Recognizing the World’s Newest Country

South Sudan independence celebration

On July 9, 2011, a new country was born in Africa. In January 2011, voters in southern Sudan had declared their desire to break away from the Republic of the Sudan, the continent’s largest country, in seven months. Years of civil war led to the break. The conflict stemmed from basic differences between the two regions: the South is largely non-Muslim and non-Arab; the North, in contrast, has favored an Islam-centered government. Many nations, including the United States, announced their intention to grant the new country diplomatic recognition. However, leaders of Eritrea, Iran, and Libya oppose South Sudan’s independence, perhaps in fear that the spirit of independence could spill beyond the country’s borders.

The U.S. Department of State recognizes 194 independent countries. South Sudan will make it 195. The criteria for diplomatic recognition of a new country are broad. They require that the country has territory with internationally recognized boundaries, has people who live there on an ongoing basis, has an organized economy, regulates foreign and domestic trade, and issues money. In addition, the country must have an organized government that supplies public services such as police, education, and transportation; exercises sovereignty; and receives recognition by other countries. Sovereignty is key: it means that no other country has power over the new country’s territory. Note that there is no requirement that the country have a government favorable to the United States.

South Sudan’s government has a president, legislature, and independent judiciary. Several political parties are active. So, the country has the potential to develop into a democracy that responds to the needs of its people. The government faces hurdles, however. An area called Abyei that borders Sudan is claimed by both countries. Fighting there has forced some 170,000 people from their homes. In addition, Sudan still wants to profit from South Sudan’s sale of oil. Negotiations are under way. Stay tuned for the latest developments.

 Image credit: © Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images

Related Links

  • Statement Congratulating the Republic of South Sudan on Its Independence
    Access U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s official statement on South Sudan’s independence.
    (Source: U.S. Department of State; accessed August 1, 2011)
  • The World Factbook: South Sudan
    Find basic information on the new country at this CIA country database.
    (Source: CIA World Factbook; accessed August 1, 2011)
  • Free at Last!!
    Read details about the new government and listen to South Sudan’s national anthem at the new country’s official Web site; includes photos and a time line of independence day.
    (Source: Government of Southern Sudan; accessed August 1, 2011)
  • In Pictures: South Sudan Celebrates Its Birth
    View photos of the July 9 celebrations in Juba, the capital of newly independent South Sudan.
    (Source: BBC News, July 9, 2011)
  • Sudan’s Omar Bashir Warns about Disputed Abyei Region
    Learn about the conflict that could dim South Sudan’s future, from the perspective of Sudan’s president; includes a video of the interview and links to related stories.
    (Source: BBC News, July 11, 2011)


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