South Sudan: 5 key questions answered

The Republic of South Sudan, the world’s newest country, is one of the most underdeveloped nations on earth. But it may be able to overcome the obstacles it faces – if it finds peace with its northern neighbor.

3. What are the top challenges facing South Sudan?

As it attempts to build a functioning nation-state, the young southern government faces no shortage of obstacles: illiteracy, poor health care, lack of infrastructure, human rights abuses by the southern military, and developing its oil resources.

Given the sheer scale of the problems, it is hard to know where this government should begin.

Rough estimates from a 2006 government household survey and other UN studies indicate that more than 90 percent of South Sudanese women cannot read or write.

Only 20 percent of southerners will ever receive health care at a clinic or hospital. Farmers cannot get their crops to market due to the profound lack of infrastructure in the Texas-sized territory.

The former guerrilla movement-turned-national army, in charge of maintaining security in a place where many civilians have at least tried to hold onto their war-time guns, stands accused of rights abuses in its recent campaigns to rout out rebel forces opposed to the southern government.

And lest anyone forget, South Sudan is now one of Africa's most oil-rich countries.

Management of the new country's oil sector – and managing to simultaneously diversify the economy away from complete oil-dependency, perhaps via agriculture – will determine much about how strong the foundations of the new state will be.

Experts in national development say it will take at least a generation for the southern government to find its footing as a service-delivering, rights-respecting entity.

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