JUBA, Sudan (Reuters) - When the Republic of South Sudan is born on July 9, an internationally brokered peace process will reach its climax. The next day it will be a nation already in crisis, a potential threat to the whole region.
The south’s dangerous standoff with Khartoum, which reached a boiling point last week when the north seized the disputed Abyei region, has overshadowed the south’s internal frailties.
South-south violence has killed hundreds since southerners voted to secede in January. Changes to the new nation’s constitution have alarmed opposition figures, democratic campaigners and foreign powers who fear amendments could create a one-party state.
Even if peace with the north holds, analysts say south Sudan could become a quagmire, unable to jumpstart development while soldiers-turned-politicians struggle to control a vast territory brimming with guns.
“A number of threats persist in the south,” said Eddie Thomas, a Sudan analyst with the Rift Valley Institute. “A liberation movement is trying to become a political party ... Political opposition often amounts to people in remote areas prepared to take drastic measures.”
Six nations will soon share a border with this often lawless wilderness roughly the size of France. It has fewer than 100 km (60 miles) of tarmac roads, and the United Nations said it helped feed about half the population last year, or some 4 million people.
That lack of development offers opportunities for construction companies. But more violence could once again send millions of southerners across the borders as refugees.
The south has long blamed the north for undermining its efforts to develop, but it is far from a unified region.
Tribes in some areas have turned on each other, fighting over stolen cattle. Demand for cows needed to pay dowries among a booming youth population has worsened the traditional conflict. Gun battles rage as thousands of cattle change hands.
At least seven rebel militias are currently at war with the government, the United Nations says. Skirmishes between these militias and the southern army (SPLA) are common -- one February battle saw more than 200 people gunned down.
Since the referendum, at least 1,450 people have been killed in violence affecting nine of the south’s 10 states, according to the United Nations.
SPLA spokesman Philip Aguer said the army was in the ascendancy and rebels should lay down their arms. But a spokesman for one rebel group told Reuters they would fight “forever” against what they say is an autocratic government.
Many, including the southern government, say the militia groups are working at the behest of Khartoum.
John Prendergast, a former U.S. State Department official who co-founded the anti-genocide Enough Project, said the south must deal with those southerners willing to take up arms against their government if it is to avoid crippling internal violence.
“The country will be born amidst this externally supported mayhem, but if the new state doesn’t deal with the internal causes of collaboration with Khartoum, it very well could see a civil war develop,” Prendergast told Reuters.
Khartoum, as well as the rebels, deny any northern role in the southern strife. One analyst said north-to-rebel support channels have remained open since the war, but added that the south deliberately overplays the north as rebel mastermind.
The rebels insist they are fighting against corruption, nepotism and tribal-based racism.
One high-ranking U.N. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the southern government had to accept some blame for the chaos because it had not done enough to bring rebels to the fold since the peace deal.
“Their approach has been to buy them off with patronage or defeat them militarily, but tribal fault-lines are at the heart of this problem. It’s a race against time to build a southern identity that is bigger than tribes,” the official said.
Some 2 million people died in the north-south civil war, which ended with a 2005 peace accord that provided for an independence referendum last January. Southerners chose to form a new nation by more than 98 percent of the vote.
Insecurity and the urgent need to provide food aid to millions of southerners have since distracted the international community from questioning the south’s new constitution, said one southern official who described it as “authoritarian.”
The cabinet has cleared the “Transitional Constitution” draft -- a stepping stone to an eventual permanent constitution -- and it is now before parliament. It is due to pass into law during independence celebrations in July.
The current “Interim Constitution” has been in play since the peace deal and limits a president to a maximum of two terms. That restriction disappears with the new constitution and the president will new powers in the makeup of state governments.
The draft version of the new constitution, seen by Reuters, also allows President Salva Kiir to appoint 66 new members of the legislative assembly of his own choosing. Some observers fear a one-party state is in the making.
“This process (reviewing the constitution) gives an insight into how they see the division of power in the future, and there are clearly some autocratic tendencies,” the U.N. official said.
“There is a democratic expectation that power should change hands in the future, and we fear this autocratic line will lead to insecurity, as we are already seeing.”
Three nearby nations have a leader who has been in power for more than 20 years -- Uganda, Ethiopia, Libya. Eritrea has had only one president since its separation from Ethiopia in 1993. Closer to home, north Sudan will still be ruled by President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who seized power in 1989.
“It’s very worrying,” said Prendergast. “The Horn of African role models along with Sudan itself haven’t had a fair election yet. Most presidents appear to want to stay in power for life.”
Editing by Giles Elgood