On July 4, 1776, after more than a year of warfare, a fledgling nation declared independence, seeking to unify around a cause of liberty and freedom not only for itself but for a candid world. That nation was the United States, a nation that began with a weak government and an undeveloped economy but that quickly became a respected member of the international community and the first successful postcolonial nation. Today, in a large celebration in the makeshift capital city of Juba, the 54th (recognized) nation of Africa declared its independence, the nation of South Sudan. It will take a lot of work, and a fair amount of divine blessing, for South Sudan to achieve remotely the same success as the United States has seen as a nation.
South Sudan has some major problems to overcome if it wishes to fully develop according to its resources and ambitions . For one, it needs to settle its border disputes with Sudan, its former “master” to the North. The border between Sudan and South Sudan looks messy, and is far from settled. Additionally, South Sudan’s army needs to transition from a predatory force that exploits its own people to a force focused on defense, and capable of building legitimate institutions of government. Perhaps most notably, South Sudan faces the daunting challenge of internally developing its economy (rather than focusing merely on exporting oil) and linking its own economies with neighbors.
One possibility, since South Sudan is itself a landlocked nation, is that connecting to Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Somaliland might help it integrate with its region, avoid a dependence on the unreliable northern Sudanese, and allow it some freedom to maneuver diplomatically. Establishing stronger economic ties with Ethiopia and Somaliland might also help it with finding allies, as Somaliland (like South Sudan) is a nation for whom international recognition is a very important and long-cherished goal.
It is not often that one gets the chance to see a new nation start on its feet. During the early 1990’s, it seemed common when the Cold War was ending and new postcommunist nations were declaring their independence left and right, from Macedonia in the south to Estonia in the north. However, Africa has not recognized a new independent nation since Eritrea in 1991. After South Sudan, it looks like Somaliland is next on the list, and possibly Western Sahara after that. So far the African Union has been reluctant to recognize secession movements, afraid to open the pandora’s box of civil war. That box is already open in much of the continent, and the moral and economic development of Africa requires legitimate government, something in short supply all over that troubled part of the world.
From the looks of it, South Sudan is going to be another poor and troubled nation to add to a lengthy list of such nations already in Africa. Nonetheless, its people deserve the chance to take responsibility for their own development and to chart their own destiny. May they be wiser than the dictators and thugs who have gone before and ruled so harshly over its mysterious land.