After years of struggle and conflict, elation permeates South Sudan as it commemorates its independence on July 9, 2011. From Juba, Parvinder Singh, IFES’ Acting Country Director in Sudan, tells us of the independence celebrations, the challenges that lie ahead for the world’s newest country, and how South Sudan can solidify its democracy. IFES has been in Sudan since 2009 helping implement sound and credible elections as called for in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA).
Q: South Sudan will be independent on 9 July. What is the mood like in Juba?
A: The people are very happy. This is something they have been waiting for a long time. They are joyous to finally become their own country. Juba town is overflowing with southerners returning from the North as well as people from all over the world who want to be part of the celebrations. International and national media personnel are also pouring in Juba town.
The preparations for the celebrations started after the results of the referendum were announced. Tens of millions of Sudanese Pounds were allocated for the celebration, but some of the preparations have fallen behind schedule. The airport is one example – it will not be done for a couple more months.
Q: What will the actual ceremony entail?
A: The ceremony will include a parade, the unveiling of the new flag and a number of speeches. Among those who will be speaking are the current President of South Sudan Salva Kiir Mayardit, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, and it is hoped, the President of North Sudan General Omer Hassan Al-Bashir, who has been extended a formal invitation.
President Salva Kiir will take an oath as the president of the new country, the Republic of South Sudan, and will formally sign the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan. A soccer match between the newly formed South Sudan soccer team and the Kenyan national team is scheduled for 10 July. A basketball match between South Sudan and Uganda is planned for 11 July. Many musical concerts will also take place in and around Juba.
Q: Who is ruling South Sudan now?
A: Since the CPA [signed 9 January 2005], southern Sudan has been somewhat independent and has been governing itself. The people elected their government after the April 2010 elections and Salva Kiir was elected as the 1st Vice President of the Republic of Sudan which meant President of South Sudan.
The government elected in April2010 will transition into the new independent government with additional parliamentarians who were part of the [unified] Sudan’s Assembly. These parliamentarians won during general elections in 2010 on the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) ticket but have now been removed from the National Assembly in Khartoum and are back in South Sudan.
Q: What can South Sudan do to solidify its democracy?
A: It is imperative that the Government of South Sudan make sincere efforts to create the legal framework necessary to protect and develop democratic space. This should begin happening as soon as possible.
It should try to implement what has been provided in the Transitional Constitution with regard to the decentralization and democratization of powers at the central and regional levels. For South Sudanese, independence means equal access to basic human needs and rights. The government should take necessary steps towards achieving that. Otherwise, we might see civil indigestion towards administrators.
An Election Management Body should also be established well-enough in advance of the next proposed elections to ensure it can perform its tasks so the people can continue to trust the system.
Among the priority electoral issues that South Sudan’s leadership will need to consider over the next 12-24 months are:
- Election Law Development: drafting legislation in order to carry out electoral events provided for in South Sudan’s Transitional Constitution
- Electoral Systems Assessment and Design: understanding the elements, functions and outcomes of an electoral system, and designing a system appropriate to the South Sudanese context
- Electoral Administration Structuring: understanding how different election management bodies (EMBs) are organized and operate; the advantages and disadvantages of each; and designing appropriate solutions for establishing the South Sudan National Elections Commission (NEC)
- Census, Civil Registry and Voter Registration Processes: identifying the technical, operational and social partnerships involved to ensure these three processes accurately account for all the population in South Sudan
Q: What challenges lie ahead for South Sudan?
A: Many issues have to be solved, including the creation of jobs. South Sudan has oil, but no refineries. Also, people have high expectations. They think that on 10 July things will be different in South Sudan. This will not be the case, of course.
South Sudan will experience a period of transition and challenges as a brand new country that has to grow and mature. We saw a similar situation in South Africa in 1994 when they held the first democratic elections at the end of apartheid, and in 2002 in East Timor. East Timor became independent in May 2002 but East Timorese are still struggling to get on their feet.
Another challenge is external and internal security issues, which will take a long time to resolve. South Sudan is really underdeveloped and will require international development and humanitarian assistance for quite a long time in order to stand on its own.