South Sudan’s first steps

By 
  • July 13, 2011

The world’s 193rd nation entered the world on July 9 as predominantly Christian, optimistically democratic, oppressively poor and facing a tenuous future.

The Republic of South Sudan became a sovereign state with the inauguration of a new constitution and the swearing in of its first president, Gen. Salva Kiir, a Catholic. Kiir had fought for independence since Sudan’s Islamic government imposed Sharia Law in 1983 on the predominantly Christian south. That edict sparked a 22-year civil war, Sudan’s second since 1956, that resulted in some 1.5 million deaths. It saw the Muslim north accused of murder and torture of men, women and children on orders from Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

Sadly, atrocities are not new to the former colonies of Africa. Much less common is the type of conciliatory response Kiir is advocating now that the guns are silent.


Early this year, after 98 per cent of South Sudanese said yes to independence in a referendum, Kiir called for forgiveness of his northern enemy. More than 40 per cent of South Sudan’s eight million people are Catholic. Speaking at the cathedral in Juba, the capital city, Kiir urged his people, “like Jesus on the cross,” to forgive those who caused so many deaths and so much misery.

He repeated that theme at his inauguration. With al-Bashir among scores of foreign dignitaries in attendance, he made a blunt plea for reconciliation.

“We have been bombed, maimed, enslaved and treated worse than refugees in our own country,” he said. “We have to forgive, although we won’t forget.”

Kiir has pledged to never again go to war, but peace is hardly assured. Tension remains high over disputed border regions and the two nations are at odds over how to share oil revenues. The land-locked South inherited 75 per cent of Sudan’s oil reserves, but Sudan retains the pipelines, refineries and access to markets via the Red Sea.

The United Nations says South Sudan’s punishing poverty makes this the “most enormous state-building project yet attempted.” Most citizens earn less than a dollar a day, mortality rates are the world’s highest and three-quarters of the population is illiterate.

Massive amounts of foreign aid is required. Canada has given South Sudan $885 million since 2006 and more aid is expected. But it will be a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed to raise this impoverished, largely Christian nation into an African jewel — a modern, corruption-free democracy that respects religious freedom and upholds human rights.

Kiir is wise to promote forgiveness and reconciliation as the first steps to that goal. But the transformation of South Sudan also requires backing from the West and support from the Church. The people of South Sudan deserve to receive both.

 

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