8 Jul 2011

Will independence save South Sudan from poverty?

International Editor

International Editor Lindsey Hilsum reports from South Sudan on the nascent nation’s hopes and fears as it emerges from a decade of war.

On the eve of the creation of the world’s newest country, the United Nations Security council has voted to set up a new peacekeeping force for South Sudan.

After decades of war with the north, there are fears that the new state could be doomed before it starts.

At midnight tonight, Africa’s largest nation will effectively split in two, creating the new state of South Sudan.

Our International Editor Lindsey Hilsum travelled to Bentiu and the new capital Juba – as it counts down the hours to independence and reports:

‘I want to know why we are suffering like this’ – Nyaluak Gideon, student

Standing in a field a group of men in military uniforms sing together with pride.

“Our rocket propelled grenades destroyed their tanks”, they sing. “This is our country. Yes, we made it”.

But it is not weapons they brandish, but crutches. They are disabled veterans, and they are the most potent symbol of South Sudan’s half century of conflict, and its perilous future.

The students at Bentiu Secondary School live with the legacy of the war. They know the words to the new national anthem, if not quite the tune. It represents their hope, but the new government says two and a half million people died in the last war.

Friction with the north could yet spark renewed conflict. Less than half the children of South Sudan attend school. Fear, poverty and suffering are ever present.

One of the students, Nyaluak Gideon broke into tears as she questioned their conditions.

“I want to know why we are suffering like this. Children, women and men are all dead. All of our fathers, our mothers, our kids….”

Read more from Lindsey Hilsum on our World News Blog:

'We will beat the men in everything - hope at a South Sudan school

Just a few miles from the school, is the resource South Sudan hopes will be its salvation. Oil. Previously controlled by the north, oil will provide 98 per cent of the new nation’s revenue.

The oil in this pipeline will belong to South Sudan because most of the oilfields are in the south. But the ports and refineries – everything they need to export – are in the north. That means that the two countries are going to be totally dependent on each other to realise their major asset. If politicians on both sides understand that, it could be the best deterrent against going back to war.

And whatever the problems, this is their moment. It is a time for celebration. Poverty won’t disappear overnight, but what southern Sudanese saw as a northern occupying force has gone.

The Archbishop of South Sudan, Paolino Lukudu Loro commented on the new country’s hopes.

“We are free, we feel now that we are human beings, in our own land God has given to us and we are free people. This is really the beginning of a new country from zero, really from nothing.”

But the archbishop, who has long supported secession, has one big worry: corruption.

“I am unhappy about the misuse of gifts given to us because we are poor. It seems that the world is ready to support South Sudan. There’s a lot of money coming in – but has this money been used properly well? Seemingly not.”

The women who break rocks at the side of the road in the capital, Juba, are amongst the poorest of the poor, those who will suffer most if the oil wealth and aid continues to be creamed off by the elite. They’re part of a chain of deprivation that is hard to break.

Everyone talks of building the country, but it is foreigners who are doing it. The majority of workers I met are from other nations like Uganda.

War robbed South Sudanese of basic education and training – even semi-skilled labourers come from neighbouring countries.

This week South Sudanese are praying that somehow they’ll overcome all odds and that they’ll become less dependent on aid and oil, and forge their own future.

Once young men here had two options – exile or war. South Sudan is still a highly militarised society where soldiers rule.

But independence should give the next generation different choices. They will be born into poverty, but they will be free.