For more than half of its independent history, Sudan was locked in brutal north-south civil war. And for anyone under the age of 30 -- about half of the country's people -- war has been a near constant reality. Displacement, active combat, and immense suffering have afflicted the Southern Sudanese people, who bore the brunt of the suffering during the second civil war throughout the 1980s and 90s. Then, in 2005, an incredible peace was brokered -- with one very large caveat: In 2011, Southern Sudan would vote on whether it wants to remain a part of Sudan or secede. That moment is now upon us; a self-determination referendum is scheduled to be held on January 9, 2011. Many worry that the north won't let its southern half go without bloodshed. Yet it is so likely that Southern Sudan will vote for an independence that the Obama administration recently declared it "inevitable."
With the prospect of independence looming, Southern Sudan is hard at work trying to act like a state before it becomes one. The semi-autonomous southern government, led by the political wing of what was once the south's main rebel group, has made impressive strides over the past five years. When the rebels became the regional government in the southern capital of Juba in 2005, there were virtually no roads and only a handful of cars. Today, the southern government has built the bricks and mortar of a capital -- but also institutions such as a cabinet and a judiciary from scratch.
Perhaps even trickier than building a bureaucracy from an insurrection is turning a rebel force into a legitimate military. The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Southern Sudan Police Service are bloated with untrained, unprofessional, ex-rebel fighters -- a sizeable proportion of whom were loyal to individual militia commanders who fought on different sides in the civil war. Men like the one pictured here in Pibor, a remote corner of restive Jonglei state near Ethiopia, learned how to fight in the bush during the civil war and have had little formal education. Then there's the sticky issue of child soldiers; the southern army says they have fewer than 1,000 children in its ranks, and it has pledged to make its army "child-free" by the end of the year. Accomplishing this tall order, however, could prove difficult given the plethora of other pressing priorities. This week, the Obama administration waived a requirement for Sudan to come into compliance with a law prohibiting child soldiers -- arguing that additional funding and support for the country's nascent army must take priority over penalties for the inability to enact immediate reforms. But international officials working in Juba say reform of the army, the police, and the handful of other security forces is a project that will take decades.