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South Sudan's next task: build a nation from scratch

South Sudanese voted overwhelming in January for independence. Now, they face the reality of building the world's newest nation – from printing new currency to collecting taxes.

By Scott BaldaufStaff Writer, Danna HarmanCorrespondent / February 7, 2011

Boys sat in a tea shop in Abyei, Sudan, Jan. 14. The independence referendum for Abyei – which straddles the disputed border between North and South Sudan – complicated voting here.

Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

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Johannesburg, South Africa; and Juba, South Sudan

South Sudanese have waited a long time for their freedom.

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After 22 years of civil war – Africa's longest conflict – in which 2 million people were killed and 4 million displaced, semiautonomous South Sudan is now on the brink of full independence from the Arab-dominated north.

But as the euphoria from January's historic vote, for which 99 percent of voters in the south turned out to vote virtually unanimously for separation, to secede begins to fade, the reality of building the world's newest nation from scratch will come into focus.

When South Sudan officially becomes independent in July, the to-do list will be daunting. While creating a government administration; printing new currency; building roads, schools, and hospitals; and collecting taxes in one of the world's least developed areas; the country must also prepare to demarcate a disputed, oil-rich border region with its historic enemies to the north and guarantee its security.

Building the capacity of government workers to handle these challenges will be a top priority, and one helped by the return of refugees who've gained skills during exile in developed countries. Thankfully for the fledgling country, it will have at least a few skilled administrators like Malul Ayom Dor on hand.

"We don't dream of fighting in the bush anymore. We have had enough," says Brig. Gen. Dor, one of the most highly educated men in the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, the military wing of the South's ruling party.

"Of course fighting is still relevant. We avoid war by preparing for it and we will continue to do that, but we also have to branch out. Now we need conventional skills, too, like how to sit in offices and make things function."

The future of an independent South Sudan will depend both on the leadership of men like Dor and on the hard work of its citizens. Blessed with crude oil reserves, nearly 70 percent of the former Sudan's total reserves, South Sudan will have potential wealth, but as a landlocked country, it will still need to cooperate with the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum to get the oil to market through the North's pipelines.

"The first challenge is to manage the high expectations that the [Southern People's Liberation Movement] has created by campaigning for independence in the referendum," says Fouad Hikmat, senior researcher and Sudan expert for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

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