The world’s youngest country – South Sudan – celebrates its first anniversary this week.
Yet for many it isn’t a cause for celebration: the first year of the north African state’s existence has been stained by bloody fighting with its neighbour and former government, the Republic of Sudan, leading to a humanitarian crisis of humungous proportions that is set to only worsen.
Manchester-based Daniel Yupet, founder of Manchester Sudanese Tree Development Community, however, is more optimistic and believes the secession of South Sudan, which was backed by a majority of 98% in a referendum, has been a good thing – at least for the Sudanese community in Manchester.
“People from South Sudan are very proud of its success and very happy,” he said. “Now when they meet together, they feel confident about themselves.”
Growing up in what is now South Sudan, Daniel lived through the 22-year-long civil war and a genocide which contributed to an unquantifiable death toll – believed to be around 300,000 in the Darfur region alone – after the Khartoum-based government oppressed the non-Arab Sudanese in favour of Sudanese Arabs.
In 1992, he won a scholarship and moved to the UK to pursue his studies. However, the situation in his home country worsened while he was away and Daniel was granted asylum to remain in the UK. He also spent ten years living in Uganda as a student.
“I have spent most of my life as a refugee and that has deeply affected me,” Daniel said.
“When you are born in wartime and live in wartime, you can’t progress – you miss your family and relatives.”
Despite conflict since erupting following the secession of South Sudan – mostly over the amount the south should pay the north for pumping the oil it inherited in independence to international markets – Daniel believes that the people of both the Republic and South Sudan can live together side-by-side.
He said that during the long civil war, most of the south and north met up and mixed with one another. He also believes that refugees from what is now the Republic of Sudan will agree with him when he calls on the international community to bring justice to the war-torn region.
President of the Republic, Omar al-Bashir faces ten charges of war crimes from the International Criminal Court. But, as the first incumbent head of state to be charged by the UN-backed court, the prosecution’s case has not been without controversy and it is doubtful whether he will ever be put before the international court – Egypt and Qatar refused to arrest him when he visited.
For Daniel, however, there is no question.
“To me, the ICC is right to bring people to justice. If you take the war in Sudan, there are people who have to answer for it – especially for the war in Darfur.
“Justice will help us heal.”
It is too early to say whether Sudan’s second year will prove to be more stable.
With oil making up 98% of the country’s budget, all signs are pointing to the resource curse – a fate befallen to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Venezuela whose abundance in natural resources have led to economic contraction and corruption in government.
For the international community, South Sudan’s anniversary is no reason to party after it has failed to live up to expectations of democracy and economic development.
Yet, for the people who have lived through a war imposed on them because of their religion – a horrific war of mass gang rape and dismemberment of noncombatants that led to comparisons with conflicts in Rwanda and Yugoslavia – this new identity, although not without problems, has allowed them to look to a future they did not think possible.