South Sudan Struggles 1 Year After Independence

One year ago, South Sudan declared its independence from Sudan. Since then, there have been tribal clashes in several areas of the new nation, and in April, there was a brief border war with Sudan.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

This was the scene one year ago today in Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We hereby declare Southern Sudan to be an independent and sovereign state.


MONTAGNE: There was jubilation as this oil-rich region on the Horn of Africa became the world's newest nation. The South Sudanese said they were celebrating freedom after decades of domination and oppression by rulers to the north in Sudan.

Now though, the joy has turned to despair.


MONTAGNE: In April, skirmishes broke out along the border with Sudan. Before that, deadly tribal clashes raged in several parts of the new nation. The government is mired in scandals over corruption involving billions of dollars. And an American headline recently read: Still in Infancy, Already A Global Problem Child.

Joining us now in the studio is our West Africa correspondent, Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.

Good morning, Ofeibea.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings. Wonderful to be here.

MONTAGNE: I was going to say. Nice to have you here with us.

Now, you have spent a lot of time over the years covering events in South Sudan, most recently reporting on this border war. How much of a letdown has this past year been for the people of South Sudan?

QUIST-ARCTON: I've got to tell you, Renee, that despite the many, many problems and challenges, South Sudanese are still very, very happy that they gained independence. They say they now have freedom, that they are the masters of their own destiny. They're no longer second-class citizens. And for them that is absolutely number one.

But in the 12 months since I was there for independence and there was all that joy on the street at the birth of this new nation, people are now saying but the promise that this new nation would be able to move forward, progress with its oil, with its fertile land, with a lot of positives, things have not gone according to plan. And that's because the divorce from Sudan in the north has been so bitter and has turned violent in recent months.

MONTAGNE: Well, let's talk for a moment about that oil. It potentially is wealth for South Sudan, but the country appears also to be suffering from what's known as the oil curse.

QUIST-ARCTON: In a different way perhaps to others. But what happened earlier in the year is South Sudan shut down all crude oil production. And two-thirds of the oil in the region now sits in South Sudan. It said it was being tricked by Sudan into paying astronomical fees for the use of the pipeline that goes from the south through the north for export in Port Sudan. Sudan says, hey, this is the real world. You have to pay to use it. And that's what set off the initial problem which escalated into conflict at the border.

MONTAGNE: And the separation of South Sudan from Sudan sometime after a long, long civil war was meant to mark the end of that. Why has the fighting continued?

QUIST-ARCTON: Because there is so much unfinished business, Renee, over borders, boundary, oil revenues, wealth sharing, citizenship, identity. Everybody now says there was too much of a rush. Everybody wanted South Sudan to gain independence after this long war, but all these other issues that hadn't been dealt with, that were supposed to be dealt with in just this year have not happened.

And that's why we now see these two neighbors, Sudan and South Sudan - despite what President Obama and everyone else said about two viable nations, two viable economies - fighting instead of maintaining peaceful, neighborly relations.

MONTAGNE: Well, also to the north, Sudan is having problems of its own, isn't it?

QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed. President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is facing unprecedented protests, which started with students, university students, but has spread in the capital Khartoum. At the moment we haven't seen that split outside Khartoum to Darfur, which has gone off the world map, but there are still problems there. But, yes, a lot of people are saying is this now going to be Sudan's spring, as we had the Arab uprisings last year.

MONTAGNE: And just briefly, Ofeibea, any signs of hope for the two nations going forward?

QUIST-ARCTON: I think everybody has to hope, because they've got to live side by side. There's going to be no change to that. But now, it's the young people saying: peace, peace, peace, stop fighting. We are the future and we want you to sit down and make peace.

MONTAGNE: Ofeibea, thanks very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is NPR's Africa correspondent.

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