When the world birthed its 193rd nation last year, brothers and sisters of the newborn state were unabashedly optimistic that a patch of land that has known armed conflicts at every turn in its history could finally see some daylight of sustained peace and progress. Decades of death, displacement, famine, etc had led some to believe this was a land to which God has renounced all rights. The occasion of a peaceful split of this land into two, Sudan and South Sudan, on July 9, 2011 yet gave hope that measured stability was on its way.
This week, South Sudan celebrates that independence from Sudan. As residents of Juba, South Sudan’s capital city and largest metropolis will tell you, life’s been no El Dorado; nonetheless, it’s been a country of their own.
In the one year of independence, several elements have threatened and still continue to trouble this budding democracy. The biggest of which was an incident of almost all-out war between South Sudan and its neighbor, Sudan, over the disputed oil-rich region of Heglig; which was captured by South Sudanese forces. Thankfully, international efforts at mediation were able to coax both parties from the precipice of deplorable bloodshed.
But no nation is ever conquered from without until it has first destroyed itself from within. This age-old adage might prove South Sudan’s greatest ominous presage. Currently, the fledging nation is at war with armed groups in 9 of its 10 states: a recipe for destabilization and anarchy if the government in Juba cannot find speedy resolutions to these conflicts. A situation that can rapidly deteriorate into a “Somalia,” where armed militiamen roam the country at will and confine the central government to Mogadishu and its environs.
South Sudan post-independence is poorly developed due to years of neglect brought on by war and strife with the north. A distressing offshoot of this is the alarming reality that South Sudan has the highest maternal mortality and female illiteracy rates anywhere on earth.
Still, I am very hopeful and jubilant for South Sudan.
The biggest step has been her successful fight for self-determination and governance – no small feat by any standards. It should be noted that the president of the Sudan, Omar al Bashir, from whom South Sudan broke free, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
For so long, African states have lamented the legacy left them at independence by European colonial masters. South Sudan presents an opportunity to begin to construct an African state of their dreams. There’s no denying that for this nascent state to begin to walk, and then run with the herd, she will need assistance from her brothers and sisters on the continent. It is an opportunity to right the wrongs they experienced at the various points of their independence by guiding and providing Juba with the wherewithal for buoyancy.
Growing pains can be frustrating and demoralizing. But as Thomas Paine noted: “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigues of supporting it.” Which is why I was happy to hear President Salva Kiir Mayardit declare on the anniversary of his nation’s independence – “We are not a people who fear the night,” he said. “Because we know that no matter the night becomes long, still, morning will come. There is no reason for worry or for a hurry.”