July 14, 2011; Source: France 24 | South Sudan is the newest nation in the world. It’s the 193rd officially recognized independent nation and the 54th nation in Africa, following the plebiscite that lead to its partition from Sudan. Imagine if your organization were trying to help this poverty-stricken, fledgling country with its first steps toward surviving after decades of civil war and genocidal attacks from the central Sudanese government in Khartoum — the governments in Khartoum and Juba haven’t even settled on official boundaries yet.

Actor George Clooney has set up a project called “Satellite Sentinel” which monitors satellite images of the Sudan to track troop movements to predict if and when the Sudanese government might launch military action against the South Sudan (the border fight is of course about oil in the oil-rich Abyei region).  Another group, Sudan Action Now, is trying to mobilize a web-based constituency to pressure the Obama administration to pressure Khartoum and Juba to reach a border agreement. 

NGOs also face the challenge of helping this fledgling nation build an economy. South Sudan holds about 75 percent of the joint nations’ oil reserves, but NGOs warn that the new country has to watch out for predatory investors’ land (and oil) grabs. The nation in general has to build an economy, for example, developing a meat-export industry from its huge herds of cattle, sheep, and goats. 

Eighty-five percent of the adult population of the South Sudan is illiterate, having spent much of the past decades facing oppression and civil war. According to the Daily Maverick, “The UN says a 15-year-old girl in Southern Sudan has a higher chance of dying in childbirth than finishing school.”

Remember also that conflict in this region continues in both the Darfur region and South Kordofan, both north of the new South Sudanese border, but particularly in South Kordofan involving elements that are connected to the South Sudan. The Sudanese government is threatening to expel more NGOs than it already has from the two regions under the guise of charges that the NGOs are aiding insurgents there. 

The Canadian news journal Macleans asks, can South Sudan survive? It quotes a former child soldier, now a business executive, saying, “The country doesn’t produce anything. Twenty years of war have made everyone depend on relief,” that is, international aid often funneled through NGOs. For NGOs in this region, the situation in South Sudan is the definition of nation-building.—Rick Cohen