South Sudan: A Bittersweet Anniversary

Two years on since Sudan's partition, many challenges still remain.

For me, the July 9 anniversary remains bittersweet. While we celebrate the realization of an independent South Sudan, this date is also the time of the year I mourn for the two Sudans, Africa, and the world because it marks the anniversary of the loss of the late Dr. John Garang.

Eight years ago, millions of people in Khartoum gathered to hear the late Garang speak. His return to Khartoum marked what was supposed to be the beginning of a new dawn of peace for all Sudanese people. For the first time in modern Sudanese history, a massive crowd gathered to hear from a political leader. For many Sudanese, Garang the intellectual, liberation leader, and New Sudan visionary, was the last hope for a united Sudan. His presence in the capital, they assumed, meant that the long bitter war was finally over and that the dream of all Sudanese living as one would finally come true.

During his speech, Garang called upon:

“All Sudanese people and their political forces to build consensus around the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the INC, and use them to achieve good governance and equitable development, eliminate corruption and re-launch the Sudan, so that Sudan with its vast natural and human resources becomes a real model for the region, for Africa and indeed for the world.“

Garang foresaw that the CPA would be meaningless unless it resulted in real positive change in the lives of ordinary Sudanese citizens and provided concrete benefits for the people. Sadly, just 21 days later, the people of Sudan came out in their thousands as Garang lay in state in New Site, Kurmuk, Rumbek, Yei, Bor, and was finally laid to rest in Juba to mourn the loss of their fallen son and with him, their dreams for a united Sudan.

Independence and Disappointment

On July 9, 2011, a sense of jubilation, hope, and promise filled the hearts of many South Sudanese. Although many of the final arrangements that would allow for sustained peace between the two Sudans were still outstanding (specifically the critical issues of border demarcation, resolution on the three disputed areas along the shared border, and sharing of oil revenue), there was a sense that once South Sudan gained independence and we “reached the promised land,” we would be in a position to resolve these issues. Today, as the bombs still fall in the Nuba Mountains, South Kordofan, and the Blue Nile, Sudan and the people of the new nation of South Sudan find themselves fighting once again for their dignity, human rights, and transparency.

Two years on, restraint and patience is starting to wear thin. South Sudan’s interim constitution and numerous policies trumpet accountability, transparency, and the right to dignity. Yet, South Sudanese can no longer deny that even in their new nation, the rule of law is still not respected. Arbitrary arrest, detention, beatings, and even assassination are all consequences faced by those who dare to speak out, especially in the media. Such was the case for the late Isiah Ibrahim, a South Sudanese journalist, who knew the risks he faced by criticizing his government and yet he continued to courageously carry out what he saw as his patriotic duty.

My generation grew up being told by our parents and elders that education would enable us to participate in re-building our nation. The disillusionment, especially of young people, has colored how people view their governments. Prior to and shortly after South Sudan’s independence, criticism was tempered by the hope that once the South Sudanese government gained experience and was allowed to manage its own affairs, the people would begin to see the benefits of their struggle. Although life was tough, especially for youth seeking employment, they believed that if they could acquired more skills, they would be able to improve their situation.  

Slowly, the attitude has shifted to one of frustration. With the shutdown of oil production in January 2011, citizens of the two Sudans have felt the economic consequences of our governments’ actions and there has been increased condemnation of corruption.

Meanwhile, last year in June in Sudan, people, mostly youth, took to the streets in protest in what was called the Sudanese Spring. While we haven’t seen “Tahrir Square-style” protests in either country yet, the people of the both Sudans are resilient and tired of seeing indignity and injustice.

One day patience will eventually run out. The time is now for our governments to start serving their people. In South Sudan, many young people feel left behind and believe that employers, particularly the government and NGOs, have missed out on an opportunity to tap into their enthusiasm and commitment to re-building their nation. Shut out from the benefits of independence, they often realize they lack the connections and/or networks that often allow other candidates, sometimes less qualified, to succeed in gaining employment. The youth, who constitute more than two-thirds of South Sudan’s population, should be more involved in deciding the future direction of the country. Yet, we are often excluded from political processes that will affect the country we will one day inherit. Next year presents the first “real test” for our new nation, as we hold presidential elections for the very first time.  

Celebrating the Way Ahead

While I celebrate our many achievements on this anniversary, I also mourn the loss of possibility. I mourn that the lack of human rights justice, rule of law, and accountability in the two Sudans means that some politicians can use resource riches from both Sudans for their own gain; while keeping their own citizens poor and not providing services.

Yet, these same politicians continue to tell development agencies that our countries are poor. South Sudan and Sudan are not poor, we are resource mismanaged. As in most resource mismanaged countries, there are always scapegoats to explain the mismanagement. I am saddened when I see posturing misogynists in both countries hide under the mantel of "culture" to totally disregard women’s rights. No liberation is complete without recognition that women's rights and women are a central part of the struggle.

The SPLM/SPLA was formed in 1983 to:

“Address the fundamental problem of the Sudan, to abolish the old Sudan and establish a new Sudan; a new political dispensation; a Sudanese socio-political entity; a transformed Sudan in which all Sudanese are equal stakeholders regardless of their race, tribe, religion, or gender; a democratic Sudan where religion is constitutionally separated from the state; a Sudan in which governance is based on popular will, the rule of law and respect for universal human rights.”

By failing to fully realize the new Sudan vision, we are still failing to fully address the root causes of the problem of Sudan: marginalization. The two Sudans are a microcosm of Africa, characterized by religious, cultural and ethnic diversity. We have a very rich and proud history. We, the people of the two Sudans, are after all the descendants of the Meroe Kingdom of Ancient Kush, one of the most important ancient African and world civilizations. Embracing and managing our rich diversity is key to successfully governing both Sudans. On this bittersweet anniversary, I still remain hopeful that one day the two Sudans will no longer be making the news for conflict and violence, but for being peaceful, prosperous nations that coexist in harmony.

Today, I choose to celebrate those who struggled and continue to bring liberation to the people of the Sudans. I hope that my generation will carry the torch and move forward in realizing New Sudans. I hope my generation will always remember the wisdom provided by those who sacrificed so much for us, and that they will educate themselves, and never be complacent in the face of oppression. Years from now, I hope we will not be mourning a dream deferred, but rather that we will be celebrating being citizens of two truly democratic, accountable, and peaceful Sudans.

And maybe one day the words Dr. Garang delivered on July 9, 2005, will finally ring true: “You are free, so oh Sudanese, open your wings and fly, fly and fly to more freedom to the New Sudan of freedom and justice for all.”

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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