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If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? If a country is not on a map, is it a country?

By **Justin Alvarez**

Justin Alvarez_Large.jpgSouth Sudan is officially an independent country as of a week ago, according to Google Maps.

Old news? Yes, maybe the country declared independence on July 9 and was admitted as a member state of the United Nations a few days later, but South Sudan finally became a country in the eyes of Google Maps. A little over two months after its independence.

As early as July 14th, a Google spokesperson wrote to when approached on the then-absence of the new country from Google Maps:

“We work hard to make our maps as accurate as possible and we do our best to ensure they reflect the on-the-ground reality. As maps are always evolving, we regularly review additional information and update when data becomes available.

“Following the formal independence of South Sudan, we are in the process of updating our map and boundary data for the region. We look forward to publishing this updated data on our maps in the near future.”

Apparently, two months still qualifies as “the near future.” In all fairness, the search company did in fact launch a massive crowdsourcing mapping initiative with the World Bank, UNOSAT, RCMRD, and Satellite Sentinel Project, and the inclusion of South Sudan on Google Maps is only the beginning. The country has yet to establish its permanent capital in Ramciel and borders are still under dispute as fighting continues between North and South Sudan in the Blue Nile and South Kordofan states.

Google is the only company included in a petition to update its map. Microsoft, Yahoo, and National Geographic have yet to follow suit.

The petition’s writer, Washington broadcast journalist John Tanza Mabusu, wrote at the time that “the world map still looks like there is no new country added to the family of the international community… My people from South Sudan have endured 50 years of bitter conflict to attend the independence… The inclusion of South Sudan will give the people of that new nation the pride and sense of belonging, as citizens of a sovereign nation whose map is on the globe.”

Here’s to hoping that now that Google has officially recognized the country on their maps, the rest of the online mapping services will quickly follow—yet none have given a time for when this will take place.

This isn’t the first change this year that Google made to Africa’s map. Last month, the company changed “Green Square” in Tripoli to “Martyrs’ Square” following the advances by Libyan rebel forces against Qaddafi. Google is disputably king in our increasingly dependent online world, so welcome, South Sudan, you have finally arrived.



Justin Alvarez is a blog and new media editor at Guernica. Read more about him here.

  Sandy Tolan: It’s the Occupation, Stupid: The State to Which the U.N. May Grant Membership Is Disappearing: The culture of occupation is a lonely place. More
  Robin Yassin-Kassab: Blind Orthodoxies: What a sad world we live in, where we have almost no space in it for honest exploration. More
  Nick Turse: Obama’s Arc of Instability: Destabilizing the World One Region at a Time: One thing in common—Washington is militarily involved. More
  Russ Baker: Two Million Dead—Now What’s That South Sudan Independence About?: The South Sudan independence story shouldn’t bury the strategic angle. More

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