South Sudanese celebrate their divorce

People take part in South Sudan"s independence day celebrations near the countdown clock in Juba on 9 July 2011 "Free at last" reads the sign in central Juba

With a thrilling roar of joy, at the stroke of midnight, South Sudan became the newest nation in the world.

"It is a shout of freedom," said Alfred Tut, lifting his head back and screaming.

A digital countdown clock in central Juba was a focal point, as vehicles packed with people waving flags, toured the streets, honking horns in celebration.

"Congratulations, free at last, South Sudan," the sign read.

The people did not need to read the message: They were already dancing and leaping into the air with happiness.

Start Quote

I cannot believe we have arrived at this point of a new nation after such a long, hard road of fighting”

End Quote Atem Garang

Officials had planned for people to hold a quiet celebration at home, with the formal declaration of independence later on Saturday morning.

"At midnight, bells will be rung across the new country, and drums will be sounded, to mark the historic transition from southern Sudan to the Republic of South Sudan," an earlier statement from the southern government had said.

But that clearly was not enough for the people, who simply could not wait to celebrate.

'Promised land'

Two hours before midnight and lines of cars zoomed around town, each blasting out a different tune.

Roundabouts became frenzied dance venues when trucks carrying giant speakers slowly passed by.

A South Sudanese boy holds a candles at midnight on 9 July 2011 to mark the day that South Sudan became independent Some lit candles and said prayers for the new country

"We have waited too long for this special day, so we cannot sit indoors," said Atem Garang.

"I have come out because I cannot believe we have arrived at this point of a new nation after such a long, hard road of fighting."

Start Quote

I fought with the SPLA, and now we have won”

End Quote Gony Thon Policeman

Women ululated with high voices, men chanted.

"We are going, we are going to freedom," they sang.

"We are going to the promised land," said Bage William, who wore the flag of his new nation as a cloak, draped around his shoulder.

By the time the final countdown arrived, the atmosphere was wild.

Church bells rang the midnight hour but, in central Juba at least, the deafening sound of horns drowned them out.

"This is the day I have been waiting for since I cannot remember," said Mary Puok.

South Sudan

Facts and figures:

  • Population: 7.5-9.7 million
  • Size: 619,745 sq km (239,285 sq miles), larger than Spain and Portugal combined
  • Major languages: English, Arabic (both official), Juba Arabic, Dinka
  • Religion: Traditional and a Christian minority
  • Main export: Oil

Challenges ahead:

  • One of world's least developed countries: Worst maternal mortality rate; most children below 13 not in school; 84% of women are illiterate
  • Relations with Sudan: Dividing debts and oil; border disputes; citizenship
  • Security: At least seven active rebel groups

Groups of people ran down roads, dancing to drum beats.

Soldiers and policemen joined in too, waving paper flags and laughing - many were former fighters with the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

"I fought with the SPLA, and now we have won," said Gony Thon, a policeman, joining in the impromptu dance on the street.

Those who could not fit inside the cars hung out the windows, or sat on the roof.

One car had the sign plastered on the back window: "Just divorced."

Parties continued long into the night, as families and friends feasted on roasted goats specially killed for the occasion.

But there was also a quieter celebration too.

On back streets, outside homes, others had placed candles in simple celebration, as well as in memory for all those who died in the decades of conflict to reach this historic point.

The soft glow of flickering candles lit the way far down sandy tracks.

"I light candles in church when I say a prayer," said Alice Ajak, a mother, who lost two children during the long years of war.

"My candle here therefore is my prayer that my new country is one of peace, and where we can live without problems for now and in the future always to come."

Map showing position of oilfileds in Sudan, source: Drilling info international

Both Sudan and the South are reliant on their oil revenues, which account for 98% of South Sudan's budget. But the two countries cannot agree how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north. It is feared that disputes over oil could lead the two neighbours to return to war.

Satellite image showing geography of Sudan, source: Nasa

Although they were united for many years, the two Sudans were always very different. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.

Map showing Ethnicity of Sudan, source:

Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.

Map showing infant Mortality in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The health inequalities in Sudan are illustrated by infant mortality rates. In South Sudan, one in 10 children die before their first birthday. Whereas in the more developed northern states, such as Gezira and White Nile, half of those children would be expected to survive.

Map showing percentage of households using improved water and sanitation in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The gulf in water resources between north and south is stark. In Khartoum, River Nile, and Gezira states, two-thirds of people have access to piped drinking water and pit latrines. In the south, boreholes and unprotected wells are the main drinking sources. More than 80% of southerners have no toilet facilities whatsoever.

Map showing percentage of who complete primary school education in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Throughout the two Sudans, access to primary school education is strongly linked to household earnings. In the poorest parts of the south, less than 1% of children finish primary school. Whereas in the wealthier north, up to 50% of children complete primary level education.

Map showing percentage of households with poor food consumption in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Conflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in both countries. In Sudan, many of the residents of war-affected Darfur and the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, depend on food aid. The UN said about 2.8m people in South Sudan would require food aid in 2013. The northern states tend to be wealthier, more urbanised and less reliant on agriculture.

More on This Story

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