With the independence of Africa’s and indeed the world’s newest state rapidly approaching, preparations for the new nation are in full throttle.
In a historic January 2011 referendum, which was provided for in the country’s 2005 peace accord, Southern Sudanese overwhelmingly voted for secession from the rest of Sudan.
Ten days after the results were announced on 6 February, regional political parties gathered for a two-day forum in the regional capital of Juba to begin gearing up for the new state. Topping the agenda was the name and flag to be used by the new nation.
Several names were tabled, including Nile Republic, Kush and Imatong, according to Deputy Chairperson of the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly (SSLA) Parmewa Awerial Aluong. However, members finally settled on the Republic of South Sudan.
“We do not want to leave the (name) Sudan to the north,” Mr. Aloung said. “We want to maintain our historical struggle so that it tells our generations how far we came to get our independence.” This also follows the experience of Korea, which separated into two to form North and South Korea, he added.
The deputy chairperson argued that the name Sudan would be part of the region’s history. “The people of the two regions will definitely have special relations between them and will continue to identify themselves as Sudanese in the future.”
The ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which led the two-decade war that saw the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, gave up their party flag to be used by the new nation.
The Republic of South Sudan flag has black, red, green and white stripes adorned by a blue triangle with a gold star at its centre. Black represents the colour of the skin, white means peace, red for those who died in the struggle and green for natural vegetation.
The gold star, which is symbolic of Bethlehem’s biblical star, represents light and wisdom directing those in darkness to light and the shining unity of southerners, while blue stands for the Rive Nile’s water.
Still pending, however, is the location of the capital city of the Republic of South Sudan as well as state symbols, including a national anthem and a decision on the official and national languages.
“Four different areas were projected to be the new state capital,” said Minister for Investment Oyay Deng Ajak, who serves as chairperson of a 13-member ministerial committee spearheading the search for a new capital.
The first option is for the Government of Southern Sudan to maintain Juba as the capital.
But a state committee debating the capital’s location disqualified Juba as a possible location, said Central Equatoria State Minister for Local Government Pateno Lege.
“We believe that its (Juba’s) re-demarcation will demolish many houses, which in turn will cost the Government of Southern Sudan lots of money for compensation,” the minister said. “It is automatically ineligible to be the capital city.”
The second option is for the ministerial committee to identify a new location for the national capital in Juba’s environs.
The third and perhaps most contentious option is for it to be located east of the Nile, extending from Rafaj in Central Equatoria State to Lafon in Eastern Equatoria State all the way to Pariap in Jonglei State.
Opposing voices argue that the proposed area is too large and will have a negative impact on farming. “Our lives depend on agriculture,” said Rajaf resident Joseph Gore. “How shall we survive if all the area is taken for the capital city?”
Others, including Investment Minister Ajak, said a large area was necessary for future expansion if needed, although the land’s size was not included in the proposal. “I feel it should not be less than 10,000 square kilometres,” he said. “Of course this is just an individual proposal.”
The final option is Ramchel, a nondescript town that was initially proposed as a capital by the SPLM in 2003, which borders Jonglei, Lakes and the greater equatorial states. On 23 February, the committee visited the area for talks with the local community.
Central Equatoria Minister Lege has called for state-wide consultations to decide on the capital’s location.
“We need wider discussions,” he said. “The rest of the states should be involved so that a forum is formed out of the 10 states and people discuss it. The capital city will belong to all Southerners. It doesn’t matter where it will be but we have to agree with one voice on that.”
As for the national anthem, a competition for the best tune was arranged as early as last October, but the final choice is yet to be unveiled.
Unconfirmed reports indicate that a team is developing the anthem, which it will table in parliament at a still to be confirmed date.
Similarly, the official and national languages have not been agreed on. Some sections have proposed that the new nation, like the rest of East Africa, adopt Swahili as the national and English as its official languages.