Every step along the way observers watched with scepticism: when the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement ended a two-decade-long civil war; when the people in Southern Sudan peacefully voted for secession from Sudan. And even as South Sudanese enthusiastically celebrated their Independence on 9 July 2011, critics warned that the main challenges would still be lying ahead.
Independence has become a reality for the Government of South Sudan and its people. Constructing a new state and a new capital, both almost from scratch, has infused the country with a new economic and social dynamic. As a result, the Government finds itself struggling to keep pace with the needs and expectations of a rapidly evolving society.
State building is often misrepresented as a technical matter of setting up new institutions then training people to do their jobs. However, establishing a viable state against the background of ethnically charged conflicts and a history of exclusion is a long-term process. It involves cultivating an inclusive political community that transcends ethnic, religious and cultural differences.
Such a process of nation building needs the participation of a wide range of civil society actors in political decision-making. Equilibrium can be found between the territorial integrity of a state, its promise of stability and the principle of a people’s right to self-determination. South Sudan is not the first country to be faced with the challenges of state and nation building after a liberation struggle. There is much to learn – good and cautious lessons – from countries across Africa.