Republic of South Sudan: Challenges and Opportunities - Part 2
Juba Bridge, South Sudan.

Republic of South Sudan: Challenges and Opportunities - Part 2

Challenges and Opportunities as Southern Sudan becomes Africa's 54th nation.

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: March 30, 2011

Previous: Republic of South Sudan: Challenges and Opportunities - Part 1

The Salva Kiir factor

When SPLM leader John Garang died in the 2005 plane Crash from Uganda a few months after signing the comprehensive peace agreement that ended the war with Khartoum, many wondered if Salva Kirr, the man announced to replace the charismatic Garang, would be up to the task.

1st President of Southern Sudan - John Garang
1st President of Southern Sudan - John Garang

Even those who knew that Kirr had co-founded the SPLM with Garang were not sure if he would properly handle the 6 years transition period from 2005 to 2011 after which South Sudan was to decide on whether to remain part of the bigger Sudan or form an independent country.

It would be an understatement to say Kirr has not done a good job over the past almost six years. He has served well with his former (probably even currently) enemy President Bashir as the Vice President of the bigger Sudan and President of Southern Sudan. Many say that Kirr as the political and military head of the South has effectively led the South in the circumstances, establishing a government and trying to create leadership structures, in addition to attracting a lot of donor support to the South.

History will record boldly his unwavering campaign for cessation from Sudan, which he has succeeded in doing, despite his predecessor Garang preferring a new united, federal and democratic Sudan. It is said Kiir has over the past two years managed to make peace with his enemies both within the SPLM and other militia groups in the South in order to fulfill the dream of achieving a new Sudan.

Now, Kiir stands at the altar of history, set to become the father of Africa’s 54th nation as there is little doubt he will be the first President of the independent South Sudan during the transition period and probably the first elections. Many factors seem to be in his favour.

Juba, South Sudan - March 2006
Juba, South Sudan - March 2006

Kiir, 60, is a Dinka by tribe, South Sudan’s largest ethnic group. So elections or no elections he will be the first choice of the majority. Kiir comes from Bahr al-Ghazal, near the oil rich Abyei border district which will vote later on whether to join the South or the North. The Abyei see Kirr as a neighbour and brother they can trust since he will always want to ensure peace between Abyei and the Dinka. Kiir has also won hearts of many Sudanese for his role as a preacher every Sunday at the main Roman Catholic cathedral in Juba. 

And inSouth Sudan, Vice president Dr. Reik Machar, SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum and National Assembly President Wani Igga.Long, Kirr has experienced and capable partners with whom to lead the new Sudan.

Challenges ahead of Kiir and the new Sudan

But while it is big success leading the South to Independence and self rule, Kiir faces a daunting task of building a country with backward infrastructure, low levels of education, several militia groups and low quality populations where hunger, disease and poverty are omnipresent.

The effects of the devastating 22-year war with Bashir government are still huge politically and socially, with historical ethnic rivalries a key threat. With over two million Sudanese refugees expected to return especially from Uganda and Kenya, the Kiir government must do the delicate task of resettling and reintegrating them without worsening the land related conflicts based on tribal communities.

Lest than 5% of South Sudanese have completed primary school, compared to above 30% average in the North, according to the Sudan household Survey of 2006. South Sudan has some of the worst infant mortality levels in the world, with 90-110 children dying before their first birthday in more than half of South Sudan.

Juba, South Sudan - Aerial view
Juba, South Sudan - Aerial view

“Humanitarian needs in South Sudan are high and have been tremendously so for a long time. This is one of the poorest and most underdeveloped regions in Africa,” agrees Marilena Chatziantoniou, who works with the European Union Aid programme in Sudan.

Apart from Juba region where 5-10% of the people use improved water and sanitation, less than 5% of the people in the rest of South Sudan access improved water and sanitation. The Sudan Household survey shows that more than 50% of the people in the North access improved water and sanitation in more than half of the whole North Sudan. So the job is well laid out for the new South Sudan government. Kiir and his team must improve this situation to ensure South Sudanese do not regret the cessation decision.

“One of the biggest challenges in South Sudan right now is limited access to needy populations. Numerous tribal conflicts in addition to non-existent or extremely poor road networks curtail movement. Many parts of the south are inaccessible for up to six months a year due to heavy flooding. Some villages are then only reachable by boat, and sometimes these routes are also unsafe,” says Chatziantoniou.

But before we go to the internal South Sudan challenges, Kiir and his fellow government officials must steer through the six months transition period, in which the North and South have to agree on how to handle a number of issues, including citizenship, and especially the huge oil reserves in the south heavily developed by the north. While South Sudan has eight of the 13 oil fields in the larger Sudan, none of Sudan’s three oil refineries is located in the South.

Although both Bashir and Kiir have emphasized they will work for good relations between the North and the South whose people they say share some commonalities, theirs will continue to be an uncomfortable friendship if and while it lasts. Everyone knows that security issues and relations between the north and the South will remain a key factor of how the new Sudan fairs.

Most South Sudanese will be counting on the oil revenues and good security to pull themselves out of a terrible poverty and underdevelopment that the two decades war brought to the Southern region.

But no hurdle seems to prevent most of the South Sudanese from looking forward to 9th July, the date when the formal declaration of independence for South Sudan will be made.

“We hope we shall establish a democratic state with good governance where justice prevails, where equality is the norm of the day and a state where power moves from one to another through democratic means,” says Dr. Reik Machar, the Vice President of South Sudan.

Neighbouring countries look to benefit from new South Sudan

Sudan’s neighbours are also looking on keenly at the developments in South Sudan. Many especially Uganda and Kenya have long supported the cessation of the South.

The neighbours are hoping to benefit from increased trade as the demands in South Sudan are huge, and from better security if South Sudan becomes more stable.

Sudan is already proposing to join the East Africa Community and all EAC member states Kenya, Uganda Tanzania Burundi and Rwada have promised to welcome South Sudan in order to increase on the economic and political bloc of the East African Community and the resultant benefits.

As Sudan looks to establish a strong government, develop its agriculture sector, health, education, build a national army and police, infrastructure, exploit its vast natural resources, and meet its food needs, countries in the region are looking to opportunities that their farmers, traders, workforce and experts can exploit for mutual benefit.

Juba, South Sudan - Cattle on street
Juba, South Sudan - Cattle on street.

The potential of the South Sudan has not escaped anyone either. Southern Sudan has huge deposits of oil, gold, uranium, iron ore, copper and wildlife bigger than that of East Africa. 

It is this extended interests in Sudan’s development and stability that is expected to provide another key pillar of ensuring the 2011 Sudan referendum yields positive results for the people of Southern Sudan and their neighbours.

Southern Sudan Referendum Results per region

Region / state








 (42.35 %)


(57.65 %)






(1.45 %)


(98.55 %)




Central Equatoria


 (1.09 %)


(98.91 %)




Eastern Equatoria


(0.07 %)


(99.93 %)






(0.07 %)


(99.93 %)






(0.08 %)


(99.92 %)




Northern Bahr El Ghazal


(0.07 %)


(99.93 %)




Upper Nile


(0.76 %)


(99.24 %)





150 (0.04 %)

393,333 (99.96 %)




Western Equatoria

997 (0.48 %)

205,087 (99.52 %)




Western bahr el  Ghazal

7239 (4%)

153, 839    (95%)




Source: The Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) on January 21st 2011

By Gerald Rulekere
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First published: March 30, 2011
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Gerald Rulekere is a Journalist and member of Ultimate Media Consult. He has written and published extensively on business and gender issues and been writing for Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd for the last two years. A professional and graduate journalist, Rulekere is always looking for an opportunity to better his writing especially for international media.