Has South Sudan’s Independence been Joyous and Painful?

Published October 1, 2012

Published by South Sudan Info, October 1, 2012

JUBA – Despite the euphoria that followed South Sudan’s independence, few citizens would have thought that secession alone would halt the long history of suffering and ensure prosperity, stability and security, as Jok Madut Jok comments.

Many South Sudanese did not see secession as the ultimate solution to the north and the south’s intractable military and political clashes that date back 192 years. Despite the prevailing sense of freedom, expectation and hope for a better life, people were aware of a variety of historical facts likely to hamper independence.

For example, 25 years of the last phase of war between north and south left the new republic one of the world’s most war-torn countries since World War II. It has what the United Nations describes as “scary statistics”, such as high rates of maternal and infant mortality, low literacy rates and dilapidated infrastructure.

People are also well aware of a disconnect: The government and urban populations viewed the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) as marking the end of the war, while ordinary rural folk witnessed other layers of conflict that were not addressed by the CPA, such as ethnic clashes, militias left over from the north-south war and other sources of insecurity.

There was also scepticism about the ability of the government to be just and equitable in governance and responsibly manage resources. Additionally, there is a general sense that Sudan may have split into two, but the rump state, the Republic of Sudan, has not really left the new state of South Sudan alone, as indicated by the behaviour of Khartoum’s government in terms of border security, economic war, oil disputes, and aggression against South Sudanese in the north. It is as if Khartoum thought that an independent South would continue to be treated like a province of Sudan. All these factors prevented people from focusing on positive aspects of independence.

Negative experiences and doubts about the future have spoiled the party. Instead of celebrations, news reports have been awash with descriptions of one calamity after another. If the news outlets were not talking about the four billion dollars stolen by senior officials, they might talk about the plight of over four million South Sudanese who are facing disastrous food deficits and a looming famine.

If they did not highlight the debacle of 6,000 armed Lou Nuer youth bent on wiping out the Murle in Jonglei, they may have focused on about 15,000 South Sudanese stuck in Kosti after the Khartoum government blocked river barges that had been earmarked to carry them to South Sudan after they had been told to leave. There is news of corruption, unemployment, the closure of universities, fuel shortages, rising food prices, the declining value of the South Sudanese Pound. The list goes on.

The recent border wars, Khartoum’s aerial bombings and attempts to invade South Sudan’s border towns, the closure of the border putting an end to trade, the termination of air travel between Khartoum and Juba, the racist rhetoric by president Omar al-Bashir and the expulsion of South Sudanese from Sudan, were to be expected.

Since independence, the Sudan’s rulers have exuded doubt about whether the separation is a suitable political solution to the north-south problems that plagued the country for over 50 years. What was surprising was the fact that South Sudanese leaders were surprised by these actions. This failure to foresee Khartoum’s response was somewhat naive. Here was a regime who during its 20 years at the helm exhibited utmost disdain for South Sudan. Under its calculations, it recognised the South in exchange for aid from the United States. When the aid did not materialise, leaving an economic gap left behind by South Sudan’s control of the oil fields, Khartoum turned against the young state. It forgot that South Sudan was not responsible for US reluctance to lift sanctions or delist Sudan from the list of states that sponsor terrorist organisation. In fact, the US’s scepticism was triggered by Khartoum’s behaviour over Abyei and the re-ignition of war in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states against the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N).

As a nationalist, any South Sudanese citizen might have cheered independence, but in terms of its impact on everyday life, independence may not have lived up to people’s expectations. While the South Sudanese did not entirely trust neighbouring Sudan’s talk of harmonious relations between the two states, they hoped for a continuation of some of the positive historical relations between the two states. This was particularly true for the border populations, who lost the ability to conduct cross-border trade, which had been a significant pillar of their livelihoods. They also knew that any military confrontation between the two nations’ armies would harm the well-being and security of the border population more than any other sections of the two countries.

Although they celebrate freedom, these post-independence developments may cause citizens to question the value of separation. It may be hard to question the value of independence, for fear of being seen as unpatriotic, but that does not mean that people do not harbour such thoughts amid deprivation, insecurity, and lack of services.

But blaming Khartoum for South Sudan’s local social and economic ills has become an easy escape route from our own responsibilities. The misery which surrounds us is not necessarily Khartoum’s doing. There are many signs of disparity and disconnect between those who run the government in Juba and everyone else. Some of these signs can be quite vulgar, others may be benign but still visible.

Take for example, the sports utility vehicles. I do not feel good watching these cars drive past hungry children with fly-covered faces, children who cannot go to school because their families cannot afford school fees. Just two or three of these gas-guzzling Toyotas, at inflated Juba prices, could build a school or pay for the teachers of two schools for an entire year. That dirty-faced child would not need to pay school fees.

Another example is that of war veterans and active soldiers who defend our freedoms everyday. Their suffering and the plight of their children is our own doing. The Ministry of Defence receives its salaries before everyone else and yet some units go for months without pay. Sometimes the unpaid months get forgotten and the children of our heroes go hungry everyday. Elsewhere, ministers and army commanders would get immediately summoned to the parliament — but not in South Sudan.

Blame the war for our problems if you want, but nothing short of honest self-criticism will help us move on.

Without a doubt, no one was naive enough to think that the creation of the new nation was the panacea for South Sudan’s disastrous history, but some of our current heart-breaking developments were surely preventable and punishable. How do we, as individuals, communities and a government, want to go down in history? What do we want to be remembered for? Are we going to be the generation that squandered the resources of the future generations? Failing to answer these questions is at our own peril.

Original article published here: http://southsudaninfo.net/2012/10/has-south-sudans-independence-been-joyous-and-painful/

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