JUBA, South Sudan – South Sudan became the world’s newest nation early today, officially breaking away from Sudan after two civil wars over five decades that cost the lives of millions.
In the new country’s capital, Juba, streets pulsed with excitement. Residents danced, banged on jerry cans and chanted the name of the world’s newest president, Salva Kiir. One man kneeled and kissed the ground as a group ran through the streets singing “We will never, never, never surrender.”
“Ah, I’m free,” said Daniel Deng, a 27-year-old police officer and former soldier who broke out in a wide grin.
The Republic of South Sudan earned independence at 12:01 a.m. today, breaking Africa’s largest country in two. It marked the culmination of a January independence vote, which was guaranteed in a 2005 peace deal that ended the most recent north-south war.
After the celebrations die down, residents of South Sudan face an uphill climb. While the new country is oil-rich, it is one of the poorest and least-developed places on Earth. Unresolved problems between the south and its former foe to the north could mean new conflict along the new international border, advocates and diplomats warn.
Today’s early morning celebrations were joyous for the freedom gained but tinged with the memories of family lost. At least 2 million people were killed in Sudan’s last civil war, fought from 1983-2005.
“I came here for this moment,” said Chol Allen, a 32-year-old minister who escaped Sudan in 2003 and eventually settled in Memphis, Tenn. He returned to Juba two months ago for the midnight party, though he plans to go back to the U.S., where he has a 4-year-old daughter.
“We were all born into war. All of us,” he said, then pointed at a crowded pickup truck of youngsters. “This generation will see the hope of the newborn nation.”
John Kuach, a former child soldier who joined the army after his father died in fighting with the north, first fought at age 15. At dinner late Friday, he draped the South Sudan flag around his shoulders and called today “a big day.”
“But some people are not happy because we lost heroes, those who were supposed to be in this celebration. So we are thinking, ‘Is this true? Is this a dream? A new country?’ ”
South Sudan is expected to become the 193rd country recognized by the United Nations next week and the 54th U.N. member state in Africa.