If you want to see the face of Africa’s newest nation, visit the riverbank by the port of Juba, soon to be the capital city of South Sudan. This is the disembarkation point for tens of thousands of people who fled a war and are now returning home. They come up the Nile in overcrowded barges from Khartoum, where they have been living in makeshift camps. Most arrive with pitifully few possessions. But you can feel the hope in the air.
“This is our country, our home,” says Helen Gudulo, a 23-year-old mother of three waiting to return to her village in Western Equatoria state. “The camps were a prison. We lived in fear. Now we have hope. My dream is peace, a better future and education for my children.”
Next week, six years after a peace accord that ended two decades of war, the predominantly African and Christian people of southern Sudan will secede from the Arab-dominated north. Independence is an opportunity to break a deadly cycle of violence and poverty. One in three of South Sudan’s children are severely malnourished. Maternal mortality rates are the highest in the world. More than half of primary school age children are not in school. With a population roughly the size of London, the new country has less than 400 girls in the last grade of secondary school. In fact, young girls are more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than achieve literacy.