Salve, Salva of South Sudan!

As Saturday 9 July 2011 dawns around the world, a new entity takes its place within the family of nations: South Sudan. But is this really any cause for celebration? Or is the feeling on hearing the news more like the one evoked when a welfare mother gives birth to another child: “OK, it exists now, bless its soul – but who is supposed to support it?”

In any event, the new government needs to get to work and come up with a better name than “South Sudan”! How about just stealing “Sudan” for themselves and letting their former northern compatriots come up with a new one instead? There would be plenty of justification: the reason that such a split was necessary in the first place is the significant cultural differences between the Arab North and Black South of the country – and “Sudan” is derived from the Arabic for “black”!

Any state has got to have its head-of-government, and an article by Thomas Scheen in the FAZ introduces us to the first president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, complete with a thumbs-up picture of him up top, resplendent in black suit, black tie, black beard, and black stetson hat – from which he apparently is rarely parted. Little is known about him personally, and he’s loathe to grant interviews; he’s said to be around 60 years old, and his family lives in Nairobi, Kenya for safety reasons. That’s logical, for Kiir has been fighting all his life for South Sudanese independence, starting with the so-called Anyanya Revolt of the late 1960s/early 1970s through a second Sudanese civil war that started in 1983 and is really only ending now – if it is ending – with independence.

Indeed, that’s why Kiir is now president: nobody ever elected him, rather, he co-founded the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) along with the more-charismatic John Garang (later killed in a helicopter crash) and remains its top general. As Scheen points out, “Kiir is ultimately a soldier in the first place, and so far the South Sudan cabinet has shown more similarity to a military council than a democratic government.” Will democracy ever take root in that part of East Africa? For now, at least, South Sudan has many other things to worry about instead.

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