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SOUTH SUDAN: Q&A: Spirits High in South Sudan Despite Unresolved Issues

Miriam Gathigah interviews FIKRU ABEBE, director of the Sudan Southern programme at Plan International

NAIROBI, Jul 8 2011 (IPS) - As South Sudan prepares to cede from the North, it faces tremendous challenges towards building a nation and a sense of nationhood.

A poster in Juba as South Sudan prepares to become Africa's newest country on Jul. 9.  Credit: Protus Onyango

A poster in Juba as South Sudan prepares to become Africa's newest country on Jul. 9. Credit: Protus Onyango

It is against this backdrop that Plan International has been expanding its operations in South Sudan, particularly in marginalised states such as Northern Bahar El Gazal and Jongolei.

The focus has been to create structures to respond to humanitarian needs especially in light of the scores of Sudanese returning to South Sudan. The government estimates that 2.4 million Southerners are still living in the North and that half a million are expected to return in the next six months.

As South Sudan waits to raise the new nation’s flag on Jul. 8 to signify new beginnings for the South Sudanese community, it is against this backdrop that IPS spoke to Fikru Abebe, director of the Sudan Southern programme at Plan International. Excerpts of the interview follow:

Q: What is the mood in South Sudan hours before they officially secede from the North? A: There is a carnival mood with a lot of excitement and hope. (There is) hope that this independence will facilitate the building of a nation that is stable and peaceful. The feeling is that at last, the Southerners are taking their rightful place in the community of nations.

<Q: What are the main challenges that this country will have to grapple when it becomes Africa’s newest state? A: The challenges are many such as building lasting peace with the North, reconstructing the infrastructure that was extensively destroyed in the many years of requires, building manpower to deal with the present and future workforce challenges. Many young people were involved in the war and it will take great investment to re-integrate them into civilian life and to ensure that they access basic and vocational education so that they can achieve self sustenance.

Q: Shed some light on the South Sudanese government’s three-year development plan, which was launched in June to drum up support for its reconstruction and development agenda? A: The government of South Sudan presented its 2011 to 2013 development plan to donors, development agencies and NGOs .The idea was to share the key areas of development that the government would focus on with the intention to raise funds as the country moves to rebuild its economy.

Q: Plan International will be mobilising 30 million dollars over the next three years for South Sudan. To what end are these funds being invested? A: Over the next three years, this money will go into improving girl child enrolment in schools, building primary schools and the relevant capacity building issues. The money will also go into improving youth employability through vocational training and technical educational towards sustainable human development.

Plan is also concerned with the plight of children, there will be efforts to invest in local institutions that provide a lasting and enabling environment in which the rights of children and youth are met and where there is preparedness to respond to emergencies and other humanitarian needs.

Q: With regards to social infrastructure, what are the main priority areas in order for South Sudan to achieve sustainable development? A: These include schools, hospitals, roads and telecommunications. A functioning social infrastructure will create an enabling environment for opportunities in civil service, business and the private sector for sustainable economic growth.

Q: How can the government partner with the private sector and interested parties form neighboring countries towards sustainable growth? A: By creating a conducive environment for regional partnerships through liberalised economic policies including incentives. Favorable bilateral agreements with various partners in order to diversify economic opportunities.

Q: Does this country have what it takes to be self reliant? A: It is a hard-earned freedom and despite the devastating civil war and the significant challenges ahead, there are tremendous opportunities for growth because this country is endowed with a rich resource base. Nonetheless, for this country to prosper, peace and stability remain critical. The same optimism was expressed by Deng Deng, a youth who grew in the war and was part of the many young men who joined the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) in what Sudanese saw as a struggle to be independent.

Q: What does Jul. 9 mean to you? A: It means an opportunity to start afresh, to be free. I am happy to see this day as there are many young people who fought in the struggle but are not as lucky to stand at the Dr. John Garang Memorial Park to usher in a new nation.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge towards building a sense of nationalism? A: There are some unresolved issues with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005 that ended years of war between North and South. But the strife is not over, the issue of how to share revenue between the North and the South remains unresolved as does the oil rich Abyei region as well as the border demarcations between the two regions.

Q: What are the main challenges that will face SPLM as it transits? A: It was a guerilla movement, turning it into a professional army will be difficult because it will also demand that many soldiers are also dis-armed. The disarmament process begun in 2006 but many guns are still in the wrong hands.

Q: What does the future hold? A: We are like a newborn baby, we have many South Sudanese people returning home and many of them are in camps awaiting opportunities to rebuild their lives. These are major challenges, but when the flag goes up at midnight Jul. 9, that action will symbolise hope for a better future and a break from the past. We are ready for what the future holds.

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