South Sudan: Mother Africa's latest child

Southern Sudanese from the Toposa ethnic group celebrate the choice of separation from the north (archive photo)

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, film-maker and columnist Farai Sevenzo writes that many dangers lie ahead for South Sudan as it prepares for independence.

The poets will no doubt bombard us with all the cliches of nationhood ahead of independence day on 9 July.

The metaphor of choice will, of course, be the "birth of a new nation" with Africa the tireless fertile mother.

I have no idea what childbirth is like but I am told it is a painful yet rewarding experience.

So let us run with this metaphor for a while and consider the implications of South Sudan's difficult conception for her July delivery.

Decades of bloody fighting followed a woefully inadequate colonial departure that threw into the Sudanese pot Arabs to the north and Africans to the south who were themselves seriously divided along ethnic lines.

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The south does not have the ability to provide for its citizens or to create a state or authority”

End Quote Omar al-Bashir President of Sudan

Earlier this year, streams of returnees heading south from the north for a long-awaited independence referendum told us of horrendous racism and were adamant that secession by the underdeveloped south was inevitable because freedom in poverty was preferable to development in bondage.

But the powerful northern leader, Omar al-Bashir, always seemed unconvinced even as the ink marking his signature was drying on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that paved the way for the south's independence.

"The south suffers from many problems. It's been at war since 1959," he said.

"The south does not have the ability to provide for its citizens or to create a state or authority."

'Powerful midwives'

Whether Mr Bashir likes it or not, he has been a major part in the conception of South Sudan, even if he should tell you that the baby is not his.

If the south has been at war since 1959, he was a key player in these wars and a major character in the drama of the north and south.

These wars created rebel factions and Khartoum-sponsored militias and as Darfur also became engulfed in conflict, Mr Bashir was accused by the International Criminal Court of genocide and crimes against humanity.

A man smiles as he carries a goat on his shoulders to sell in a market in Juba (2 July). Infrastructure in South Sudan's capital, Juba, is basic

Then a huge turnout in the south's independence referendum seemed to banish Mr Bashir's scepticism and here we are - about to see a new flag being raised amidst a little uncertainty about the musical credentials of a new national anthem.

So Africa will line up to congratulate this new child that has been so long in the womb, emerging from a difficult pregnancy that kicked and screamed or killed and maimed for decades.

South Sudan in recent years has had some powerful midwives - from US presidents to Hollywood actors.

And, of course, China - the biggest importer of Sudanese oil.

'Angels of mercy'

They all joined forces to get the warring factions to the peace table and to let South Sudan decide her own future.

But Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, together with every African capital that hosted the stateless ones, have reason to watch Africa's largest country splitting up after 50 years of conflict and millions dead.

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Rebel armies are circling the new child with menacing intent ”

End Quote

And what will Africa's advice to the newborn be?

If Libya's Col Muammar Gaddafi was not so preoccupied by the conflict in his own country, he may well have made one of his generous donations to improve the roads in the south's capital, Juba, set up a few hotels and suggest how best to maximize the newborn's oil wealth.

And just what do you give a child with so much potential wealth?

Ordinarily, such a child would be surrounded by friends - true ones and false ones - and powerful allies would patrol the skies to ensure a safe transition to adulthood.

"Angels of mercy" would also set up bases in tiny Juba to deliver advice and aid, while scholarships would rain down on South Sudanese youth.

A South Sudanese soldier stands guard in Juba after the independence referendum in January South Sudan fought for decades for independence

Meanwhile, the new government ministers would criss-cross the capitals of the world to stamp their country's existence on our collective memory.

The romance of independence, of course, can lead us up the garden path into all manner of imaginings.

The realities are stark and scary - much of Sudan's oil is in the south, the borders are yet to be drawn to the satisfaction of all, rebel armies are circling the new child with menacing intent, and this child born of war is finding it difficult to put down the guns.

'Dinka power'

Already, violence in Abyei - the disputed border region which is a rich source of water during the dry season - has displaced thousands of people, and the United Nations has decided to deploy 4,200 Ethiopian troops to the area to keep the peace.

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This new baby will keep us all awake for some time”

End Quote

Then there are the South Sudanese rebel factions who seem newly armed and newly uniformed - of course, the north claims to knows nothing about this.

The rebels are crying foul over the fact that the Dinka ethnic group hold much of the government positions in the south and have been spending more on the army than on health and education.

But should any of this stop us celebrating a new nation?

In just over 50 years of changing winds, this addition to the African family of nations is probably overdue.

If you are a cynical observer you should probably just raise your glass and hold your breath - this new baby will keep us all awake for some time to come, but it is here now, there is no denying that.

If you would like to comment on Farai Sevenzo's column, please do so below.

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