As Americans celebrate the Fourth of July each year with cookouts, concerts, and fireworks, it is almost easy to forget the holiday’s connection with the nation’s independence and the struggles to achieve it. Surely that was not the case on July 4, 1777. On its first anniversary the United States was still a young republic, with a war yet to be won to solidify the unalienable rights deemed “self-evident” in Thomas Jefferson’s enduring declaration.

Much uncertainty likewise surrounded the new nation of the Republic of South Sudan this July as it celebrated its own first year of independence. The relatively peaceful and orderly independence referendum of 2011 and the subsequent formal separation of South Sudan from its northern neighbor after more than two decades of civil war quickly gave way to renewed ethnic conflict in the South’s Jonglei region, military clashes with the Khartoum government over oil fields in Heglig/Panthou and Abyei along the border, and fighting in the Nuba Mountains.

To read the full article written by Paul Elkan, visit National Geographic NewsWatch.