South Sudan officially became independent and will soon take its place as a member state of the United Nations with the blessing of the great powers and scores of countries, including Israel, that have hastened to recognize the new state.
The jubilation amongst the country's residents. as well as amongst the refugees scattered over the globe. many of whom took part in the historic referendum that sealed the partition is understandable. But when the celebrations end, it is time to take stock of assets and liabilities.
The country has two major assets: an independence saga and oil reserves.
The 20-year-old struggle against the North means that the country did not receive its independence on a silver platter.This can function as a unifying myth that can help tide over the country in the hard times ahead.
The list of assets is double-edged. The long independence struggle means that the guerrilla leadership is effectively the political leadership. Many guerrilla movements and leaders find it difficult to make the transition to normal civilian rule after independence.
The country's current dependence on oil revenues makes control over these assets a major temptation for the new leadership. Some African leaders, such as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, are prime examples of heroic independence struggle leaders who quickly degenerated into tyrants intent on plundering their country's natural resources and sharing the wealth only with a coterie of supporters. Robert Mugabe was on hand for the Independence Day celebrations.
Beyond oil, Sudan is a truly impoverished country – a result both of the Civil War as well as the general policy of Sudan to concentrate resources in the country's Arab areas. As a result a country the size of the Iberian Peninsula has less than 100 km of paved road, and almost total absence of medical services and spare supplies of electricity.
There is no public administration, police or judicial system. Given the global economic crisis, the new country should not count on foreign aid generosity but it may receive help in setting up the semblance of an administration
While Omar Bashir, the ruler of Sudan, was present at the independence festivities, symbolically signaling Khartoum's acquiescence, boundary disputes between the North and the South remain, including over areas rich in water and oil.
During the Civil War the North attempted to play a "divide and rule: policy in the South, financing rival guerrilla groups. Some of the embers from that policy are still burning.