How to Build a Country From Scratch

After half a century of war, the people of southern Sudan voted in early 2011 to break away from the Sudan and create their own independent state. The Republic of South Sudan, formed in July of 2011, has its work cut out for it. South Sudan is one of the poorest and least developed nations in the world, with only a few paved roads in a territory the size of France. In most areas of the country there is no formal legal system. And according to the United Nations, more than half of its 9 million people live in a condition of food insecurity.

In the year and a half since breaking out on its own, South Sudan has managed to undermine its reputation as the “good guys” by arresting journalists, shooting down a U.N. helicopter, expelling a U.N. human rights officer and using its military to seize an oil field in Sudanese territory. Meanwhile, in a country saturated with weapons, fighting has broken out among various ethnic groups.

So there is an element of irony in the title of this “Op-Doc” from the New York Times by independent filmmakers Florence Martin-Kessler and Anne Poiret. How to Build a Country From Scratch (above) is a nine-minute excerpt from a feature-length documentary that Martin-Kessler and Poiret are working on, called State Builders. The filmmakers made four trips to Juba, the largest city and provisional capital of South Sudan, to document the daunting process of creating a new nation. “Our mission as filmmakers,” they wrote this week in the Times, “was to follow the ‘state builders’–those people in the South Sudanese government and in the United Nations who would be on the front line of implementing, step by step, a road map for the world’s newest state.”

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