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Independence Day

A few days into their new life as an independent country, South Sudan has a long and steep road ahead of them. As Africa and the world welcome its newest child, little indicates that once the cameras and western media and dignitaries have left, the baby of the family will be bestowed with the same attention most lastborns are habitually showered with.

Sudan was for many years plagued with conflict, rooted in ethnic and natural resources. Estimated figures show that between 1.5 -2.5 million people have perished in the war. While the mass killings have been going on, the international community once again, despite vowing to eradicate genocide and do better than they did in Rwanda in 1994, abdicated its responsibilities and looked the other way while mothers and children were being slaughtered.

When I was a child, genocide, similar to the one the people of South Sudan have experienced in the last past decades, broke out in my home country, Rwanda. It may not have lasted as long or claimed as many lives as the Sudan conflict, but nevertheless I know the confusion and anguish. This week marks my 17th year as a refugee. I can relate to the sense of losing everything and no longer have a place to call home, a sense of feeling neglected and unwanted.

As a sense of euphoria washes over South Sudan I urge the world to not expect too much far too soon, or else we risk pushing the newly independent nation to collapse under the massive pressure. Things will take time; let's not forget that this day comes six years after the peace deal was struck between the north and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

South Sudan's first steps as an independent nation are, just like any other toddler's, bound to be wobbly and unstable. There will be some tumbling, but hopefully the resilience that has gotten them to this day will sustain and lift them back up.

The world will without a doubt keep its eyes on South Sudan, but for how long and what will happen once we shift our attention to another country? South Sudan is still very undeveloped despite its wealth in oil, and many people still live in dire poverty.

Colossal infrastructure developments are needed. Roads, hospitals, schools, all have to be built and developed if South Sudan is to move forward and stand on steady ground. And they will need our help. Not just in terms of the order of the day type of help in terms of aid, but also in terms of non-judgmental support and sustainability.

In a recent interview with the BBC, former child soldier and now world-renowned hip-hop artist Emmanuel Jal expressed his excitement and said he is "looking forward to finally becoming a citizen and no longer be a refugee."

This is a sentiment that rings true to all South Sudanese across the world. They are joining hands in helping to build a nation that not so long ago was just a fantasy for many of them.
In the interview, Jal was quick to remind us that despite its newly gained sovereignty, many people in the South of Sudan, in places like Darfur, Kordufan, and in the Nuba Mountains, are still suffering.

Back in 2005 I had a chance to speak to the world and its leaders as a youth representative to the UN. While representing my adopted country, Norway, I was able to share my own experience as a young refugee fleeing from my war-ravaged home country, Rwanda. At the famous General Assembly stand, I spoke about conditions young refugees and child soldiers are subjected to live in and pleaded with member states to work hard to find effectual solutions to bring an end to the causes to the brutal situations many children have to endure and how we can efficiently meet these children's needs.

In more ways than necessary to count, both Jal and I were lucky to get a much better break than most in similar situations. He has since then used his stardom to raise and bring attention to a region that often seems to take a second seat in world news coverage.

"The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year... and there will be setbacks and false starts." These were the words of the then President-elect of the United States of America, Barack Obama as he addressed the country.

Truer words have rarely been spoken as we watch South Sudan venture out into the world to stand on its own feet. But there is hope for South Sudanese, as Jal told the BBC "I am now going to be a citizen and have a country I can identify myself with."

South Sudan has come far and has seen a lot. But let's not forget the road and the work that lay ahead. Therein lies the true sign of strength.

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