Everybody buy new maps! South Sudan joins the community of nations

Celebrations in Juba, the new capital of the world's newest counrty: South Sudan

The United Nations just got a little bit more crowded Thursday, as the General Assembly unanimously voted to admit its 193rd member: The Republic of South Sudan.

With a name like "Cat Flag", you knew I had to include their flag.

South Sudan won its independence July 9. And I do mean “won”, as it was a long, hard, bloody road to get here.

Back when no European nation would be taken seriously unless they ruled some Africa, the British were one of the best at Africa-conquering. They eventually got the Union Jack planted along a solid band of the continent from Cape Town to Cairo. Along the way, they drew up political boundaries based on their own convenience, with no regard to who actually lived there.

I suppose a straight line here works. Close enough. Is that my tea?

One of the British Empire’s many artificial creations was Sudan, the largest country on the continent. Down its length ran the Nile River, from lakes and mountain springs to the south up to Egypt in the north. That was about the only unifying feature of the country.

The north was part of the Sahara Desert, inhabited by culturally-homogeneous¬†Arab and black Muslims with a sophisticated agricultural society that had been in contact with the developed world for millennia. It might as well have been “Egypt South”.¬†The southern part of Sudan, meanwhile, was a swampy jungle inhabited by 200 ethnic groups with a myriad of different languages. They lived a traditional village-subsistence¬†lifestyle, the sort you might expect to see on National Geographic or the Discovery Channel. Most of them practiced traditional religions, though a few had converted to Christianity. How could this all possibly go wrong?

By the 1950s, the British were tired of the whole “ruling the world” thing and gave most of their colonies independence. The problem was that the new nations had the same boundaries as the colonies that preceded them, flaws and all. Southerners were not thrilled with living in a country that was politically, militarily, economically, and culturally dominated by northerners. Neither were they thrilled that Islamic fundamentalists had taken over the government and declared the country an Islamic state, imposing sharia law and banning Christian missionaries and schools.

In the inevitable civil war, both sides were known to use child soldiers, and 200,000 southern villagers were captured and brought north to be slaves. The Sudanese government bombed schools, hospitals, and relief centers to break the southerners’ will. A total of 4 million people, about half the population of South Sudan, were displaced at least once if not multiple times by the fighting. The war meant no infrastructure was built, which meant famines were (and still are) a real threat to the area. The civilian death toll, 2 million, is the highest for any war since World War II.

Finally, in 2005 a peace agreement was reached, where South Sudan would get some control over local matters, with an option for independence in six years. The rebel leader, John Garang, was even made Vice President. But not seven months after the peace agreement, Garang was killed in a helicopter crash.

In spite of this, and periodic skirmishes between government and rebel forces, the referendum went ahead in January of this year. South Sudan’s voters, not surprisingly, approved independence by 99%.

Already, South Sudan has a flag, national anthem, currency, and even a soccer team. It will soon get stamps, and an internet domain suffix.

But just being independent is only the beginning for the new nations’ people. It doesn’t have the roads, schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure we in a nation that has been independent for more than two centuries enjoy. That said, they do have oilfields to draw income from as well as a plan to revamp their major cities; shaping them like animals in the process.

Information from BBC News and Wikipedia