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Five challenges South Sudan will face after referendum

Although some results from South Sudan's referendum still need to be made official, Sudanese and international observers are beginning to look ahead to what comes with independence.

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4. Political Reform

This point is related to the last point. Along with building a sense of one nation, South Sudan will face the challenge of allowing multiple voices to speak. South Sudan will face international and internal pressures to move beyond the one-party model that allows the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) to dominate. The International Crisis Group’s Zack Vertin ably explains the issue:

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The rebel movement turned governing party — the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement — dominates the political arena. Since the end of the war, opposition voices have suppressed grievances and taken a back seat to the SPLM so as to preserve the goal shared by all southerners — self-determination. But now that the vote has been cast, that common denominator is gone. When the jubilation of last week’s vote subsides, the political environment will slowly begin to transform. The current leadership must respond accordingly, recognizing that a genuine opening of political space is both necessary and in their long-term interest. They must find a way to equitably manage the South’s own diversity, lest they simply duplicate the sort of autocratic regime they’ve finally managed to escape.

Allowing political pluralism means more than just who wins at the ballot box – it also means addressing human rights issues (h/t Rob Crilly), managing dissent, and promoting positive relations between ethnic groups. None of that will be easy.

5. Development

South Sudan’s development challenges are wide-ranging and stark. A Reuters reportfrom 2010 puts South Sudan’s predicament bluntly: “By many yardsticks, it is the least-developed place on earth: 70 percent of its people have no access to any form of healthcare, one in five women die in childbirth and one in five children fail to make it to their fifth birthday.” UNDP provides alarming statistics on education, disease, sustainability, and other issues in South Sudan. These problems are not just economic – they also threaten to undercut political stability. The worst outcome, as Rob Crilly says, would be for South Sudan, burdened by economic crisis and political failure, to join the world’s failed states.

This list is not comprehensive, and I hope commenters will weigh in on these issues and others. What have I missed? What challenges do you see ahead for South Sudan?

Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.

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