Ngor Arol Garang
What does secession celebration remind and what next are the questions lingering in the minds of the majority of South Sudanese in and outside the country and from all walks of life as they prepare to mark the 10th anniversary of the independence? With a howling cheer on July 9th, 2011, the people welcomed the newest nation in the world.
People waved flags in colourful ways as the new flag was being hoisted high into the air, marking the historic moment of formal independence from the north. People hugged in joy and some cried as the new national anthem was sung for the first time ever. Others fainted and collapsed because of joy brought by the day thought would not come in their lifetime. It brought pride and a sense of patriotism while invoking memories of those who died fighting in the liberation.
They did not die in vain. The day justified as world leaders gathered to witness the lowering of the Sudanese flag and the hoisting of the flag of a new nation which came into being as a result of accumulative efforts and long struggle against slavery, an extension of the Ottoman Empire rule, the Anglo- Egyptian condominium rule and internal attempts and sustained efforts to impose a hegemonic system inspired by a religious and one language ideology and political aspirations by a coterie of elites and region in Sudan after independence in 1956 from foreign occupation and colonial rule at expense of diverse cultures to form a unique and formidable identity.
The anniversary reminds of the day when leaders and citizens gathered to watch organized forces and the military march before them as fighter jets fly over a huge crowd that had gathered to witness the day. It reminds of the day when the ordinary dressed in their best attires and danced the best dance and artists performed the best show while students sang the national anthem of an independent country for the first time in history. It reminds of the day when leaders came out to address the public about their plans and how they had planned to move the country forward. The future was apparently clear, generating hopes of a country envisioned to be a beacon of diversity, of unity, of justice, of equality, of freedom, of cohesion, of peace, of love, of democracy, of stability, of innovation, of competition and prosperity. It also elicits questions asking what next.
The two questions are entombed in the floodgates of events and hopes have been dashed by political conflicts to which the country has been thrown since 2013, just two years after euphoric attitudes steered every step and talks when political leaders within the ruling Sudan People’s liberation movement (SPLM) could not subordinate personal ambitions for the greater good.
And as the clock ticks to the day, little is expected from speeches the leaders would deliver, speeches that would be followed by tangible evidence of action. If anything, the anniversary presents another opportunity for politicians in the power corridors and power brokers to plunder the little that could be there in the treasury, that could save lives if used judiciously to purchase medicines and equipment to be used in hospitals, that could pay civil servants, the organized forces, and the army.
If anything, it is an opportunity for the leaders to look for excuses and people in which they would expect the public to find fault and to blame them for failing to perform and deliver to expectations of the positions they hold in the name of the public instead of taking responsibility and act to reverse the damage and suffering faced. The Oligarchs thriving in kleptocracy would gladly use the occasion to demonstrate once again how stagnant they are and to exhibit a lack of sound ideology. It would be another opportunity to sing old songs of the liberation, not a new song, not a new vision but rather old songs of battles fought at the height of wars to gain independence and the commanders who commanded forces without showing what they have done and to explain what they wanted to do after the war and how they would remember and honour the fallen heroes and heroines.
The children of the fallen heroes and heroines wallow in poverty as tribalism, cronyism & corruption is rife. The economy has not been diversified as oil revenue continue to flow into the private accounts of individual leaders and in a country in which the private sector is small, poorly funded, and largely dependent on government contracts. Because of political conflicts and years of economic neglect since independence owing to lack of a strong and inspiring visionary leadership, under-investment in infrastructure, lack of diversification in the economy, misuse of natural resources, plus successive phases of bad governance have led to a situation where most of the majority poor live hand-to-mouth, the large majority living on less than $1 a day.
Women and the elderly, especially those living in the rural areas comprise one of the most disadvantaged groups in society. This inevitably affects health and educational outcomes for children. All these have made life quite unbearable for many people, and the demonstrations in form of rebellions show the level of frustration in the country. But there is Hope. However gloomy the picture is today, the agreement presents an opportunity to voice out frustration and change the direction of the country at the ballot box, onto a better path if the parties to the revitalized peace agreement commit themselves to full implementation.
They need to commit themselves to establish an inclusive system for all irrespective of where one comes from. They need to think of a path where food is affordable, a path in which hospitals would have medicines and government contracts are awarded fairly and transparently. A path where promotion is based on merit, not a party or tribal affiliation; where there would be educational opportunities for young people, and where financial institutions would not take advantage of people in financial hardship. They should think of a country where there would be plenty of opportunities for citizens, young entrepreneurs would be able to take loans with relative ease and at low interests, and fighting corruption is not merely lip service.
A path where tribalism, regionalism & cronyism would be tackled decisively and the interests of the country and the collective good is put before the interests of individuals, where parochial association and ethnic patriotism would give way to rational dialogue and ideological association. The 10th anniversary should be an opportunity for the leaders to unveil strategies and clear plans to alleviate the suffering to which they have subjected the people since 2013 and to think, collectively of how to make independence real and meaningful. They should think of how the economy should be improved by exploring ways to diversify the economy since the core element to a strong economy is a strong manufacturing capability, without which the country is nothing in global affairs.
They should reflect that We are not a country proud of providing jobs and employment for its own people with the ability to manufacture our own products because we have given all away to other countries along with our jobs. And now we have experienced what happens to a country when it is totally dependent on another country for almost everything it needs to survive. A country is an independent country when it is self-reliant and non-obligatory to anyone or any other country.