Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Waiting on South Sudan's Big Day

I have been in South Sudan for the last 3 weeks (my second stint) now in different areas of the country. It has hard to be here and not being inspired by the magnitude of the events that will take place on July 9th. This is the place where the forgotten war was fought for decades and only World War II killed more people than the Sudan civil war in the modern era. The devastation of that conflict can be seen on daily activities here, you might spend 4 hours driving 50 KMs or stumble into healthcare facility that has neither skilled workers nor essential medicines. There sheer amount of poverty and suffering is unprecedented-- while the acres and acres of virgin land that is stuffed with landmines reminds one that this was once a battle-field. As it is, the entire population is divided into two halves, you are either a former soldier or a former refugee.

But South Sudanese are beaming with unspeakable joy right now. Either you are a Nuer, or a Dinka. A Madi or Acholi. Whether you are a former refugee or a former soldier--the people here seems to put all their bitter ethnic rivalry on the side and celebrate on the big day. There are parties arranged in almost every household, some are planning to slaughter a bull, some a goat, some a chicken--but it is clear that July 9th is shaped up to be the biggest day for this neonatal country. The have all the rights to celebrate, the sacrifices that they took for the right to be a free people are immeasurable. That is why July 9th will be a somber celebration, so many South Sudanese have perished during the fight for freedom. John Garang's name will be echoed throughout the next coming days. This new nation would have used his leadership skills now more than ever--It is unfortunate that he never lived to see this day, but his presence will truly be felt.

Now, Juba is bracing itself for hosting head of states and a lot of "important" global leaders. This is a town that was literally a village three years ago, and an airport that was just handled over yesterday (July 5th). There has been a massive crack-down on security this last week. We were waken up by SPLA soldiers conducting household weapons search, and stop and search check-points all over Juba. Nobody will be allowed to enter or exit Juba starting July 7th, and the airport will be closed from July 7 to 10. The boda boda are not even allowed to use the main roads and Juba will come to a complete shut down when the big day approach. The security crack-down is understandable, not everybody is happy with South Sudan independence. There have been "rebel" militia attacks in different areas of South Sudan who are rumoured to be bankrolled by the other Sudan government. And there is The Abyei showdown, and a crisis in South Khordofan . The situation here is getting tense as the big day is approaching, because nobody know what the other side will do. Interestingly, I just ran (July 5) in huge convoy of Uganda soldiers heading to Juba. It seems like South Sudan is starting to align itself with East Africa and M7 is making himself some friends.

The independence day will come and go, but South Sudan government face the huge task of building this country. It remains to be bitterly divided along tribal lines, and a lot of unanswered questions regarding the issue of oil and debt with the Khartoum government. For us who are working here, we are already aware of how difficult is it to achieve meaningful results. The government has to be assertive, and international community have to get away from short-term projects and invest in real people of this country. But many African countries have been free for about 50 years now, South Sudan has the luxury to look at how African leaders built their nations. I will urge them to copy Julius Nyerere's playbook on nation building.

In mean time, we will be partying comes on July 9th and it is a blessing to be a part of this whole thing, and we are looking forward towards helping these guys building their country. It won't be easy, but it is definitely exciting.

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