The Nation (Nairobi)

9 July 2011

South Sudan: History is Made As Nation Becomes Independent State

After lowering the Sudanese flag, the Republic of South Sudan raises its flag during its independence celebrations. ( Resource: South Sudan Raises Its Flag

Juba — Before an overflowing crowd of tens of thousands of his ecstatic countrymen, President Salva Kiir Mayardit used the historic occasion of the entry of South Sudan into the world's community of states to tell his people that they would never again wilfully return to war.

"This is a day that will be forever engraved in our hearts. Citizens in every village and county of South Sudan are celebrating.

"We give praise to the Almighty God for making it possible for us to witness this day which we have waited for more than 56 years," he said.

President Kiir told his war-weary citizens that the new nation, which was home to a conflict that claimed the highest number of civilian casualties since the Second World War, that South Sudan would now be a maker of peace and never a wager of war.

"We will live at peace with our neighbours in the north, east, west and south. We shall be part of endeavours to strive for freedom, dignity and peace.

"Having been at the receiving end of injustice for the better part of our post-colonial history, the people of South Sudan will never accept to be aggressors.

"We have experienced what it is to be a refugee. We hope that this has been our last war and that our people will never have to leave the country to flee from insecurity," he said.

The new president was fulsome in his praise of neighbours such as Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia which played host to hundreds of thousands of refugees from the South during the long war and which are expected to emerge as key trading partners and strong political allies of the newest member of the East African Community.

"(Our neighbours) gave us water when we were thirsty, medication when we were sick, they gave education to our children and most importantly they stayed with us to the end. We thank them."

Saturday's celebration was a moment of considerable historic significance in modern African history. Some analysts say the breakup of the biggest country in Africa represents the biggest event in the last few decades since the fall of the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

It marked a milestone which some hope will help end one of the longest running conflicts in Africa between the religiously and culturally distinct peoples of North and South Sudan.

In their effort to suppress the revolt by the people of South Sudan, who mainly follow traditional beliefs or subscribe to Christianity, forces from the mainly Islamic North waged a war which resulted in the displacement of up to 4 million Southerners and the death of about two million mainly due to hunger and disease.

The official proclamation of the new state by war veteran James Wani Igga, who is now Speaker of the South Sudan Legislative Assembly, came at 1.25 pm, three hours before Mr Kiir's speech.

To the accompaniment of a brass band and with the cheers of the gathered thousands echoing in his ears, Mr Wani uttered the words that will go down in South Sudanese folklore as marking the moment when the long resistance came to an official end.

"We, the democratically elected representatives of the people, based on the will of the people of South Sudan, and as confirmed by the outcome of the referendum of self-determination, hereby declare South Sudan to be an independent and sovereign nation."

The event was witnessed by thousands of citizens many of whom arrived at the venue in the half-light of dawn and witnessed a glorious golden sunrise from the eastern end of the Juba airport area signalling the start of a day which many had never dared dream would come.

Dozens took positions on the branches of the trees that line the edges of the grounds while many others jostled for positions close to the dais.

Young and old said this was one of the happiest days of their lives. Because of the length of the war which first began in 1955 and ended around the turn of the century with only a few years of peace in between, nearly everyone has a memory of the bitter price of conflict.

The crowd enthusiastically joined in reciting Sudan People's Liberation Army struggle songs and most were brought to their feet by a song by local star Duop Pour Duop in praise of the war heroes.

"Our people fought for this day with our blood," said 14-year-old Samuel Maniak. "This is a great day for all of us."

Mary Muortat, one of hundreds of former refugees who spent years in exile after their parents were uprooted by the conflict, said citizens of the new nation were not daunted by the task ahead.

"After what we have been through we can no longer be shaken by anything. What others see as insurmountable challenges we view as tasks that are far easier than what we overcame in the past," she said.

Ms Muortat, who is now a senior government official, is a daughter of Gordon Muortat, one of the founders of the first Anya-Nya war waged by Southern forces in protest at the decision by the British to thrust the North and South together at independence in 1956.

He passed away two years ago but a few other fellow fighters such as Joseph Wagu and Chagai Atem took their place on the podium on Saturday.

Most conspicuously absent was the most gallant leader of the Southern resistance movement, Dr John Garang.

The leading tactician and political soul of the Southern rebellion was killed in a helicopter crash weeks after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Nairobi.

His long shadow looms over South Sudan where he remains a revered figure. The events were held on the outskirts of Juba town at the John Garang Mausoleum where he was laid to rest.

"The struggle was long and hard," said John Garang Garang, 23, one of the many youth born after the launch of the second war of liberation in 1983 that bear the name of the former rebel leader.

"Now our challenge is to remain united as one nation and we will prove our detractors wrong and build a nation we can be proud of."

The celebrations were attended by one of the largest gatherings of diplomats seen in the Horn of Africa.

Dozens of Western envoys in short-sleeved white shirts and dark shades took cover under umbrellas to avoid the scorching heat of a typical sweltering Juba day.

The worldwide attention that the situation in South Sudan has attracted marks the key difference between the Sudan civil war and the last successful war of secession in Africa between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Many analysts hope that this level of world attention will help avoid a return to conflict or the degeneration of the South into a home of civil unrest promoted by rebel groups.

"We will not have very easy relations with the North," said Dr Jaafar Kerim Juma of the University of Juba.

"I am a Muslim but I know the issues between the North and South run deeper than religion. We will look more to East Africa.

"The best we can hope for with the North is sustained economic ties and the avoidance of another war."

It was a good sign that many representatives from the Khartoum regime attended the ceremony including President Omar al Bashir and other former leaders such as Sadiq al Mahdi and Hassan al Turabi who in the past had difficult relations with the South.

Most of those who spoke including President Kibaki urged the pair to maintain cordial relations.

"I urge North and South Sudan to take advantage of the age-old links they have developed as one entity, to nurture close bilateral relations even as they assume separate sovereign identities.

"This will no doubt contribute immensely to consolidating stability in the region." Dozens of other heads of states and representatives of government attended the ceremony.

The US, EU, China, United Nations, African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) pledged to stand with the South in the hard work that lies ahead in its path to nationhood.

Other Kenyan leaders in attendance included Prime Minister Raila Odinga, key mediators Lazarus Sumbeiywo and Bethwel Kiplagat and former President Daniel arap Moi for whom the Sudan peace process represented a major foreign policy success for which he is hugely popular in Juba.

It was clear from the chaotic organisation of the ceremony which left many invited guests without seats and saw the sound system malfunction at one point that the inexperienced heads of the new government have much to do to lift their people from poverty.

President Kiir acknowledged these challenges while declaring his team would strive to confound doubters.

His administration must now embark on a series of actions big and small to cement the new nation's place in the community of nations.

They will need to formally apply for UN membership, establish a new currency, apply for a new spectrum for telephone calls and establish solid governance institutions.

The biggest task ahead will be uniting the peoples of the South whose sense of national identity is shaky due to the absence of an effective central government in Juba during the war. Added to this will be the huge task of managing the relationship with the North.

On the internal challenge President Kiir issued an impassioned appeal for unity and told the North he sought peace although he turned around the famous "forgive and forget" speech by Mzee Jomo Kenyatta by saying the scars of the past would take time to heal.

"We will forgive but we will never forget," he said before a late afternoon shower swept through Juba in a sign that locals hoped was a good luck omen for the world's 193rd state.

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