BBC Network Africa, click to listen.
It will, almost certainly, never happen again, that I arrive in a country, work for three years in the same city, but leave from a different nation.
I arrived in Juba, in the southern half of a united Sudan, but now leave from the capital of the newest nation in the world.
The first arrival in Juba: five years ago, was a little scary to be honest.
We drove down the main highway to Uganda on the back of an army truck, heading out into steamy, thick and green jungles to meet the Ugandan rebels, the Lords Resistance Army or LRA.
Things have changed so much.
No longer does the grass brush vehicle windows on either side of the road: that track is now a highway, soon to be tarmaced.
The LRA still cause problems on the western border, but no longer terrorise vast areas of the south.
People are farming, building lives, returning home, in areas that were still too dangerous just a few years ago.
But there are many problems here still: the legacy of long years of war cannot be simply solved overnight.
In travels across the south I have witnessed heartbreaking places of people struggling to survive: crushed down by a range of problems, from hunger, rebel violence, cattle raids, lack of hospitals and schools, grinding poverty, corruption, sickness.
Violence against women, of rape or other abuse, remains a major problem.
But South Sudan has achieved what many said back then was simply the impossible: to hold a peaceful, credible referendum for independence, and to have that decision recognized by the government in Khartoum.
Seeing the sea of people jumping for joy and waving flags on independence day this Saturday past, it was something that many thought would never come.
When the flag rose, there was a wave of sound, a roar of a people cheering their new nation.
Seeing people cry in joy, overcome with emotion, people who had waited over fifty years for that moment, was a deeply humbling and moving experience.
This was not something that in any way was inevitable: independence was something fought hard for.
There are more than enough international experts and advisors in South Sudan telling the country what to do and how develop: it is does not need a reporter to add their voice.
But I do have a dream: and that is to come back to visit South Sudan in years to come and see the change for the better: to watch the growth of nation, a generation of children living in peace and going to school, under a government and security that serves the people and is accountable to them.
But the road ahead for South Sudan will not be easy: forging a nation takes more than unfurling a flag. There will be tough times ahead my friends.
The words of the world’s newest president Salva Kiir, speaking after raising the flag, is a message that must be remembered.
“Let all the citizens of this new nation be equal before the law and have equal opportunities,” President Kiir said, adding that corruption cannot be tolerated in the new nation.
“We are all South Sudanese: we may be a Zande, Kakwa, Nuer, Toposa, Dinka, Lotuko, Anyuak, Bari and Shilluk, but remember you are a South Sudanese first,” he said.
Independence alone won’t solve the many problems, but it is a start, a real start, and the people of this long troubled land have at last a fighting chance for a better life.
I am deeply sad to be leaving at this extraordinary, inspiring time, knowing too the many challenges ahead for the people here.
For three years I have ended radio broadcasts with signoff: this is Peter Martell in Juba, South Sudan.
Now, it is a new country at last.
So though I will miss the people of this land greatly, it is with enormous happiness and pride that I can say a simple farewell that means so much, by being able to say for the first and sadly final time, for BBC Network Africa, this is Peter Martell, in Juba, in the Republic
of South Sudan.
South Sudanese celebrate their divorce
By Peter Martell
BBC News, Juba
With a thrilling roar of joy, at the stroke of midnight, South Sudan became the newest nation in the world.
"It is a shout of freedom," said Alfred Tut, lifting his head back and screaming.
A digital countdown clock in central Juba was a focal point, as vehicles packed with people waving flags, toured the streets, honking horns in celebration.
"Congratulations, free at last, South Sudan," the sign read.
The people did not need to read the message: They were already dancing and leaping into the air with happiness.
Officials had planned for people to hold a quiet celebration at home, with the formal declaration of independence later on Saturday morning.
"At midnight, bells will be rung across the new country, and drums will be sounded, to mark the historic transition from southern Sudan to the Republic of South Sudan," an earlier statement from the southern government had said.
But that clearly was not enough for the people, who simply could not wait to celebrate.
Two hours before midnight and lines of cars zoomed around town, each blasting out a different tune.
Roundabouts became frenzied dance venues when trucks carrying giant speakers slowly passed by.
Some lit candles and said prayers for the new country
"We have waited too long for this special day, so we cannot sit indoors," said Atem Garang.
"I have come out because I cannot believe we have arrived at this point of a new nation after such a long, hard road of fighting."
Women ululated with high voices, men chanted.
"We are going, we are going to freedom," they sang.
"We are going to the promised land," said Bage William, who wore the flag of his new nation as a cloak, draped around his shoulder.
By the time the final countdown arrived, the atmosphere was wild.
Church bells rang the midnight hour but, in central Juba at least, the deafening sound of horns drowned them out.
"This is the day I have been waiting for since I cannot remember," said Mary Puok.
Groups of people ran down roads, dancing to drum beats.
Soldiers and policemen joined in too, waving paper flags and laughing - many were former fighters with the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).
"I fought with the SPLA, and now we have won," said Gony Thon, a policeman, joining in the impromptu dance on the street.
Those who could not fit inside the cars hung out the windows, or sat on the roof.
One car had the sign plastered on the back window: "Just divorced."
Parties continued long into the night, as families and friends feasted on roasted goats specially killed for the occasion.
But there was also a quieter celebration too.
On back streets, outside homes, others had placed candles in simple celebration, as well as in memory for all those who died in the decades of conflict to reach this historic point.
The soft glow of flickering candles lit the way far down sandy tracks.
"I light candles in church when I say a prayer," said Alice Ajak, a mother, who lost two children during the long years of war.
"My candle here therefore is my prayer that my new country is one of peace, and where we can live without problems for now and in the future always to come."
BBC FooC, click to listen,
A farewell piece ahead of South Sudan's independence, on the BBC From Our Own Correspondent programme.
The eighty year old ex-rebel’s eyes twinkled.
Then General Joseph Lagu punched the air in victory, danced a little jig and burst out into song.
“To freedom, to freedom,” he sang, his voice proud and clear.
“To freedom happily marching, we go!”
The general was on the podium during a diplomatic reception in the US Consulate for their Fourth of July independence party, just days before his own land becomes officially a new nation.
The diplomats and officials, gathered beneath Stars and Stripes balloons and clutching sparklers, watched as the man who helped launch Africa’s longest war waved at them from the stage.
“My fellow Southern Sudanese have been marching to their freedom for over fifty years,” he told the crowd, gathered in the steamy heat of the soon to be world’s newest capital Juba.
“Our promised land is South Sudan!”
This is a land where hope often overcomes all apparent practical logic.
General Lagu began his battle for southern independence in 1963: the year The Beatles launched their debut album and US President John F Kennedy was assassinated.
He can still list the entire weapons arsenal with which he started a rebellion.
There was an ancient muzzle loader, a faulty hunting gun which frequently jammed, and an antique colonial British army rifle. Which one did you choose? I asked. “None,” he replied. “I carried a machete.”
Had he believed he would ever see this day, the battle against the oppressive government in the north and its modern powerful army won, and South Sudan about to become an independent country?
“No,” he said, which, all things considered, was an answer not too surprising from a man who started a war with a cleaver.
Then his hands left his walking stick and clutched mine with a firm grip.“It was God Almighty who got me here,” he said.
The on-off conflict waged by General Lagu and the fighters over several generations left some two million people dead. It was a war of intense brutality, of massacres, bombing and infighting that ripped a land apart.
It forced millions into exile and left many of those remaining destitute. The aid agencies say one in every seven children here dies before the age of five.
This is a land smashed by war, from its crumbling cities on the slow waters of the White Nile river, to its vast grasslands, steamy swamps, border badlands, lush jungles and lonely villages.
So it was hardly surprising when almost 99 percent of its people voted in a referendum in January for a separate nation, with independence now due this coming Saturday. And yet there’s still every reason to be gloomy. There are fears of north-south border wars.
There are real fears the already-poisonous relationship between the former civil war enemies could worsen. Frantic preparations are being made in case the half a million southerners, left living in the north after independence, flee to the south.
The ex-rebel turned regular southern army is accused by human rights groups of massacres and rape.
There are questions too about whether the new state can grow into a viable nation for the future. The shift from guerrilla movement to government has not been an easy one. There are reports of rampant corruption: diplomats say they have details of grossly bulging international bank accounts of senior officials.
There is still abject poverty and not enough schools, hospitals and roads.
Once the pomp and celebrations of independence day are over, and the world’s heads of state have returned home, an enormous challenge will remain. Forging a nation requires far more than simply raising a flag. But then there is that magic sense of hope here.
My good friend Mabior Philip is a radio reporter in Juba. When he was a young boy, he used to carry pumpkins on his head, supplying food for the rebel fighters on the frontline. He grew up in a basic camp in rebel held areas of the south. He is fully aware of the size of the challenges ahead.
“There is a saying here that a bad beginning makes a good ending,” says Mabior. “So from us starting from nowhere, I know we shall go to somewhere.”
He, like the man who started a war with a machete, has faith and a belief that things will eventually improve, sometime, somewhere in the future
He and others here cannot wait to hear the church bells ring, as Friday night turns to Saturday, and South Sudan rings in freedom at the stroke of midnight.
“Even when you count to a million, you have to start from zero,” says Mabior.
“We are at zero now, maybe getting close to one.”
JUBA, Sudan, June 17, 2011 (AFP) - Bodies in the street, workers digging graves and gunmen hunting down members of the Nuba ethnic group -- the horror still chills those who managed to escape the violence rocking Sudan's embattled border state.
"We were just coming back from church, when many soldiers started shouting 'go, go, go'," said Yusuf, a 40-year old resident of Kadugli, the state capital of South Kordofan.
"At first they were shooting in the air, but then there was firing with artillery," he added, providing one of the first eyewitness accounts from the fighting there.
"After that was when the killing began."
Yusuf, not his real name, asked to remain anonymous for security reasons, saying he feared reprisals against family members or colleagues.
Heavy fighting in South Kordofan state on the border between north and south Sudan has raged since June 5.
Khartoum forces are battling northern militia aligned to the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), the army of southern Sudan which is on the verge of forming a breakaway nation.
Heavy aerial bombardments have taken place across the state and humanitarian aid has been severely restricted, drawing condemnation from the international community.
Religious leaders and rights activists have said it is a government policy of ethnic cleansing, targeting the indigenous Nuba peoples who fought during Sudan's bitter 1983-2005 war with the then southern rebels.
Khartoum rejects all accusations of ethnic cleansing, and says it is disarming northern militiamen allied to the SPLA, thought to number around 40,000.
It says it will not tolerate the existence of two armies within its borders after south Sudan gains full international recognition on July 9.
But Yusuf has a different account.
"The government says it started when they came to disarm the SPLA and they refused, and then started shooting," he said, speaking in the southern capital Juba, where he fled to with his family.
"But if you were in Kadugli town you could have seen that this was something planned.
"As soon as it started, the Sudanese Armed Forces (the northern army) were saying, you go there, you start there, and you attack from there. It was well organised in advance."
For men like Yusuf, a Nuba, the outbreak of violence echoes the brutal days of killings and forced displacement of the civil war, tactics historians say were then later used in Sudan's war-torn western region of Darfur.
Traditionally the people of South Kordofan co-existed, however, and Yusuf still had good relations with his neighbour from the Baggara Arab ethnic group.
But his neighbour was also a member of the Popular Defence Force, a feared militia now part of the Sudanese army.
"We talked and he helped in business, but I know he is also a member of the PDF," he said.
"He's a supporter of Ahmed Harun," he added, referring to the newly elected state governor, a man wanted by the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges in Darfur.
"He told me that the PDF had new guns and had been given lots ammunition.
"He said that they had clear instructions: just sweep away the rubbish. If you see a Nuba, just clean it up.
"He told me he saw two trucks of people with their hands tied and blindfolded, driving out to where diggers were making holes for graves on the edge of town."
So after two days sheltering inside his house, Yusuf and his family decided to escape.
"We were told that the soldiers were going from house to house searching for supporters, so we knew we had to leave," he said.
"We carried no belongings with us, so that we looked like were just going out for a walk.
"When we came out, there in the street were at least two dead bodies, civilians, but the soldiers and police were just standing there chatting as though that were normal.
"I was saying to our group: 'Just walk slowly, pretend you are not afraid, not scared, no one should run. If it is our time to die, then we will die, but let us not provoke them.'
"I am sure that they saved my life because I was carrying a child, a baby."
The impact of heavy fighting could be seen in the city.
Houses and aid agency offices had been looted, while stores of Christian literature had been torched.
Churches had been shot at and buildings destroyed: all accounts backed up by several other independent reports.
After safely reaching the car, the group drove past hundreds of displaced people, many gathered outside the gates of the UN peacekeepers compound in the hope of security, shelter or food.
As they tried to leave the town, Yusuf and his family ran into checkpoints run by gunmen, where they had to deny that they were SPLA supporters.
"We drove slowly further out of town, and there were two Arabs who wanted a lift. We just wanted to escape but we took them, which was lucky.
"At the next checkpoint, the soldiers shouted: 'Who are you? Who do you support?' But then they saw the Arabs, and they waved us through, as though saying, 'You are one of us.'
A new website
for SRS, now broadcasting in Juba on 98.6 FM.
Useful news stories..."Sudan Radio Service (SRS) is Sudan’s first independent broadcast provider of news and information. SRS works in English, Arabic and 11 Sudanese languages, and focuses exclusively on issues and events in Sudan making it the favorite radio station of many Sudanese around the world."
A new song, definitely worth a listen.
A new nation...Now let's get up, rise up, prove wrong doubters that say we can't rule ourselves. .. Holding strong to a dream, so close today.
The Clooney reference is brilliant.
TURALEI, Sudan (AFP) – When late basketball legend Manute Bol was a boy in his war-devastated, grossly poor village in south Sudan, he spent his days herding cattle and only took up the sport in his teens.
Now the first ever basketball court has been built in his birthplace of Turalei to offer others opportunities he never had -- one small part of efforts for peace and reconciliation as south Sudan nears full independence in July.
"We have lost Manute Bol, but we have a hundred more Manute Bols yet to be trained," said Deng Kuoc, the local commissioner, speaking to a large crowd of young athletes at the opening ceremony in the sand-swept village's "Freedom Square".
Many in the crowd showed the towering physique of Bol, the tallest player in National Basketball Association (NBA) history, along with Romanian Gheorghe Muresan.
"They are ready to play all sports all across the world," Kuoc added.
Bol, talent-spotted from obscurity to play in the NBA with Washington, Golden State, Philadelphia and Miami, died in 2010 aged 47 from a rare skin disease as a reaction to kidney medication.
One of south Sudan's most famous sons, the iconic shot-blocker stood at a giant seven feet seven inches (231 centimetres).
But while the outside world remembers him for his towering performances on court, Bol's focus was the plight of south Sudan, pouring his lucrative NBA earnings into supporting his homeland.
The oil-rich but impoverished region was left in ruins by decades of war, as southern rebels battled soldiers and militia forces backed by the government in Khartoum.
The dusty thatched-hut village of Turalei, close to the still-disputed north-south border, was burnt to the ground, its people massacred or taken into slavery.
"Manute Bol was a man of peace, and he believed that south Sudan should be at peace," said the fledgling nation's sports minister, Makuac Teny, shortly before opening the new court. "That is why he supported south Sudan's fight for self-determination."
Now his example is being used in the hope of creating a more peaceful south for the future, to overcome the major challenges the nation-in-waiting faces.
The conflict continues today. Over 800 people have been killed and 94,000 forced from their homes by fighting since January's largely peaceful independence referendum, in which southerners voted almost unanimously to split Africa's largest nation in two.
Turalei is not only close to the disputed border and the contested flashpoint region of Abyei, but is in a region with complex ethnic divisions.
It is hoped that the lessons of sport can be one small step towards allowing the new nation to be at peace.
"Sporting people learn how to forgive, and to compete fairly without cheating," said the basketball star's brother, Nicola Bol, one of the first to shoot a ball at goal on the new court.
"This is a land devastated by war and by starvation, but it was the sport that has kept the youth together, through keeping them engaged and happy."
The court was partially funded by the United States, which is also backing government plans to build 25 courts across the south, to encourage sporting competition between often rival groups.
The US consul in the south, Barrie Walkley, travelled to see the opening of the court, first saying a prayer at the grave of Bol -- a giant mound of earth covered in brightly coloured tinsel wreathes, beside the thatched huts of his family.
"For decades the youth were tools of war, and had few opportunities for education," Walkley said. "We believe that with proper mobilisation and support, the youth can become tools of peace."
The south has over 60 different ethnic or linguistic groups, and divisions run deep following decades of war with the north, which exploited ethnic rivalries by backing splinter militias distrustful of the mainstream southern leadership.
At least seven rebel groups, many including those ex-militia fighters, have taken up arms against the fledgling southern government in recent months.
Addressing deep-seated grievances and ensuring lasting peace will require far more than a few courts, but those involved hope it will contribute to the efforts of forging of a new nation.
"Sports bring youth and communities together from different parts of south Sudan, so they know they belong to something bigger than one county... They belong to the big new nation of south Sudan," added Walkley to cheers from the crowd.
Using sport to overcome conflict here is nothing new: the local county of Twic, in which Turalei lies, started an annual "Twic Olympics" during the civil war -- bringing young people to compete in athletics and soccer.
Now basketball will be included for the first time in those games due to be held later this year.
JUBA, Sudan, April 05 2011 (AFP) – The South Sudanese say they know things are bad when people stop blaming violence on former civil war enemies in the north and start accusing each other.
And that is exactly what has been happening in recent weeks, souring the mood ahead of independence in July.
"We are fighting each other," said former soldier Akok Jal, drinking warm beer in a tin-shack bar in the southern capital Juba.
"The north might be giving the rebels guns and wanting us to fight, but we should face the fact that these are also problems we have with ourselves."
The last few weeks have seen rebel massacres, allegations of a plot to unseat the government, press intimidation and claims of assassination threats at the highest level, in the soon to be independent South.
Hundreds of people, many of them civilians, have been killed in fighting between rebel groups and the south's army since January's largely peaceful independence referendum, in which southerners voted almost unanimously to form their own nation.
After the violence, which forced an estimated 16,000 people to flee their homes, rumours and accusations abound.
Presidential advisor and senior general Alfred Ladu Gore last week dismissed reports in a northern newspaper that he and other senior leaders, including deputy commander-in-chief of the southern army Paulino Matip, were part of a plot to join rebels challenging southern president Salva Kiir.
Surprisingly, he did not accuse Khartoum directly, as has previously been common in the south.
Instead, he alleged the "crudely written" story was "concocted here in Juba and sent to Khartoum" to smear his and other leaders’ names.
Then he provided accusations of his own, alleging he had reports of an assassination threat.
"A number of prominent public figures were targeted for assassination either before or after the independence of the south," Gore told reporters.
Seven leaders, including himself, Matip, and the south’s vice president Riek Machar, had been threatened, Gore claimed, but he could not provide details or say who was responsible.
It adds to the woes of the oil-rich but grossly impoverished region as it prepares for full independence in July.
Tensions are high -- a newspaper that printed claims by a rebel loyal to renegade general George Athor that he would attack Juba had its copies seized by security forces last week.
The south has over 60 different ethnic or linguistic groups, and divisions run deep following decades of war with the north, which exploited ethnic rivalries by backing splinter militias distrustful of the mainstream southern leadership.
Athor, the self-styled rebel commander thought to be hiding out in a remote base in Jonglei state since his rebellion began a year ago, told AFP by satellite phone: "We want to achieve a successful democratic state of south Sudan."
But he gave little explanation as to how his rebellion will aid that process, nor why he rejected a presidential pardon and broke a January peace deal, saying only that the southern army attacked first, claims it denies.
The rebel leader has also made grandiose claims to be uniting forces under a group named the "South Sudan Democratic Movement".
Such titles evoke bitter memories for many southerners, harking back to the war period when rebel forces splintered into rival factions, some supported by Khartoum.
"It’s about generals wanting to take their share of power, and they risk losing the peace we have won," said a businessman in Juba, who declined to give his name.
"They don’t care about the people, they are squabbling amongst themselves like dogs over a bone."
One man who knows the risks of a return to war is 79-year-old veteran Joseph Lagu.
He signed a 1972 peace deal to end Sudan’s decade-long first north-south civil war, but saw it swiftly fall apart when southern grievances were not addressed.
"My appeal to the boys who have chosen to take up arms again is to rethink their position," Lagu told reporters.
"We took arms to liberate our people. If it is a matter of losing elections today, why don’t you wait for the next term and stand again? This is what democracy means."
Academics warn that enormous efforts are needed to bring the south together.
"The main glue that binds south Sudan’s multiple nationalities together is the history of their struggle for freedom, a history of collective opposition to the north," said southern academic Jok Madut Jok.
The professor of history at Loyola Marymount University in California points out that many nations have gone through prolonged struggles to forge a collective identity. "Nations are made, not born," he added.
Discussions continue for a proposed new capital city for the soon to be independent south.
These artistic impressions from an official report bear a striking similarity to the US Capitol Hill.
Pipe dreams or reality?
The southern government (GoSS) seems pretty determined:
"Moving to a new location would allow for the creation of a modern City planned for 200 years with absolute flexibility to observe any population growth and technological advancements. Such a city would usher socio-economic and political revolution that would provide tangible benefits for the people of Southern Sudan.
"Furthermore, for the purpose of National Security, GOSS would need a secured area for its security installations and development. As such, a new location would serve a strategic purpose of promoting integrated business, industrial development and investment as well as increased security. Therefore, the development of a new city would attract significant investment into Southern Sudanese economy leading to increased economic growth and improvement of lives for the citizens of Southern Sudan."
"Government proposal for the development of the new capital city"
The first suggestion of the area of Rumsheil -- a proposal of the late first President John Garang, as it is sited in the geographic centre of the south-- doesn't look likely to be chosen: the land is not suitable for the site.
"Rumshiel was not suitable for a new capital due to many challenges associated with the area such as the swampy terrain, difficulties and high cost associated with building remote infrastructure, transport, supplying water and energy in and around the swampy areas."
"Government proposal for the development of the new capital city"
Now the east bank of the White Nile is being looked at for suitable sites, but with a total proposed area of 19,000 kilometres squared, a lot of land will have to be taken up.
Current suggestions are that it would spread across the edges of four states.
It would also likely land on top of Badinglo National Park.
As it is, dreams seems still far away.
Current building in Juba - and widespread forced demolition to clear homes built without permission to open up valuable land - continues apace.
With ongoing rebellions in the Greater Upper Nile region, as well as the still outstanding issues to settle ahead of the 9th July independence date such as oil, debt, citizenship issues, and the future of Abyei, there are also perhaps more pressing immediate issues to tackle.
Strange days in South Sudan: the south pull out of north-south talks accusing Khartoum (again) of backing rebels, with SPLM secretary general Pagan Amum waving sheafs of Arabic documents he claims prove northern support for southern militias. Those include George Athor, whose forces have been mired in bloody battles with the south's SPLA army in recent weeks, as well those who raided Malakal, taking children hostage and fighting on the streets. The north, and those rebels who can be contacted, say it is nonsense. Meanwhile Abyei reels from attacks, with villages burnt. Tensions will likely rise higher, if that is possible, if talks do not continue: the people there, more than anyone, are desperate for the talks to continue so as to find resolution on the stalled future for their land.
From outside, it looks like the start of the meltdown doom sayers predicted pre-referendum.
Yet it still remains a step shy from that.
The best analysis seen so far?
Quoted by Xan Rice in the UK's Guardian newspaper.
Claire McEvoy, Sudan project manager at the Small Arms Survey, a Swiss-based research group, said that the unresolved post-referendum issues meant that the tension and violence was no surprise. But she added that neither side wanted another war, and that both were using rhetoric to try to maximise gains from the negotiations, as they have done in the past. "Posturing and accusations of bad faith are inevitably part of that process," she said.