South Sudan Celebrates Becoming a Nation, Prepares to Overcome Challenges

This moment of freedom was a culmination of decades of war and struggle.

NAIROBI, Kenya, July 9, 2011— -- South Sudan's overjoyed population chanted "Oyaay!" as it's nationhood was made official in a proclamation ceremony full of pomp and circumstance.

Thousands of people, including dignitaries and international media crowded into Juba, the capital of the world's newest nation, The Republic of South Sudan to help the country celebrate its independence.

People broke out into spontaneous song and dance and grown men cried throughout the celebration overcome with the emotion of this moment of freedom, a culmination of decades of war and struggle.

But once the party is over, South Sudan's government will need all the help it can get.

Decades of war have left the region as one of the world's poorest.

Roughly the size of Texas, South Sudan has less than 100 miles of paved roads, and basic infrastructure such as electricity and water are scarce.

It also has an illiteracy rate of more than 70 percent and one of the highest infant mortality rates in Africa. Since the referendum in January, the young nation has also been dealing with thousands of returnees from the north and abroad without the resources to support them.

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir admitted during his speech that the eyes of the world are watching how the country will address these problems."Our well-wishers will be watching closely to see if our first steps as a nation are steady," he warned.

Congratulations From Around the World

As South Sudan celebrated its new freedom, VIP's from all over the world gave congratulatory speeches, including United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Britain's Foreign Minister William Hague and a representative for Chinese President Hu Jintao.

"Today is a reminder that after the darkness of war, the light of a new dawn is possible. A proud flag flies over Juba and the map of the world has been redrawn," President Obama said in a statement today. "These symbols speak to the blood that has been spilled, the tears that have been shed, the ballots that have been cast, and the hopes that have been realized by so many millions of people."

The United States has also sent a high-profile delegation led by UN Ambassador Susan Rice that included Colin Powell.

Rice gave an impassioned speech welcoming the Republic of South Sudan to the world, and reaffirming the U.S. commitment to helping the new nation develop infrastructure and maintain peace.

She riled up the jubilant crowd by paying homage the estimated two million people who died in the 20-year civil war which led to the split.

Rice challenged the nation to honor those who are unable to witness this historic moment by "working together to build a South Sudan worthy of their sacrifice."

"For the people of South Sudan independence was not a gift that was given, but was won," she said to a cheering crowd.

The United States has been involved in the Sudanese peace process for many years.

In 2005 George Bush sent Powell, then Secretary of State, to the region to broker a comprehensive peace agreement that would end the 20-year conflict and begin the road to independence for the south.

In the years since, two U.S. administrations have worked to make sure the independence referendum was held without a hitch, appointing special envoys to the region and being intimately involved in the delicate negotiations that followed.

Rice promised that America would remain a partner and friend.

The Obama administration as already given some $300 million dollars in aid to help build infrastructure.

In September, the U.S. will host a conference in Washington D.C. to help develop private investment in South Sudan and ensure the country is ready for investment.

"My government will stand by you as you form the conditions for a lasting peace and prosperity," she said. "The task is great, the responsibility is yours, but so long as you continue to seek a more perfect union, you will never be alone."

High Expectations and Challenges Ahead

For all the bleak indicators, the people of South Sudan, who voted almost unanimously for independence, remain hopeful.

They say that even with all of the problems, freedom from Khartoum's repressive regime now gives South Sudan the chance to determine its own destiny. A right it hasn't had for more than 50 years.

Sentino Makuac, 19, was born in northern Sudan, near Khartoum.

Though his family hails from the south, Khartoum is the only home he's ever known.

During the referendum in January, Makuac and his family picked up and moved back to Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

They left their jobs, their schools, their homes, and arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs.

Makuac's family, like thousands of returnees, came back without a promise of work or housing. But he says the promise of freedom was more than enough motivation to return.

"Here we have rights as compared to the situation back in Khartoum," Makuac told ABC News. "Life in Khartoum was difficult because people would always question us…and this was done in a manner that put your life at risk. But ever since we came to Juba it has been easy and we can talk freely," he says.

He is hoping that the government will eventually provide his family with land and a place to live.

Those expectations, however, are exactly what humanitarian organizations fear.

The new government and aid agencies have been overwhelmed with not only returnees, but also refugees from recent violence in the border regions taking place in the lead-up to independence.

"The Euphoria will calm down..but then the actual service delivery to the population will come to the forefront," said Kurt Tjossem, the regional director if the International Rescue Committee. "There's not one strong area in this new nation so everything is going to have to be built up simultaneously, If there's not enough resources, choices will have to be made and that will be difficult because every area needs help."

Tjossem warns that conflict will continue to widen if people outside of Juba feel like their needs are not being met by the new government.

"The south has been united against a common enemy but now a lot of factions are going to be looking at their roles in the newly formed country and if they're not satisfied they may take up arms," he said.

Already there's been an uptick in violence in border areas between northern troops and southern rebels.

Conflict in the oil-rich border area of Abyei, which was supposed to have a separate referendum to determine which country it will be a part of, saw tens of thousands of people displaced as northern troops took over the area unilaterally declaring it a part of the north.

The border region of South Kordofan, which will definitely be a part of the north, has also seen conflict with more than 100,000 people being displaced and unknown casualties from clashes between northern troops and southern-allied rebels.

South Sudan and Sudan

The United Nations has warned that without intervention the area could be on the verge of genocide, similar to Darfur.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir who also attended the festivities, made a speech where he called for the Obama administration to remove Sudan from the State Sponsor of Terrorism list, which carries its own sanction designations.

Throughout the peace process leading to independence, the United States has held out removal as a significant carrot to Khartoum as a reward for cooperation in fully implementing the 2005 agreement.

Rice has said, however that until all of the peace agreement issues are resolved Sudan will remain on the list. Those issues include citizenship laws, oil revenue sharing and determining the final status of Abyei.

Bashir, meanwhile is under his own political pressure.

Earlier this week he reportedly gave a fiery speech at a political rally where he warned that even though Sudan will be "welcoming" of its new southern neighbor, there will be no negotiation on additional rights in South Kordofan and the Nuba mountains, another border area belonging to the north but with strong southern ties.

He also said there is little room left for negotiation on Darfur, the region he has been charged with committing genocide and war crimes in by the International Criminal Court.

The speech is seen by analysts as a show of strength by Bashir, who is being blamed by hard-liners as well as some moderates in Sudan for allowing one-third of the country which holds nearly all the oil reserves, to leave.

"This split provides an opportunity to make sure the borders between North and South are delineated 'appropriately' as according to Bashir," said Tjossem, who predicts it is something that will continue to fester for the next few years. The North will continue to support groups from the south and vice versa, so today is euphoric and historic but there is likely to continue to be issues on the border for years to come.

But on this day the people of South Sudan are choosing to concentrate on the opportunities in front of them, not the challenges.

"Life's been difficult because of the war and having to live with these people [from the north] for all this time," he says. "Now we have our own government and a system that is in place. Let us now have our own country with which our rights will be respected and which we will be responsible for."