Dr. Lawrence Wongo: First Independence Anniversary

Against major odds and more than 4 decades of fighting, the Republic of South Sudan (RSS) officially seceded from Sudan on July 9, 2011 after an overwhelming vote in an internationally supervised referendum in favor of independence. The 1-year old RSS celebrated its independence with much pride and a clear manifestation of joy for its new coveted status.

Secession came with extremely high hopes for people, who had endured many years of suffering and the ravages of war. Expectations for quick-fix solutions and a better standard of living were high. Goodwill and support for the world’s newest state, from all corners of the globe, were not in short supply. Despite all this, the first anniversary celebrations for independence on July 9, 2012 were muted, low key and without much of the euphoria that had accompanied the referendum voting and declaration of independence on July 9, 2011.

It was clear from the mood of the people that, things were not going well. The guest of honor, Ugandan President Museveni, was the only head of state from the African continent to attend the celebrations in Juba. African Union (AU) Commission chairperson, Jean Ping, representatives of African governments, and UN Secretary General, Banki Moon were also present. Despite receiving an invitation, President Beshir declined to attend although he dispatched a representative. Kiir told the masses that the challenges ahead were enormous, but assured them that, the country will prevail. He urged the international community not to stop assistance to the RSS, because of past mistakes that his government was working hard to correct. President Museveni advised South Sudanese to unite, lay a strong foundation for the country and reaffirmed Uganda’s commitment to help them. The UN special representative to RSS acknowledged the efforts exerted and challenges the new nation is facing. She said that, the UN is working to resolve the deteriorating situation between the two Sudans. AU Commission chairman, Jean Ping, promised the RSS support and advised the government to take agriculture seriously to enhance its economy. He disclosed that, the AU will assist with RSS’s education, health, security and basic infrastructure.

Having inherited a country virtually bereft of any basic infrastructure and services, it was hoped that the RSS would learn from the missteps of other African countries that struggled endlessly with corruption, nepotism and tribalism post-independence. Since 2005, the citizens of the new state have been aware of the pervasiveness of corruption in their midst despite the vehement denials from their government. Recently, the president wrote to 75 current and former senior officials to return $4 billion allegedly embezzled from the government coffers. So far, nothing tangible has been done and nobody has assumed any responsibility for the vice. South Sudan inherited 75% of the former country’s oil fields at independence, but being landlocked, the oil cannot be independently exported. North Sudan controls the pipeline needed to get that oil to the market.

In January 2012, the RSS shut down oil production in a dispute with its neighbor over how much it should pay to transport its crude through Sudan’s pipeline. The shutdown has crippled both economies. Devoid of industries and wholly reliant on imports, the RSS is feeling the brunt of the loss of oil revenue, which contributes 98% of its annual budget. Political cooperation between the two Sudan’s is virtually non-existent, jeopardizing the resolution of the outstanding post-independence issues, including citizen rights, free movement across borders, permanent status of the disputed Abyei area, border demarcation, and the challenge of resettling millions of returning citizens and refugees from the neighboring countries. Both sides accused each other of supporting rebel movements operating in their countries. In early August 2012, Sudan not only agreed to a lower oil transport fees for the RSS and allowed aid to finally reach the rebel-held border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile.

As it declared its independence a year ago, it was well understood that, the struggle to build a functioning new state would be long and arduous. What was not clear was how much both nations would do to sabotage each other politically and economically. However, the day was still significant to South Sudanese, because many cynics had wished the RSS to become a failed state. The U.S. and other countries that advocated for the secession of South Sudan need to keep working with both sides to resolve the remaining disputes between the two nations. The reality is that the two nations are mutually dependent, today and long into the future. A year after independence, the RSS outlook is still dismal The last year has been a period of high expectations as well as harsh realities. Needless to say, the citizens remain proud and well-wishers around the globe should be cautiously optimistic. The destiny of the RSS remains squarely in the hands of its people. I am not aware of any valid reason why the leadership of South Sudan and its proud people cannot transform the resource-rich country into a land of limitless opportunities for its citizens. If the leadership fails in their responsibilities, its citizens will never surrender to fate!