The Republic of South Sudan is born, on July 9th 2011, amidst much celebration, dollops of hope and a real undercurrent of apprehension. As the festivities commence in Juba and trappings of nationhood like a flag, new currency and national anthem are unveiled, it is the approximately eight million South Sudanese who've earned the right to self-determination and the permission to hope and dream. It's worth taking a step back to consider what independence means for the people of South Sudan, what the people mean to the country.
The world's newest country suffers from abysmal human development indicators. It is estimated that 90% of the population of Southern Sudan live below the poverty line of US$ 1 per day. The country has one of the highest rates of maternal and child mortality, and less than 50% of all children in Southern Sudan receive five years of primary school education and 92% of women cannot read or write. Moreover the spectre of the ongoing conflict in South Kordofan is an ever looming threat to a fragile peace. Without a functioning economy and a nascent government, the country is dependent on foreign aid, humanitarian support and oil revenues. Any student of the history of development in Africa will tell you that reliance on natural resources over human resources for development rarely yields a well functioning state.
For most South Sudanese, independence means an end to conflict, hope for a better future and a payoff for hard work and perseverance. Across BRAC's programs in South Sudan you see evidence of a hunger for opportunity. The girls at the adolescent girls clubs are eagerly looking forward to their vocational training classes, parents hope to send children to school with more than a cup of tea for breakfast and visions that a education will yield a more prosperous life, while microfinance clients hope for a better economic environment to operate and grow their small businesses.
But for many, their dreams are simple. Sitting in her house waiting for a storm to pass, I asked Joyce, a BRAC microfinance client, what she expected in an independent South Sudan. As she spoke of growing her goat herd and earning better income, rain pummeled the frail wooden structure completely flooding her loving decorated hut. Without skipping a beat and with practiced ease she began sweeping the water out of her home. Maybe she said she'll earn enough to move herself and her eight children into a proper house; one that doesn't flood every time it rains.
Having endured decades long civil war, hunger and destitution, the South Sudanese are survivors and resilient. They are the resource in which investment will ensure the highest long term returns -- peace and stability in this new nation which stands at historic crossroads. In the coming months, years and decades the priority for South Sudan is to focus on human development to harness the potential of its people; to enable them to become the engines of economic growth, and citizens of a vibrant democracy. And in doing so realize the dream of a new nation.
Contributed by Manisha Bhinge, Program Manager BRAC USA
Join the celebrations for the South Sudan Independence by visiting www.welcome193.org and tweeting with #Welcome193