South Sudan became independent on July 9, 2011, six-and-a-half years after the signing of the CPA and almost ten years after the Machakos Protocol. The event was celebrated with a remarkable assembly of statesmen, politicians, and celebrities. Footage of ecstatic Southerners traveled across the globe. But while secession was symbolically important, independence proved to be a process rather than a single event, one that had started decades earlier and has continued since 2011. Upon independence, the government of South Sudan was embroiled in a multitude of crises. Sudan and South Sudan almost went to war during negotiations over the terms of secession; oil production stopped and battles were fought. Negotiations continued until early 2013, and central issues were unresolved when a power struggle within the SPLM/A became the focus of attention. Following a government crisis in the summer, political tension escalated and, after an ultimatum from the internal opposition, exploded into large-scale violence in mid December. Civil war had returned to South Sudan. The familiar pattern of fighting, destruction, displacement, and negotiations ensued. Foreign observers were not alone in wondering whether independence had been a mistake and if the new state would ever function.
From referendum to independence: a slow and painful divorce
Although the Peace Agreement had opened the way for autonomous governance structures, in July 2011, much remained to be done to establish a sovereign state. During the summer of 2010, the parties agreed to a High Level Panel of the African Union, led by Thabo Mbeki, the former South African president, to facilitate post-Agreement arrangements; IGAD was sidelined. The policy of “making unity attractive,” vigorously policed by the NCP, had meant that even discussing terms of secession awaited the referendum in January 2011. This gave the leaders of South Sudan less than six months to prepare for sovereignty and to negotiate terms with Khartoum. Developments along the border added to the burden.
Abyei was tense. If the referendum over its future had taken place as intended, there is no doubt that the permanent residents, the Ngok Dinka, would have voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining South Sudan, and the nomadic Misseriya – who seasonally used the land and demanded a vote – would have opted for Sudan.