MARIA HINOJOSA, HOST:
I'm Maria Hinojosa and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, violence continues to erupt across Syria. We'll talk to a human rights activist who has seen it firsthand. That's in a few minutes.
But first, a year ago today on July 9, 2011, the world's newest nation was born in Africa.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We hereby declare Southern Sudan to be an independent and sovereign state.
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UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: (Singing) Now, break the violence. Upon us united in peace and harmony.
HINOJOSA: After decades of war against the north, oil rich but desperately poor, South Sudan became its own country to much local and international fanfare. But even before the excitement of independence died down, the challenges of the separation were obvious.
South Sudan still needs roads, homes, hospitals and schools. Its crude oil revenues need managing and the country still hasn't resolved its bloody dispute with the north. On the one year anniversary, we're calling on two journalists who covered the independence celebrations to find out how South Sudan is faring now.
Mading Ngor is the host of "Wake Up, Juba!" That's a morning breakfast show on a private radio station in South Sudan's capital, Juba. And NPR's Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton has covered South Sudan on her beat. Welcome to both of you.
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Greetings.
MADING NGOR: Thank you, Maria. Thank you.
HINOJOSA: So Mading, let's start with you. Let's go back to July 9, 2011, a year ago. You had actually spent a decade in Canada after escaping a massacre in your village but you did make it back to South Sudan to celebrate independence. So, we'll talk about this story of how you got back, but first when you, a year ago, were in South Sudan and you saw the new flag was being raised, what was going on for you, Mading?
NGOR: A year ago, Maria, on the eve of independence at 2:00 A.M., I took my recorder and I went out on the street because young people were running everywhere. They were celebrating, they were excited. They were saying down, down, down with colonialism. They were saying that finally we have a country.
And it was just an amazing sight to see. So I was on the streets of Juba on the eve of independence when the actual flag was lowered. I was sitting not far away from it and just remembering the process that brought this absolute delicacy.
HINOJOSA: So, Ofeibea, as a foreigner you were there also watching this. What struck out for you as these independent celebrations took place?
QUIST-ARCTON: You know, Mading, I probably passed you in the street because I was there too for that countdown.
QUIST-ARCTON: You know, at the Clock Square. And it was extraordinary, extraordinary, Maria, to see the South Sudanese celebrating, saying especially the word freedom. Freedom at last. They said they were no longer going to be second-class citizens in a united Sudan, that they had their own country now and that they would be the masters of their destiny.
And as Mading was saying, it was extraordinary the number of young people and children in the streets ululating, whooo. And it was phenomenal. But everybody also said we are going to have to work really hard to make sure that South Sudan works as an independent nation.
That was also being said during all the celebrations and ululations.
HINOJOSA: This was, Mading, a civil war that lasted 50 years with about a 10-year break in the middle, two million people dead. One year now of being an independent country. So what about the excitement now for you, Mading? Is it still as overwhelming or is the reality of creating a country from scratch basically really setting in?
NGOR: Let me just say why young people were so joyous - that finally the toils of their fathers and their mothers were being realized. They were not asking for jobs. The day of independence was like a wedding night but nobody was asking the critical questions. Like after a honeymoon, you know, came bitter moon. So the honeymoon was short.
It took a few days and then people realized that we are actually back where we were, only that we were no longer under Khartoum. So one year on I am still excited about independence because I know my relatives fought for this independence. But I also this excitement with a dose of realism that the foundation for future prosperity and stability have not been laid in the last one year of independence.
And we should not have expected South Sudan to do that. If we hold South Sudan to the international benchmark, we will fail miserably. But if we come and compare South Sudan to itself, I think we have come a long way and South Sudanese have every reason to be optimistic about their destiny.
HINOJOSA: So Ofeibea, you were just in South Sudan about five, six weeks ago. What was the sentiment among the young people? Was it still celebratory or was it really a sense of there are no jobs, you know, the economy is tanking, insecurity still from the north? What's going on with the young people?
QUIST-ARCTON: Oh, yes. There was a good deal of reflection going on amongst all South Sudanese, I'd say, and I went up, because as you know, there had been fighting at the border again between South Sudan and the north Sudan, as it is still called. So I went up to the border area to Unity state. Bentiu is the state capital and I went up to Panakuach, which was actually the front line.
And in Bentiu I went to a school, Good Hope Primary School - I mean, they said primary school but there were students of 18, 19 because education has been so disrupted in South Sudan - and I asked them what are your hopes for your country? And one young man said to me, you know, education is the key to progress and prosperity.
We the young people hold the destiny of our country in our hands. We are the future of South Sudan and we have to be educated. And then all of them were saying independence must come with peace. We must have peace so that children can go to school, so that they don't have to hide again, so that they don't have to flee, they don't have to go to refugee camps.
Education is the way forward. But lots of questions were being asked, about leadership even because leadership is so important, not only for South Sudan but for Africa. Are our leaders going to do right by us? So a lot of young people are asking many, many questions.
HINOJOSA: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Maria Hinojosa. A year ago today, South Sudan became the world's newest country. It's a country larger than France that has only 100 miles of paved roads. We're checking on its progress with journalists Mading Ngor and NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.
So, Mading, you spent a decade in Canada and then you made this decision to go back a year ago to witness independence. And you're not the only one. There are hundreds of people who have done this. What's the reentry been like?
NGOR: It has been very difficult but I had to come back. I had to come back for the ultimate achievement - that was independence. As a journalist, that is the story of the century, that every journalist would want to cover independence. How many times does it happen?
I also had to come back because I lost so many relatives during the war and here was what they fought for. Every time I am in America or in Canada I am reminded about the hard work that went into nation building in those countries.
So I felt that as a journalist I will come back and see whether this new republic had a place for me and I have been trying to find my voice. I wake up every morning and I speak on issues that are credible and do it with moral authority because this independence was written with the blood of my relatives.
So it's very difficult. It's like migrating to a different country. I went to my village after 20 years of being away and I realized that this was not the place I left behind when I was a child, when I had to run away in 1991 when there was a massacre. The rivers were dried up, the trees were no longer there. Even the mosquitoes used to be there. They were not there. So everything changed. I come to South Sudan and I realized how much more of an North American I am than I care to admit when I was in North America.
HINOJOSA: That is what happens. We get changed, no matter where we end up going. So, now, fascinatingly enough, it hasn't been all bad. Right? I mean, something pretty amazing has happened for South Sudan because independence has also given the country the chance to complete in international sports and the soccer team makes it global debut at the East and Central African Regional Championship.
So what does this mean to you, Mading? I mean, this must be amazing. Your own soccer team now.
NGOR: I mean, it really - surprised to say that we have to now build this nation. We have to build our identity and (technical difficulty) are a great way of doing that because we know that, when we emphasize politics, this country will be tore right in the middle. But when we talk about it - but when we talk about cultures, about languages, what unites us, as opposed to what divide us, I know and I'm always convinced that this country is on track regardless of all the existential challenges that are facing it.
HINOJOSA: Ofeibea, are you optimistic about the South Sudan? Is there a path out?
QUIST-ARCTON: You know, when I hear Mading, I feel, yeah, there is hope, but South Sudan must avoid the pitfalls that so many other African countries after a liberation struggle have suffered. Rampant corruption, poor leadership, not working for the people, not serving the people, but serving individual ends and these are the pitfalls that, really, South Sudan risks falling into and must avoid at all cost.
It has oil, it has fertile land, it has the Nile River running through it. It has potential, but all that has got to be harnessed, along with the energy of the youth and South Sudan's leaders must think, A, peace, B, progress, three, our new nation. I think, that way, there can be success, but there's so much unfinished business with the North that must be dealt with to do with borders, boundaries, oil revenues and all these other unresolved issues. This country must focus on that to be able to move forward.
HINOJOSA: Mading Ngor is the host of a radio breakfast show, "Wake Up, Juba!" He spoke to us from the capital of South Sudan, Juba. And Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is NPR's Africa correspondent. She joined us from our studio in Washington, D.C.
Ofeibea, Mading, thanks so much for speaking with me.
QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.
NGOR: Thank you very much for having me.
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HINOJOSA: Coming up, unemployment stays the same, but, hey, what about those car sales? June was a great month for the so-called big three car companies, Chrysler, Ford and GM.
SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Many people think manufacturing is, in part, holding up the economy right now and the auto industry is, in part, holding up manufacturing.
HINOJOSA: So, what's driving up American car sales? That's in a few minutes on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Maria Hinojosa.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.