Reflections on Independence Day in South Sudan

Aug 8, 2011


It seems a little strange to fall asleep in one country and wake up the next day in a completely new one, all without having moved a single step.

I went to bed in Sudan on July 8th, and awoke in the Republic of South Sudan on July 9th.

I was offered the chance to witness history firsthand when UNDP sent me to provide additional hands on deck to support our office there during the new country’s Independence Day period.

As a Kenyan, with Sudan next door, I remember the South Sudanese story from my childhood: the war that never seemed to end, during which an estimated more than 2 million people lost their lives; refugees hosted in northwestern Kenya; food drops into Southern Sudan.

And then, in 2005, a peace agreement signed in Kenya gave the Southern Sudanese the chance to vote in a referendum to either remain united or secede from the North.

At 11pm on Friday, July 8th we could already hear the celebrations going on in the streets outside – car horns and music blaring, dancing and the ubiquitous cheer: “South Sudan Oyee!”

Greetings from RoSS

It was hot on Saturday, July 9th - more than 35 degrees centigrade - the day the Republic of South Sudan became the newest country in the world.

At Freedom Square, the crowd swelled as the ceremony began – women, men, the old and young. They were waving flags, singing, praying, and dancing.

All of a sudden, a roar filled the grounds. The new country’s flag was being hoisted up the 30-metre pole and it slowly unfurled in the gentle breeze. The Republic of South Sudan had officially been born.

Sunday, 10 July onwards

The people of South Sudan now have to go about the business of building their country from scratch and setting up infrastructures that many of us take for granted.

They now have a new country code - +211. They are going to be rolling out their new currency, the Sudanese pound. They are setting up an immigration department.

And many more challenges lie ahead. Parts of the peace agreement are yet to be implemented and they have some of the worst human development indicators in the world. Around 90 percent of adults are illiterate and only 30 percent have access to basic health services.

The South Sudanese have won their freedom at a very high cost. Many did not live to see this day. They deserve our admiration and support to build a credible state that can deliver the dividends of freedom - basic services and peace.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it best: “Together, let us say to the citizens of our newest Member State: You now sit with us. We stand with you. At this moment…in this place…the world gathers to say in one voice: Welcome, South Sudan. Welcome to the community of nations.”

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