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The birth of South Sudan: the world's newest country faces enormous challenges.


After five decades of guerrilla struggle and 2 million lives lost, flags are flying proudly in Juba, South Sudan's new capital city, and the new national anthem is blasting all over town.

On July 9, the Republic of South Sudan became the world's newest nation, and Africa's 54th state. The country's independence from Sudan was the result of a U.S.-brokered 2005 peace deal between the Arab-controlled government in the north and rebels in the black-African south.

"This is a beautiful day for Africa," said Joseph Deiss of Switzerland, president of the United Nations General Assembly, to the throngs gathered in Juba to celebrate. "This is a remarkable achievement, a long-standing conflict has been stopped."

But from the moment of its birth, South Sudan has faced extraordinary challenges. A majority of its people live on less than a dollar a day. A 15-year-old girl has a higher chance of dying in childbirth than she does of having finished elementary school. More than 10 percent of children do not make it to their fifth birthday. About three-quarters of adults cannot read. Only 1 percent of households have a bank account.


No Electricity, No Running Water

The South Sudan government says 83 percent of its people live in thatched-roof huts. Most villages have no electricity and no running water.

Beyond that, the new nation of 9 million people faces several serious insurrections within its own sprawling territory and ongoing hostilities with Sudan in the north, its longtime enemy from which it seceded.

It is clearly an underdog story.

More than 2,300 people have been killed in ethnic and rebel violence this year, with at least a half-dozen rebel groups--some with thousands of fighters--prowling the bush, attacking government soldiers, terrorizing civilians, and stealing cattle and even children.

Ethnicity is a consistent fault line here. The government is dominated by the Dinka, the biggest group in South Sudan, and some of the toughest rebel armies are commanded by members of the Nuer, historically a rival tribe.

Many people fear that after the glow of independence wears off, the Nuer and the Dinka will start fighting each other. And even within the Dinka-dominated government forces, there are deep problems.

Government troops routinely take sides in local land disputes and fights over cattle, and recently soldiers have been hijacking U.N. trucks hauling food. Hunger is a critical challenge: More than a third of South Sudan's 9 million people need food aid to survive.

Less than 10 miles outside Juba, in the village of Rajaf, people are fleeing the countryside because bandits are killing farmers and kidnapping children.


"There is no security here," says Rose Bojo, a tea seller.

The unrest is such a drain on resources that in this year's budget, the government of South Sudan will spend about $700 million on security--more than it spends on education, health care, electricity, roads, and industry combined.

375,000 Barrels of Oil a Day

But this is also a country of great possibilities. It has miles and miles of thick forests and fertile jungles, where the trees are heavy with fruit.

What's more, South Sudan produces about 375,000 barrels of oil per day. Though negotiators are still working on the specific formula of how the two Sudans--north and south--will share the oil and its revenue, the south stands to make billions from its reserves.

From the late 19th century until its independence in 1956, all of Sudan was a colony administered by Britain and Egypt, its northern neighbor. The tensions between north and south predate independence: South Sudan is mostly Christian and animist (believing that animals and the natural environment have spirits). Culturally, it is closer to sub-Saharan Africa than northern Sudan, which is mostly Muslim and dominated by Arabs, like the rest of North Africa.

Southern rebels fought for years against the central government in Khartoum, which responded brutally--bombing villages, massacring civilians, and enslaving southern Sudanese children. In fact, many of the same scorched-earth tactics associated with the crisis in Darfur, in Sudan's west, in the mid-2000s, were tried and tested long before in southern Sudan.

In 2005, the administration of former President George W. Bush helped broker a treaty between the sides that granted the south wide autonomy and the right to secede. In January, nearly 99 percent of southerners voted to form their own country.

For the past six years, the southern Sudanese have essentially been running their own affairs, policing themselves, patrolling their borders, and wooing investment and development aid. International aid organizations are still going to play a crucial role here, especially in health and education.

Consider the transformation of James Aguto, a former child soldier and long-time guerrilla fighter who now works in a government hospital delivering babies. Aguto was trained by an international aid organization, but he's got even bigger plans: He's looking for sponsors to pay for medical school so he can become a pediatrician.

"South Sudan started from zero," he says. "Why shouldn't we be able to transform?"


Jeffrey Gettleman covers Africa for The New York Times.


Draw students' attention to the map of northern Africa that accompanies the article.

[right arrow]After studying the map, are you surprised that northern and southern Sudan had vast ethnic and religious differences? How might geography have contributed to those differences and to the region's history of conflict?

[right arrow]Do you think it was inevitable for Sudan to split into two nations? Explain.

[right arrow] In what ways has the five decades of fighting that preceded South Sudan's secession handicapped the new nation? Do you think it can overcome these obstacles?


Compare and contrast the challenges facing South Sudan as a new nation with those that confronted the United States after it gained independence. Are there any similarities? What are the biggest differences? Could South Sudan Learn anything from studying U.S. history? Explain.


Take a stand: Should the U.S. assist South Sudan in training its armed forces? Why or why not?


The writer refers to South Sudan's tale as an "underdog story." What does he mean? Do you agree? Explain.

South Sudan's minister of the interior has expressed concern that the nation could become a breeding ground for terrorist groups.

Why do you think he is concerned? How might South Sudan's situation present an opportunity for such groups?

What steps do you think South Sudan's government needs to take to build stability, peace, and prosperity?


Before the secession of South Sudan, Sudan was Africa's Largest nation. The newly formed South Sudan is about the size of Texas.


Breaking and archived news, maps, multimedia, and more about South Sudan.

(1) South Sudan's independence came about as a result of a peace deal. between

a the Arab-controlled government in north Sudan and black-African rebels in the south.

b the United Nations and the black-African-controlled government in north Sudan.

c the rival Nuer and Dinka ethnic tribes.

d guerrilla fighters and a handful, of prominent Arab world Leaders.

(2) Which U.S. president's administration helped end Sudan's civil war?

a Barack Obama

b Bill Clinton

c George W. Bush

d Ronald Reagan

(3) According to the article, the majority of people in South Sudan Live in

a high-rise tenements.

b refugee camps.

c thatched-roof huts.

d crowded urban areas.

(4) The largest ethnic group in South Sudan is the

a Tutsi.

b Dinka.

c Juba.

d Nuer.

(5) South Sudan currently spends the bulk of its budget on

a education.

b health care.

c building infrastructure.

d security needs.

(6) One sign of promise in South Sudan is that the nation has

a a solid infrastructure that survived many decades of war.

b vast oil reserves and fertile forests.

c a strong new diplomatic relationship with Sudan.

d a bustling, industry-rich capital, called Khartoum.


(1) What does the writer mean when he says that ethnicity is a "fault line" in South Sudan?

(2) How is tack of security in South Sudan affecting that nation's economy?

(3) Why do you think people in South Sudan are so joyful about their independence when their nation faces tremendous poverty, widespread illiteracy, and high child mortality rates?


(1) [a] the Arab-controlled government in north Sudan and black-African rebels in the south.

(2) [c] George W. Bush

(3) [c] thatched-roof huts.

(4) [b] Dinka.

(5) [d] security needs.

(6) [b] vast oil reserves and fertile forests.
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Title Annotation:INTERNATIONAL
Author:Gettleman, Jeffrey
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Date:Nov 14, 2011
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