February 7, 2011 / 3:22 PM / 6 years ago

Q&A-Is south Sudan ready for independence?

6 Min Read

JUBA, Sudan, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Southern Sudanese have reacted to years of civil war by voting almost unanimously to secede from the north, sealing its fate as the world's newest nation.

The region was devastated by three decades of civil war but is rich in resources. Under a 2005 peace deal the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) has ruled the south with a high degree of autonomy, helped by billions of dollars in donor funding and oil revenues.

Southern officials say the question of a name for the new state is unresolved but it could become just "South Sudan".

But can the south survive as an independent state?

Here are some questions and answers.

What Will Change?

Some analysts say little will change after the vote.

"Currently, the southern government has a lot of operational independence. It has its own legislature, its own security forces and control over an unprecedented amount of government wealth due to oil revenues," said Marc Gustafson, a Sudan scholar at Oxford University.

The south also has its own laws and constitution.

Many southern officials expect continued economic coordination with the north as it will take time to unravel the two economies.

A U.N. peacekeeping mission (UNMIS) will remain in the south to help maintain security and possibly monitor the disputed north-south border.

Analysts estimate some 5 million northern and southern Sudanese have livelihoods which straddle the north-south border. That will continue as leaders from both sides have promised a soft border.

But the south will have to cope with an influx of hundreds of thousands of southerners who have lived for decades in the north. The newcomers will deal with linguistic and cultural differences and adapt to farming -- the only viable livelihood in rural areas -- meaning they could be a financial burden on the state for some time.

Will the South Be Democratic?

The SPLM says it fought for decades against the north for human rights and democracy, but since taking power in the south it has not consistently promoted those values as the former guerrillas struggled to become a functioning government.

Disputes over last year's elections turned violent as widespread intimidation during the voting angered independent candidates, some of whom took up arms against Juba.

The SPLM also formed what it called a "technical" commission for the south's new constitution ahead of wider political talks. But this raised suspicions from some opposition that they may not be serious about allowing wider political participation post secession.

South Sudan's journalists are also fearful as no media law has been passed yet, leaving them vulnerable. They disagree with a proposed draft which prevents reporters investigating government corruption.

The SPLM must live up to promises for an inclusive post-secession government and to hold fresh elections to garner donor support and avoid further violence.

Is the South Economically Viable?

The landlocked south relies on oil revenues for 98 percent of its budget revenues, but the two sides have not yet agreed on future shares of the oil wealth. Some 75 percent of the oil is in the south, but the infrastructure entirely in the north, so oil flows and revenues depend on good bilateral ties.

The international community has already spent billions of dollars on developing the south and will go to great lengths to prevent it from becoming a failed state.

But billions more will be needed to sustain development in the south, which still has little infrastructure and just 60 km (40 miles) of asphalt roads in the region the size of France.

In return they will want an open, pluralistic, transparent government. The spread of graft through all levels of government is a discouraging signal.

Private enterprise is severely limited, partly by a lack of infrastructure. Risk-averse investors will be wary of insecurity and corruption in the south. Daring businessmen will expect massive rewards.

It will likely take months post July 9 for the south to achieve membership of multilateral institutions like the World Bank and the IMF to be eligible for much-needed concessional loans to build infrastructure. Southern Sudanese will need to be patient to see their new nation emerge.

Can the South Maintain Security?

The still-disputed north-south border remains a stumbling block and local clashes could become bigger conflicts. Both sides' leaders have until now been quick to stamp out trouble.

The central Abyei region is also still claimed by both sides and many believe it will remain the major flashpoint.

The U.N. peacekeeping force is helping to train south Sudan's police, but have been unable to prevent tribal clashes.

A south-south reconciliation and amnesty for armed groups has borne fruit as no southern leader wants to look like a spoiler during independence celebrations.

But many fear the loss of a common enemy in the north will bring old ethnic rivalries to the surface. Southerners remain heavily armed and tribal clashes have been costly since 2005.

The Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) still stages cross-border attacks, displacing thousands and halting farming projects in the south's most fertile belt.

The south has started an air force, which it says it will use to target the LRA and other southern militias. The southern army and police must widen their reach to rural areas to maintain stability.

Writing by Opheera McDoom; Editing by Giles Elgood

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