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South Sudan Comes Alive With Joy, Tears

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) (Singing in foreign language)

RAZ: What you're hearing is the national anthem of South Sudan, which has just become the world's newest nation. The proclamation of independence after decades of civil war was met with joy and tears and cheering today.

JAMES WANI IGGA: We hereby declare Southern Sudan to be an independent and sovereign state.


RAZ: That's James Wani Igga. He is the speaker of the legislative assembly in South Sudan. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is with me from the new nation's capital Juba. Describe the scene there today.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Greetings from Juba. My goodness, what exuberance at the Dr. John Garang mausoleum, a memorial, in fact, for the leader of the liberation struggle who died just after the peace deal was signed in 2005. But you could feel the pride of the tens of thousands of Southern Sudenese who turned out, how they proudly sang their national anthem, saw the flag hoisted and the flag of the old nation, a united but divided Sudan coming down. And all of them were saying, free, free at last.

RAZ: And quite a who's who at that ceremony in Juba. I was reading some pretty high-level international delegates.

QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed. The secretary general of the United Nations, there was the president of the U.N. General Assembly, because, of course, next week, South Sudan should become the 193rd member of the U.N. A high-level U.S. delegation led by the American ambassador to the U.N. Dr. Susan Rice. Retired General Colin Powell was also there, and then dozens of leaders from all over Africa welcoming the 54th member nation of the African Union.

And they all seem to have one message: We will pledge our help to you, but you must be a democratic nation. You must fight corruption, and you must make sure you deliver on your promises to your people in a very, very rich country in natural resources, but very, very poor and impoverished population.

RAZ: Ofeibea, I read that Northern Sudan's president, Omar Hassan al-Bashir, presumably considered to be an adversary by most Southern Sudanese, was also there. How was he received?

QUIST-ARCTON: You know, when he spoke, there was complete silence. But earlier, there had been some booing, and it was almost as if he was ignored. But the fact that Omar Hassan al-Bashir actually turned up in South Sudan at least shows good will. Although these two now independent countries still have unfinished business, there has been fighting in the disputed oil-rich border area. And these issues still have to be resolved between the two neighbors.

RAZ: Ofeibea, away from the politics and the sort of the big picture questions, what are just ordinary people in Juba saying now about the future and about their expectations?

QUIST-ARCTON: This is a country that not so long ago, it's only, what, six years since it signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, that has to do everything. Now many Southern Sudanese have been living in exile. Many of them are coming back home. But those who have been refugees and have lived a very difficult life in camps, they are expecting the government to deliver. They want homes. They want jobs. They want good schools. And those are the sorts of things that they say are the priorities. They want to see their government deliver on its pledges.

RAZ: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton from Juba, the capital of newly independent South Sudan. Ofeibea, thank you so much.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.