9 July 2017

South Sudan: Nation Marks Independence With Muted Celebrations

Photo: Isaac Billy/UN Photo
A scene from a political rally addressed by President Salva Kiir of South Sudan in March 2015 (file photo).

South Sudan has cancelled official independence celebrations for the second year in a row. The world's youngest nation is grappling with conflict, hunger and a refugee crisis six years after seceding from Sudan.

In an address to the nation on Sunday, President Salva Kiir said his government did not feel it was appropriate to spend the little funds they have on celebrations, while people are suffering under the economic crisis. "It's difficult for many people to afford even one meal per day," Kiir said.

On July 9, 2011, South Sudanese citizens cheered and celebrated the country's independence from Sudan. Martha Athieng celebrated by slaughtering a bull with her family and friends, and later joined in celebratory dances in her village. "We were all hoping for a better life," Athieng said. "We never knew we'd start killing each other."

Ariik Majok, 34, said that after six years of independence he had nothing to celebrate. "I don't regret voting for the independence of South Sudan," Majok said. But he said that he was unhappy with the way things are going in South Sudan. "I did not expect this." he added, referring to the ongoing civil war, famine and economic crisis.

Wani John, who works as a civil servant, agreed that there was nothing to celebrate. "People are dying and our leaders are not solving the problems," Wani said. He said he was not a happy citizen. "What we simply want is peace."

Searching for peace

South Sudan has bearly enjoyed peace, six years after gaining independence from Sudan. The oil-rich nation has been plagued by a brutal civil war, which started on December 2013, when President Kiir accused his former deputy, Riek Machar, of plotting a coup. Tens of thousands of people have died in clashes between government troops and rebels loyal to Machar.

Human rights groups have accused both warring parties of committing war crimes. South Sudan's 11 million people are also facing severe food shortages. The humanitarian disaster has turned the country into the site of the world's worst refugee crisis. Nearly four million people have been displaced from their homes.

While addressing his fellow countrymen and women, President Kiir said that the only solution is peace. He urged all rebel groups to lay down their arms and to respect the ceasefire. Kiir's government unilaterally declared a ceasefire earlier this year, but the fighting has continued, according to local reports.

Less words, more action

Kiir has called on the international community to support a South Sudanese national dialogue. He said $200 million (175 million euros) has been set aside for this "crucial national project."

Jacob Chol, professor of comparative politics at the University of Juba, described the national dialogue as a political game; "It's not a participatory process, the president just wanted to bring everyone together so he could feel like he was in control," Chol said. He said he won't be surprised if nothing comes out of it [the national dialogue]. Chol said what South Sudan needs are less words and more action.

cm/cl (AP, AFP)

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