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From Rebel to Official in Southern Sudan

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In southern Sudan, the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, or SPLA, is no longer a rebel group under a peace deal signed earlier this year to end Sudan's 22-year civil war. That group will run the south of the country as a semi-autonomous province. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports that the difficult part will be transforming the guerrilla movement into a government.

JASON BEAUBIEN reporting:

Governmental structures in most of south Sudan disappeared years ago. In the 50 years since independence from Britain, the region has known only one decade of peace. Now in most of south Sudan, there is no government. There are no paved roads. The shade of tamarind trees serve as classrooms. Puddles serve as watering holes.

Ms. LULU SAWA(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Lulu Sawa, who recently returned to the south from exile in the capital Khartoum, says she relies on international food donations to survive.

Ms. SAWA: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: `When the relief aid runs out, I eat leaves from nearby bushes like a goat,' she says. `Peace is supposed to change everything here.' Under the peace accord, the SPLA is to set up a government in south Sudan and the new administration will get 50 percent of the country's oil wells. This region, which for the last two decades has had no money for public spending, is expected in the coming months to have access to $100 million a month in oil proceeds, but the former rebel fighters who now call themselves the SPLM, or Sudanese People's Liberation Movement, must rebuild the south and its governmental structures from scratch.

Mr. GABRIEL MATHIANG ROK: The south has been destroyed, devastated by war.

BEAUBIEN: Gabriel Mathiang Rok is the head of the SPLM's national committee.

Mr. ROK: We are going to construct ...(unintelligible) because there is nothing to be reconstructed. There was no development.

BEAUBIEN: Rok concedes that the task facing the SPLM, once it forms a new government, is going to be huge. He says they're going to focus at first on the very basics: building health clinics and schools, digging wells so people have clean water, paving dirt roads so goods can come into south Sudan from Kenya and Uganda. Rok cautions that change won't happen fast.

Mr. ROK: Quickly is a word I will not use at this juncture.

BEAUBIEN: Before the SPLM can even form a government, a new constitution has to be approved by Khartoum in the north. Then administrative structures covering an area larger than France need to be established. Personnel have to be hired. Offices need to be set up. Throughout the civil war, the SPLA created various ministries, but the ministries have no staff, no resources and most don't even have an office.

Mr. ROK: The ministries are here. They are being established, but they're all volunteering. They have no salaries and we have been doing it this way for the last 20 years, volunteering.

BEAUBIEN: And he admits that public servants will be far more productive and far more likely to show up for work once they're being paid. There are very few masonry buildings left in south Sudan. Most houses are made of mud and thatch. Rok, as the head of the SPLM's national committee, has an office in one of the few brick buildings still standing in Rumbek, but even his office at the SPLM Secretariat has only a desk and a chair. Of the other two rooms in the building, one is being used to dry ears of corn. David Gressly, the United Nations' top official in south Sudan, says one of the biggest obstacles facing the SPLM and the south as a whole is that the region lacks trained professionals.

Mr. DAVID GRESSLY: And this ultimately is the biggest constraint is that the future government of south Sudan will not have initially a lot of trained personnel to run that administration, will not have teachers who are trained, physicians that can help man the health centers that we would like to see. So very creative solutions will have to be found to put those personnel in place.

BEAUBIEN: Because of the war, education levels in south Sudan are some of the lowest in Africa. Gressly says the challenges posed by peace here are immense.

Mr. GRESSLY: There are ways that this could go wrong, and I think the UN can play a role on the political side to try to reduce the possibility that will happen, but in the end, it really rests in the hands of the people of Sudan to make this work.

BEAUBIEN: The other major challenge facing the SPLM is the question of whether south Sudan will eventually break away from Khartoum completely. As part of the peace deal signed earlier this year, both sides agreed that the south would hold a referendum on secession in 2011. The new government in the south, once it's established, will have to determine whether in the coming years it's working with its former adversaries in Khartoum as part of a federal system or whether south Sudan will be moving steadily towards independence in six years.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.