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E Pluribus Unum: South Sudan's quest to forge a unified identity

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Pete Muller/AP

(Read caption) A South Sudanese man watches a publicly televised broadcast of the formal announcement of referendum results in the southern capital of Juba on Feb. 7. Referendum officials indicated that nearly 99 percent of all voters cast ballots in favor of southern independence.

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“Welcome to Africa’s Youngest Nation” reads a prominent billboard recently erected in the South Sudanese capital. The sign is taller than most of the buildings in this town of mud huts and plastic container hotels, and its bold message raises an interesting issue facing the soon-to-be independent, oil-rich southern half of Sudan. Although the south will become a state on July 9, how will the South Sudanese people go about forging a unified nation in the years to come?

The process of a new government trying to build a singular nation out of disparate parts is not new. As a British academic friend reminded me the other day in Juba, back when Italy became a state in 1861, one of its founders remarked: “We have made Italy, now we have to make Italians.”

This notion is no doubt on the minds of the southern leadership. In a speech on Tuesday in Juba, the South Sudan President Salva Kiir had compelling words for his people:

"Dear Citizens, today I call upon all of us to put behind the long and sad history of war, hardship and needless sacrifice imposed by violent conflict. Nonetheless to say, we are also mindful that the legacy of war will stay with us for some time to come. By this referendum, we have ended one struggle and now we must start a new one, that of nation building. We must consolidate our institutions and begin to play a major role in the region and among the community of nations."

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