By Stephen Makabila
Results of Southern Sudan's referendum on independence returned a 99 per cent secession verdict.
Independence will be declared on July 9, when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the North and the South elapses.
After the euphoria of independence, Southern Sudan has to surmount challenges of building a new state, an undertaking that will require going past the usual temptation in new to focus on material, basic social services delivery, and infrastructural development.
Southern Sudan President Salva Kiir was cautious on challenges ahead of Africa’s youngest nation after the January referendum.
"Whatever the outcome of the referendum, all will not be milk and honey," Kiir was quoted as saying.
He said the successful conclusion of the referendum would be nothing but the beginning of a new struggle that requires even more resilience and patience.
"We are going to be confronted with new challenges that we must all face head on," he added.
Like any other young African country, Southern Sudan will indeed have to overcome multiple challenges to develop a united and stable country.
"The way these challenges are navigated may hold key to whether Southern Sudan firmly takes the stability route or it becomes another face of instability in Africa," said Polycap Onyango, a corporate governance specialist.
Kiir pointed out challenges such as generating adequate revenues, inadequate basic social services, poor physical infrastructure, and reintegration of the southerners coming back from the North and elsewhere.
Other challenges may include political rivalry, ethnicity, and how the sensitive issues of oil resources between the South and the Khartoum administration would be handled.
On the political front, already Opposition parties in Southern Sudan are criticising the government’s initial steps in preparing for independence. Kiir appointed a committee to review the Constitution, but political parties and civil society have challenged what they see as the ruling party’s monopoly of the exercise. The constitutional review was agreed at a convention in October last year in what was seen at the time as an attempt by Kiir to unite the South ahead of the referendum.
Controversy now surrounds the selection of constitutional review committee. The Opposition parties and civil society groups say the ruling party, SPLM, dominates the 24-member committee. President Kiir appointed minister of legal affairs and constitutional development, John Luk Jok, to lead the committee. Jok says other parties have not been excluded since the chairman of the United Democratic Salvation Front Gabriel Changson Chang sits on the committee.
Ethnicity will also be a challenge. Southern Sudan is composed of more than 200 ethnic groups, making it one of the most linguistically diverse regions of Africa.
The Kiir administration would have to build a united country by breaking possible ethnic barriers.
Southern Sudan is a large country covering 597,000sqkm and is rich in natural resources. This wealth was one of the root causes of several decades of war between the South and the North. Southern Sudan produces 85 per cent of Sudan’s oil output. The oil revenues according to the CPA are to be split equally for the duration of the agreement period, which ends on July 9. Oil revenues constitute more than 98 per cent of Southern Sudan’s budget.
How the Juba administration settles the controversy with the North over the contested Abyei region that is rich in oil deposits would be key in ensuring stability.
For the Southern Sudan government to exploit its rich resources, it would also require to improve infrastructure such as roads, railways and even air transport, something Kiir is aware of.
Southern Sudan is said to have some of the worst health indicators in the world. The under-five infant mortality rate is 112 per 1,000, while maternal mortality is the highest in the world at 2,053.9 per 100,000 live births.
In 2004, for example, there were only three surgeons serving Southern Sudan, with three proper hospitals, and in some areas there was just one doctor for every 500,000 people.
The epidemiology of HIV/Aids in the Southern Sudan is poorly documented, but the prevalence is thought to be around 3.1 per cent.
Given only a health nation can prosper, the new Southern Sudan government has therefore the challenge of ensuring improved provision of health facilities to its citizens.
"All challenges and many more will demand collective attention and commitment from all of us as a people", Kiir has said in the past.
Collective attention may require Southern Sudanese at home and thousands in the Diaspora to return home and help rebuild the country ravaged by decades of civil war
The world is watching if Southern Sudanese would stand-up and be counted.