S Sudan two years on: Adjusting expectations
“Toward effective nation building and prosperity for all”, encourage the billboards across this city. As South Sudan’s capital prepares to celebrate its second independence day on July 9, mixed feelings linger about the progress the youngest nation in the world has made since independence.
“We are free now, but life hasn’t gotten better,” said Ruth, who works for a local grassroots organisation. “Crime in Juba has increased, and education and health services have become more expensive,”
A group of students at Juba University reflected on the past two years. “To find a job is very hard, you need someone to get your back,” Santo explained.
Johnson, a first year student, added: “You can see some improvements in Juba, but outside nothing has really changed. Juba is just a small drop in the sea.”
Two years ago, South Sudan rejoiced in independence festivities to celebrate its secession from its northern neighbour, Sudan. The day was a historic moment of which many South Sudanese may not have dared dream. It marked the culmination of a long peace process, ending decades of war that claimed more than two million lives.
In the 2011 independence referendum, 99 per cent of the population voted to secede from Sudan, signalling a united desire to leave behind years of war for a new future. Euphoria and expectations ran high. Yet building a state from scratch is a daunting task, and two years later, people’s patience is being tested – as the country struggles to stand on its own two feet and deliver the dividends of a promised peace.
Making the right decisions
The first two years of independence may look rather bleak if South Sudan as compared to the rest of the world. However, taking into account South Sudan’s point of departure and the level of needs at the end of the war, progress has been made. Lifting a nation from civil war or building a new state will take not years, but decades. Yet the decisions made now will set important foundations going forward.
“We need visionary leaders to make the right choices. We need to invest in education so that we are equipped to take the country forward,” said Duku Patrick, a second year engineering student.
As independence day celebrations draw near, some positive signs emerge.
Last week, South Sudan shipped its first oil to the international market. At the same time, Vice-President Riek Machar travelled to Khartoum to diffuse the tensions between the two countries to ensure that South Sudan’s lifeline remains open.
Former South African president Thabo Mbeki is also visiting Juba this week to take forward concrete plans to demarcate the safe demilitarised border zone between Sudan and South Sudan.
It is clear that progress is being made, yet significant challenges remain.