6 July 2011
Alex Vines

Dr Alex Vines OBE

Research Director, Area Studies and International Law; Head, Africa Programme


When South Sudan becomes the world's newest state on the 9 July, the opportunity is there to build a more sustainable and peaceful relationship with Khartoum and its neighbours. Joining the UN, African Union and other international clubs (including the Commonwealth) will be the easy part. Establishing a fully functioning state is a long term project. When the celebrations are over, South Sudan will begin the difficult task of state building.

Few new states founded since decolonisation have faced the developmental challenges of land-locked South Sudan, a state which lacks infrastructure and economically is dependent on oil produced near the northern border, to the tune of around 95% of government revenue. Its vast agricultural potential has yet to be exploited.

The challenges are huge

Peaceful co-existence with the North is critical. Khartoum needs to honour its promise to be the first to recognise the new state. A long shared history and ongoing commercial, cultural and political links mean that the two Sudans will remain intimately entwined.

But internal politics in North and South Sudan have the potential to sour the relationship between the two states. The recent fighting and bombing of villages in South Kordofan in North Sudan will take on an international flavour after July 9. This is an area with considerable support for the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement (SPLM) who are the governing party in the South but will remain active as a political party in north Sudan. Links forged over decades of war with areas like the Nuba Mountains will continue to be relevant for Southern politicians.

The legacies of the civil wars in Sudan remain unaddressed. Rival leaders who fought the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army/Movement in the south have been paid off or given grand titles to maintain their support. However this is not a sustainable long term strategy. Disgruntled commanders in the South have already rebelled against the government in Juba and this trend may well continue. South Sudan will need to create space to peacefully and openly manage dispute and expectations.

The prognosis is not all bleak

Many doubted that Sudan would make it through the six years of transition mandated by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement without a return to full scale war - that it did is a testament to the benefits of peace. South Sudan will find new partners willing to make investments and sell goods and services. Tapping into resources, financial and human, especially from East Africa may give South Sudan a quicker route to prosperity.

South Sudan's independence is a historic moment. It offers citizens a unique opportunity to put an end to over a century of conflict and marginalisation. International support can help state building but its sustainability will only come from the political vision and hard work of the South Sudanese themselves.

More resources on South Sudan's independence