Tonight at midnight, South Sudan will be covered with jubilations, from Juba to Warab, Torit to Yambio, Wau to Raga and all other corners of the new republic. Several dignitaries from around the world will be there to give their blessing to the divorce and for the new nation on Saturday.
And the dream of many like John Garang de Mabior the great South Sudanese fallen leader will come to pass. He once said:
“It is not my intention to change the Comprehensive Peace Agreement but I must say South Sudan needs its own independence. I see it coming even when am not the leader of SPLA/M.”
South Sudanese reporter, Anthony Kamba wrote a piece capturing what the mood in Juba was like ahead of the historic day.
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wrong an opinion and called it Standing by South Sudan and in there, he captured the countries challenges but most important the opportunities.
”…South Sudan has remarkable potential. With substantial oil reserves, huge amounts of arable land and the Nile flowing through its center, South Sudan could grow into a prosperous, self-sustaining nation capable of providing security, services and employment for its population.”
It’s this optimism that I carry a few hours from the independence declaration. I was chatting with a South Sudanese friend and he said to me to understand the feeling I would need to talk to people who lived in places like Kenya where colonial struggles claimed many and lived long to see the Union Jack come down.
South Sudan has been born at time when Africa has made substantial steps in development unlike the 60s. With a population that is not even half that of my country Uganda, South Sudan will need its neighbours who are already a step ahead in all sectors and am optimistic they will be a good asset. Women in Sudan are more than 60 percent of the population, yet 80 percent of them are illiterate. Empowerment of women of South Sudan will be key to the country improving the gloomy development indicators faster. I remember I met one woman on one of the trips to Sudan who said they didn’t want to be like women of Eritrea “who fought but in the end they were pushed out of the system and told their place was only in the kitchen once independence was declared.”
In April I was in Juba working with grassroots women leaders. Juba is a melting pot. It’s where East, Central Africa meets the north and horn of Africa. It’s one of the most diverse African capitals I have visited. My Boda Boda rider was a young man about 20 years old. He was born in Torit, he lived in Masindi in western Uganda then Kenya before finally coming back to Sudan. He speaks about ten languages. Language is important for integration and most Sudanese have spent many years living in Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. These experiences can be harnessed to bring about changes in the new republic. South Sudan can take advantage of the booming sectors like education in Uganda where graduates spend years with no job.
It can get professionals from regional capitals who are not being put to use by their countries. These young people can be good for South Sudan as it starts from scratch. The new rich country where production is almost none existent will put pressure on its neighbours for some time because it is a great market for almost everything from food to industrial products to human resource. This can make South Sudan prosperous some years down the road.
But the all this optimism can only mean much if South Sudan can tame its ethnic divisions, corruption and the culture of hero worship. I know dangers of this culture because I am Ugandan. Twenty years after people fought to take power, we are still told if you didn’t fight for the five years in the bush, you are probably useless and you shouldn’t demand for good governance and a your share of the national cake. So Sudan must keep those heroes and heroines accountable. All Sudanese paid the price in this liberation and the country’s ruling party must start embracing alternative views.
I remember at one of the meetings a woman told me that in South Sudan if you don’t support SPLM you are equated to Bashir’s spy or the enemy. This stifling of people’s right to choose a party and oppose policies the way they see fit must be abandoned. And then the tribalism! You don’t want to see another Kenya of tribal politics and high inequality in the new country.
SPLM government must ensure they work for the good of all South Sudanese and shouldn’t hold the country at ransom and its oil revenues. The optimism rests on whether Salva Kiir and his government can deliver that country that many desired and fought for and died for. A country where they could be free and be free indeed. When the midnight bells rings today, it will be a celebration of many thankful souls. Thankful that after all the loss and despair they went through they have lived to see this historic day. A day I pray will have even greater meaning when people of South Sudan look back some years from now.