Africa welcomes its 54th state

2011-07-09 16:02

Yesterday at 12.45pm a new nation was born.

After years of civil conflict that claimed more than 2 million lives, South Sudan formally declared its independence yesterday.

Celebrations started at midnight on Friday in the capital, Juba, when the citizens of the newborn nation took to the streets chanting “free at last” and singing the national anthem.

South Sudan’s speaker of Parliament read out the formal ­Declaration of Independence for the ­Republic of South Sudan ­yesterday afternoon, the final step in a 2005 deal that followed ­decades of war between the north and south.

“We, the democratically elected representatives of the people, hereby declare southern Sudan to be an independent and sovereign state,” speaker James Wani Igga read from the formal Proclamation of Independence.

Various world leaders attended the birth of the new state, including North Sudan’s controversial president, Omar al-Bashir, who ­arrived at the celebrations venue shortly before noon yesterday.

An arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court still hangs over his head and he was not ­allowed to travel to countries that were signatories to the court.

Celebrations took place at the John Garang Mausoleum, which was built to commemorate the ­Sudanese vice-president who died in a helicopter crash in July 2005.

In a rare joint appearance, ­President Jacob Zuma and former president Thabo Mbeki also ­attended the celebrations.

Mbeki was widely credited for ensuring the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which was agreed upon in 2005.
He served as the chairperson of the African Union high-level panel on the implementation of the agreement.

Domestically, Mbeki had a hard time convincing the presidency to continue paying for his frequent trips to Sudan, which they argued should be paid for by the African Union.

The Sunday Times reported that Mbeki racked up a bill of R20 million in 18 months for chartered flights to Sudan, and the presidency moved to clip his wings.

President Barack Obama sent ambassador Susan Rice to attend on his behalf, together with former secretary of state Colin Powell.

Obama’s grandmother, Mama Sarah Obama, was also in ­attendance.

Presidents from Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania ­also joined the celebrations.

In Khartoum yesterday, one sign of the new national order was the disappearance of some English-language and Southern Sudan-linked newspapers.

The north said it suspended them on Friday as they were ­published or owned by ­southerners – an ominous signal for the more than 1 million southerners left in the north.

Sudan state television did not cover the independence celebrations overnight.

A column in the northern state-linked Sudan Vision newspaper called the loss of the south a “blessing in disguise”, saying it would end civil war and likening it to the amputation of an unhealthy limb.

This week Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told ­reporters South Africa would like to enhance trade relations with both North and South Sudan.

Cellphone operator MTN had the majority shareholding in the local operator in Juba and ­SABMiller had established a ­brewery in South Sudan.

South Africa exports base ­metals, machinery, vehicles, wood pulp, plastics and chemicals to the two countries, and imports vegetables, animal fats, plastics and ­machinery from South Sudan.

Additional reporting by Reuters 

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