View a slide show of Juba, the world's newest capital, on the eve of independence
On Jan. 9, Southern Sudanese will head to the polls to vote in a referendum to decide whether to become an independent state. Barring massive vote-rigging by the government in Khartoum or a fresh outbreak of war, theirs will become the world's newest country. Riven by conflict for decades, this land of about 10 million people is among the poorest, unhealthiest, and least educated in the world. Independence would curtail the historic domination of the Arab Muslim north of Sudan over the black, largely Christian south. But conflict lurks -- indeed, barely lurks. In 2010, Dennis Blair, then the United States' director of national intelligence, told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that among the world's unstable places in the next five years, "a new mass killing or genocide is most likely to occur in Southern Sudan."
Southern Sudan has potential. Its area -- larger than Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda combined -- contains rich lands, ample water, and resources. Sudan's oil fields are located in southern territory but are not yet free from northern control. Strong cultures and resilience have been fortified by years of war and self-reliance. Since a 2005 peace accord formally ended the civil war, Southern Sudan has had a semiautonomous government. Created almost from scratch, this regional administration had made progress. But if independence arrives, so will new threats of corruption and its close counterpart, instability.
How can this would-be country face up to the scourge of corruption? In 2004, in advance of the peace accord, the Southern Sudanese leadership addressed this very question, and it was my privilege to help facilitate its discussions. Invited by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), I was impressed by the spirit and resilience of the Southern Sudanese, their frank self-diagnosis, and the need for more than development-as-usual in Southern Sudan.