On Saturday 9 July, a new country was born as South Sudan celebrated its independence after years of civil war and strife.
In Juba, tens of thousands of people gathered, with crowds flocking to the mausoleum of John Garang, once the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, in anticipation of the official ceremony.
The new South Sudan flag was paraded in the streets while hundreds of others marched in remembrance of those who had died during the Sudan conflict leading up to the referendum which saw 99 per cent of Southern Sudanese people vote for a split between North and South Sudan.
According to reports from Al Jazeera, the ceremony saw speeches from dignitaries across the globe, a formal lowering of the Sudanese flag and a raising of the South Sudanese one; the first public singing of the South’s national anthem; and the signing of the transitional constitution by Salva Kiir, the country’s first president.
Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, also attended, as the largely Christian South Sudan became the 193rd country recognised by the United Nations.
Reports reveal that the UN Security Council adopted a resolution creating a UN mission in South Sudan that will include 7000 armed peacekeepers and 900 civilians tasked with helping the fledgling nation.
Some 2.5 million people were killed during the conflict between southern rebels and the government in Khartoum. Despite being oil-rich, the new state is one of the poorest and most underdeveloped in the world.
There are matters for prayer, however. Peace and development are two of the most pressing needs, according to Release International and Barnabas Fund.
Andy Dipper, chief executive of Release, said, ‘The birth of this nation will be a challenging time for Christians in both the North and South of Sudan. Please join them in their prayers that this new nation will be able to stand on its feet’.
He highlighted concerns that the Muslim north was preparing to implement strict Sharia law, with some observers, such as charity Oxfam, calling on the UN Secretary General to protect civilians, for fear Christians will be forced to leave precipitating a humanitarian crisis.
Mr Dipper added, ‘There are reasons for concern. The governor of North Kordofan has declared a jihad against the Nuba people, many of whom are Christians and fought with southern rebels during Sudan’s long-running civil war’.
According to the UN, at least 1,400 people have been killed in South Sudan this year, more than in the whole of 2010. The BBC estimates 170,000 have fled their homes.
In Khartoum, the North’s capital, Barnabas Fund already supports more than 1700 Christian students. These are both refugee children from Southern Sudan, whose families were forced to flee their homes because of the civil war, and some from the North.
In a statement, Barnabas Fund said, ‘A new large school of 930 students has been added to our sponsorship programme, and one of the schools that has been receiving funding from Barnabas for several years has added a nursery and another class at the top of the school.
‘Thankfully, the education of these Christian children has so far been unaffected by the political upheaval surrounding the independence of South Sudan. But it is likely that life for Christian refugees from the South will become more difficult following the split.’