28 June 2017

SOUTH SUDAN ANNIVERSARY: Why I celebrated Independence Day

South Sudanese celebrating South Sudan’s one year anniversary in the streets of Juba, 9th July 2012 (Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

South Sudan became a nation on 9th July, 2011. Even before its first anniversary of independence, many had predicted doom and gloom for the young nation. For some people there is nothing much, if any, to celebrate, citing the corruption, unemployment, lack of services and the widespread inter-communal fightings.

I was in Darfur in 2002 slaving in a national service for a nation that classified me as a third class citizen, when the Machakos Protocol, one of the first pillars of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan Peoples’

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Liberation Movement (SPLM), was inked. A foreigner asked me my view; being the optimist I was, I said it was the first time the war had a chance of ending.

Two years later by some stroke of luck, I was in Naivasha, Kenya, and attended the signing of the the Naivasha Agreement on 31st December 2004 and met the late Dr John Garang for the first time. The jubilation and the euphoria was palpable, leading to the formal signing of the CPA on January 9th 2005 in Nairobi. It was the culmination of long, arduous discussions over many years. War was no longer an option for both sides.

The implementation of the CPA became a challenge as the partners failed time and again to agree on the implementation of some of the key provisions of the agreement. For the South Sudanese people, the only hope they had for deliverance was the secession plebiscite that was agreed upon in the CPA. When the NCP started to play around with the provisions of the agreement, one thing gave us hope, January 9th, 2011. Every South Sudanese knew how he or she was going to vote. Khartoum tried to take that as well, with slogans of making unity attractive. It was a pipe dream.

Like millions of South Sudanese, I casted my vote for liberation from marginalization and decades of oppression. My vote was a statement that there will be no return to the status quo. I was among the thousands who stood in the sweltering heat on July 9th, 2011 in Juba when the new South Sudan flag was raised. An attempt by the NCP to derail the independence by invading and capturing Abyei was ignored by South Sudan. The enormity of the event of seeing South Sudan as an independent nation precludes the thought of how the country will be run or what the people will eat. These were irrelevant.

One year later, what are we celebrating? No one expects to eradicate illiteracy, improve the health of the people or build the necessary infrastructures, in one year. No one expects to turn Juba into Dubai. However, the short comings of the government are many. A time will come when all this will change and every person will be called to account.

Millions have died in the struggle for this: to live as first class citizens in their own country. And that, for me, is worth celebrating.

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