JUBA, Sudan — This Saturday, July 9, Sudan will formally split in two, with the resource-rich south proudly declaring itself the world's newest state. But when the celebrations die down, the young country will need to reckon with the many problems challenging its continued existence.
Managing the aftermath of its "divorce" from the north won't be easy for the young government here, particularly given the ongoing hostilities along the contested border. African Union-supported negotiations between north and south Sudan ground to a halt once again this week in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, meaning the official split will take place without any deal to settle the future of Sudan's oil wealth. The dominant role oil revenues play in both countries' economies -- particularly the south's -- mean that the weeks and months ahead may well be marked by uncertainty and brinkmanship, a characteristic trait of Sudanese politics that has historically produced mixed results for peace and stability.
Foreign relations aside, even domestic security poses a monumental risk for the new country. Many ordinary citizens of South Sudan harbor legitimate grievances against the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which has governed the country during the past six years of fragile peace, for its exclusionary and repressive policies. In the remote but strategic oil-producing areas of the south, for example, local officials have recently been sacked for speaking out against recent fighting between the national army and local militias -- fighting that has driven many locals from their homes. In Juba, meanwhile, motorcycle-taxi drivers and market vendors routinely risk arbitrary arrest by disorganized and often predatory security forces that routinely harass, intimidate, and solicit bribes from citizens.
More often than not, southern politicians and military leaders blame shortcomings and abuses on the northern government. Owning up to some of their own failings could at least be a start for the SPLM in assuring citizens of the government's commitment to upholding the basic rights and freedoms that southerners lacked under northern rule.
At the same time, many here argue that the only reason peace has held to a degree over the past six years in the south is due to the cautious and clever policies of southern President Salva Kiir. The Stetson-wearing, quiet, and unassuming former rebel commander has adopted a "come one, come all" approach to various militia leaders who have challenged the government and its ruling party -- particularly in the past year, after elections in April 2010 split open wartime wounds between rival southern factions. But the International Crisis Group's Sudan analyst Zach Vertin notes that the "big tent" the president has erected may prove to be another pitfall for an army that is dangerously bloated and extremely expensive to maintain. There are currently some 140,000 troops in the army, all of whom are drawing a salary from the impoverished state, but few of whom are fit to fight.