAMILTON: Yes. I'm so glad that you raised it because at the same time as we want to be celebrating Southern Sudanese independence, we need to remember that there is a group of people called the Nuba, and these are Northerners, but they fought alongside the South in the war for many of the same things that the Southern Sudanese were fighting for - for better rights, better governance, and to be free from persecution for just having their own identity.
And right now - literally, as we speak - those people in the Nuba mountains are being bombed relentlessly by the Sudanese government. This has been happening for more than a month now. Day after day, they've been bombed. The Sudanese government has shut out media, and has shut out humanitarian organizations from this area. A group of friends, journalists who managed to get in illegally last week under extremely high risk, said it was as bad as they feared that it was.
Now, the Sudanese government is saying that it is trying to cleanse the area of rebel elements, these Nuba who fought with the South in the war. But what the people who have been in there, and people that I've spoken to over Skype - who are still in there at the moment - are saying, is that these bombs are falling indiscriminately. And it's civilians who are bearing the brunt of the Sudanese government's operation in the Nuba mountains right now.
MARTIN: And finally, Rebecca, before we let you go, one of the other disputes, as I understand it, between North and South is that - and one of the grievances of the South is that there is - the oil reserves lie in the South, but the refineries and the pipelines belong to the North. How is this going to be resolved? And obviously, the question is that - that people of the South believe that they're not getting any benefit from the reserves, which are in their territory.
Is there any progress being made in resolving how these reserves are handled, and how the resources are distributed?
HAMILTON: There isn't a final deal yet. But what's pretty clear is that the South is going to get the bulk of the oil that's on its territory. The challenge, though, as you said, is that the pipeline that gets that oil to export runs through the North. So it runs through what will be a different country of Sudan. And so there needs to be a level of cooperation between the government of Sudan in the North, and the government of South Sudan, for that oil to keep flowing.
That's a big challenge. And it makes South Sudan vulnerable because 98 percent of their budget right now comes from the oil. They have a huge need to diversify their economy so they're not so dependent on oil. The good news is that the South is this incredibly fertile area. So they could, potentially, become a bread basket for the region. But that will require them to invest in agriculture rather than just staying dependent on the fact that they have oil.
MARTIN: Rebecca Hamilton is a special correspondent on Sudan for the Washington Post. And we hope you'll also keep us up to date on this important story.
MARTIN: She's also the author of "Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide." She was with us from our studios in New York. Rebecca, thank you so much for joining us.
HAMILTON: Thank you.
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