The Republic of South Sudan has become the world’s newest nation by officially breaking away from Sudan after two civil wars and over five decades of conflict with the north. It is the 193rd country recognised by the UN.
A mood of joy and celebration swept through its capital Juba at midnight on Friday, with scenes of jubilation and sounds of church bells ringing.
Thousands of people gathered with friends and family on the streets singing, dancing, banging drums and honking horns in celebration.
The main ceremony on Saturday is due to include military parades, prayers, raising the newly proclaimed republic’s flag and Salva Kiir, the country’s first president, signing the transitional constitution.
North Sudan’s Khartoum government was the first to recognise the new state, hours before the formal split took place, a move that smoothed the way to the division of what was until Friday Africa’s largest country.
Northern and southern leaders have still not agreed on a list of sensitive issues, most importantly the exact line of the border and how they will handle oil revenues, the lifeblood of both economies.
In Khartoum, just before the split, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who now leads just the north, told journalists he would attend the independence celebrations later in the day in Juba.
“I would like to stress … our readiness to work with our southern brothers and help them set up their state so that, God willing, this state will be stable and develop,” said al-Bashir.
After the stroke of midnight, the Republic of Sudan lost around three quarters of its oil reserves which are sited in the south and faced the future with insurgencies in its Darfur and Southern Kordofan regions.
Saturday’s early morning celebrations in Juba were joyous for the freedom gained but tinged with the memories of family members lost.
Chol Allen, a 32-year-old Christian minister, escaped Sudan in 2003 and eventually settled in Memphis, Tennessee. He returned to Juba two months ago for the midnight party, though he plans to go back to the US.
“I came here for this moment,” he said.
“We were all born into war. All of us,” Allen said while pointing at a crowded pick-up truck of youngsters.
“This generation will see the hope of the newborn nation.”
Apart from al-Bashir, the dignitaries from around the world attending the celebrations include Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general and Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean president.
“The people of South Sudan have achieved their dream. The UN and the international community will continue to stand by South Sudan. I am very happy to be here,” Ban told reporters in Juba.
The UN Security Council on Friday adopted a resolution creating a UN mission in South Sudan that will include 7,000 peacekeepers and 900 civilians tasked with helping the fledgling nation.
South Sudan’s independence comes exactly six months after a referendum that saw southerners vote almost unanimously to split with their former civil war enemies in the north.
For decades, until a peace agreement was signed in 2005, southern rebels fought two wars with successive northern governments for greater autonomy and recognition, a conflict that left the region in ruins and millions of people dead.
“We are free! We are free! Goodbye north, hello happiness!” screamed Mary Okach, a South Sudanese celebrating her new-found freedom.
“Fifty years fighting for independence and if this is freedom, then this is great,” said Daniel Bol, banging his tin drum.
One sign on the back of a car full of flag waving southerners said it all: “Just divorced.”