South Sudan Celebrates Its Nationhood

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The Republic of South Sudan is now officially the world's newest nation. South Sudan waged a long and brutal war against the North, and in January the people voted to break away. On Saturday, Africa's 54th nation threw itself a birthday party, and NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton talks with host Scott Simon from the capital city in Juba.

SCOTT SIMON, host: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.


SIMON: The world has a new nation this morning.


SIMON: Sound of celebrations in South Sudan. After a long and brutal civil war, the people of South Sudan voted to break away in January. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is in the capital city, Juba, for the festivities. Ofeibea, thanks very much for being with us.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Greetings. Greetings from independent South Sudan and from Juba, at the Dr. John Garang Memorial Mausoleum where independence has just been declared.

SIMON: Ofeibea, what's the new flag look like?


QUIST-ARCTON: The new flag, it's gorgeous. It's green for the fertile land, red for the blood that has been filled. More than two million people killed in a 20-year civil war. It's black also and then it has a golden star of freedom guiding the nation. So it's a flag that is waving everywhere here in Juba today, fluttering as the national, the new national flag was raised and the flag of Sudan, the Republic of Sudan, the North was lowered. Ooh, you should've heard the jubilation. You should've heard how Southern Sudanese were absolutely ecstatic. Everybody was cheering, chanting. Everybody seems happy today despite the challenges ahead.

SIMON: South Sudan is born after more than two decades of civil war. Is it peaceful now?

QUIST-ARCTON: South Sudan is at peace with itself, but there is still residual problems, especially with the north of the country. But the people here, the Southerners say it's freedom at last. Freedom from the north, freedom from being second-class citizens, that now they are their own bosses and that they will bring peace and prosperity to this newest nation in the world.

SIMON: And, of course, South Sudan is famously a very poor country. Does it have much economic promise?


QUIST-ARCTON: It's a very poor country in terms of its population being poor, Scott. But it's a very rich country in terms of its very fertile land. It has oil and it has huge potential.

SIMON: Ofeibea, we noted that there was a referendum for independence. To what degree is South Sudan a democracy?

QUIST-ARCTON: It depends who you speak to. If you speak to the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, the one that liberated South Sudan and the army, they say we are a democracy. We are open to listening to everybody. But there are splits even within South Sudan. There are people who split away from the Liberation Movement and who say that the leaders have become demigods. Now everybody from the U.S. to Sudan, neighbors, near neighbors who have tried to help to bring peace are saying you've got to make sure that you entrench democracy. You've got to make sure that you keep away from corruption. You've got to make sure that what you fought for is in what fact you deliver to your people.

But it's a huge hurdle for this country. There are so many priorities which are number one. Delivering to the people, ensuring peace and prosperity, ensuring democracy, that is what the leadership, President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his government, have got to deliver to the people of South Sudan.

SIMON: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, speaking to us from the middle of a crowd in Juba, the capital of the new nation of South Sudan. Thanks very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. And apologies for all the noise but the people here are so excited to be what they say is at last free.

SIMON: Well, give them our best, Ofeibea.

QUIST-ARCTON: Certainly will.

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