Opinion| South Sudan’s 13th independence anniversary: A moment of hope or despair?

Even before hoisting of the flag, the top leadership of an anonymous neighboring country started to speculate about how the world’s newest nation would handle its internal woes, and openly questioned the kind of leadership South Sudanese politicians would provide in a country already intertwined in turmoil. Did their cynicisms come true? Only the story could tell.


A decade and two years ago when the flag of the newly independent Republic of South Sudan was hoisted at Dr. John Garang Mausoleum, South Sudanese citizens from all ethnic, linguistic, and religious backgrounds attentively watched, and celebrated it with a full sense of hope, nationalism and patriotism.

The euphoria was stirred by the belief that the South Sudanese people had already stepped out of a protracted conflict, which for many years, had been orchestrated by the successive oppressive regimes in Khartoum, and that they had ushered in the land of justice, liberty, and prosperity. At the occasion, artists sang and the masses danced, the leaders rhapsodized and the people cheered, “The Republic of South Sudan and the SPLM Oyeeee!!” was the mutual slogan of the day. Of course, this is the country they so bravely fought for. 

At the international level, 9th July 2011, was warmly received. People from around the world, especially those from countries that became long-term friends and allies of the SPLM/SPLA and the people of Southern Sudan during the liberation struggle joined a group of jubilant South Sudanese in celebration. Their government officials and ordinary citizens alike sent significant chunks of congratulatory messages and best wishes and eventually offered their willingness to open up foreign missions in the capital of the world’s youngest nation.

Nationally, the notion of independence conceived by South Sudanese commons was a newlywed’s attachment at a beach. The majority of them held the belief that 9th July did not only embody their personal and collective freedoms but also the moment of launching a new life after the departure of deliberate onslaughts of marginalization, which the successive Khartoum-based governments presided over for nearly half a century. Peace, harmony, unity in diversity, socio-economic developments, and new opportunities as well were at the forefront of their expectations. 

However, 9th July 2011, did not go down well with some leaders in the region. They welcomed it with a gob of doubts. Even before hoisting of the flag, the top leadership of an anonymous neighboring country started to speculate about how the world’s newest nation would handle its internal woes, and openly questioned the kind of leadership South Sudanese politicians would provide in a country already intertwined in turmoil. Did their cynicisms come true? Only the story could tell.

Reacting to some of these misgivings, the new President of the Republic of South Sudan, Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit, overtly downplayed all those systematic utterances and argued that his party and the people of South Sudan were capable of handling their affairs amicably. The President said, “Our distractors have already written us off, even before the proclamation of our independence. They say we will slip into civil war as soon as our flag is hoisted. They justify that by arguing that we are incapable of resolving our problems through dialogue. They charge that we are quick to revert to violence. They claim that our concept of democracy and freedom is faulty. It is incumbent upon us to prove them all wrong!” Yet, only three months after the commemoration of the second anniversary of independence and ten days down to the Christmas of 2013, were distractors proven right.  On 15th December 2013, the whole world saw the newest country slipping into a deadly civil war. Impatience, greed, and egotism dwarfed the very liberators. Little could they recall their distractors’ pessimism?

Given the current state of affairs, it is, therefore, important to pose this fundamental question: Is the 13th Anniversary of South Sudan’s independence a moment of hope or despair? This query is not easy to answer, for it addresses both sides of the story. The civil war triggered by the leadership contest within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) has already fetched far-reaching consequences. It can be argued that all existing problems befalling the Republic of South Sudan traced their origin to that meaningless war. As President Salva Kiir repeatedly dubs it a “senseless war”, it is the metamorphosis of this conflict that has filled South Sudanese people and their government with mistrust, hopelessness, and shame. For example, since 2013, neither South Sudanese citizens nor their government officials gathered at Dr. John Garang Mausoleum as one nation to commemorate their “Independence Day”. As it has become clearer today that they are going to commemorate this momentous day indoors, it can be asserted that the 13th Anniversary of South Sudan’s independence is still a moment of despair.

The despair has displayed a grievous face in every corner of South Sudan. From Juba City to state capitals, and down to counties, payams, and bomas as well as villages, the chorus of hopelessness can be heard loudly. This sense of bleakness has been prompted by a couple of factors, ranging from economic slump, and enervating security to social hazards. Currently, the entire economy of the country is crumbling, leading to a substantial decline in the provision of public services, and consequently, rising costs of living for South Sudanese ordinary citizens. In addition, communal conflicts are deepening, social felonies are widening, systematic corruption is endemic, over-dependency is persistent, climate change is threatening, the education system is falling, health deficiency is flaring, and ethnic politics and kleptocracy are consolidating. Our country faces multiple threats.

Nevertheless, despite all these challenges, the 13th Anniversary of South Sudan’s independence is also a beacon of hope and optimism. The hope and optimism alluded to can be guaranteed by the existence of the incumbent Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU) which has been effective since 2021. This political development has built not only sufficient trust in former warring parties, making them to implement some critical provisions of the peace agreement such as the inauguration of the first batch of the Necessary Unified Forces (NUF), but it has also enhanced citizens’ confidence, especially South Sudanese camped in internally displaced sites. And although there are still some potholes in the security domain of the country, it can be stated that the inauguration of these forces has led to a significant improvement of traditional security.

The ongoing Nairobi Peace Talks (Tumaini Peace Initiative) between the hold-out groups and the government of the day is another source of hope and optimism since it is showing some significant progress. Currently, there are visible signs that the peace deal shall be reached, where all political and military dissidents shall be on the same boat. The Tumaini Peace Initiative shall also include other parties that are still holding out. And when all parties embrace this initiative, durable peace shall ultimately prevail in the country.

Although these woes and wounds are besetting our nation, there are enormous opportunities for South Sudanese to exploit at this precarious time. As such, it is so crucial to remind ourselves as a people of how far we have come, and how long we look ahead. The problems stated above are real, and they are serious in magnitude. Neglecting them by not addressing their root causes is tantamount to setting one’s own house on fire. As a result, the author is hereby recommending some courses of action to be undertaken, particularly in critical areas as discussed below.

  1. Both R-TGoNU and the holdout groups should negotiate the Tumaini Peace Initiative (Nairobi Peace Talks) in good faith. The Nairobi Peace Talks is one of the sources of hope and optimism as we commemorate the 13th Anniversary of our independence. All South Sudanese eyes are always turned to Nairobi, Kenya to see the progress of negotiations. Since there have been positive reports regarding the peace deal, the 13th Anniversary of our independence shall be a moment of hope and not despair.
  • Parties to the R-ARCISS should also speed up the implementation of all the pending provisions of the 2018 Revitalized Peace Agreement. This is to ensure the full commitment of all parties involved. However, trading of accusations and lack of political will to implement the remaining tasks must stop, because this behavior will only escalate the tension in an already volatile political environment.
  • The R-TGoNU and its related organs should uphold, promote, and strengthen the rule of law in the country. Injustices, oppression, and other forms of marginalization are the very titanic forces that convinced South Sudanese to opt for secession in 2011. Undermining the rule of law in this country will prompt South Sudanese to rekindle the same pains inflicted upon them by their former oppressors. Hence, there is a high need to establish an effective, impartial, and competent judicial body to administer the rule of law in the Republic of South Sudan.
  • The R-TGoNU and its related institutions should confront all forms of organized corruption in the country. The Republic of South Sudan has already gone down in history as one of the most corrupt countries on this planet. And as young as it is, this practice in South Sudan is inappropriate and it should be eradicated. It is, therefore, humiliating to keep such a record. Corruption which may appear in any form is a cancer. Its prevalence in the country cannot only undermine the functionality of the government but it will also provoke citizens to turn against their government. The incumbent leadership of the country should formulate and institutionalize a zero-tolerant mechanism to handle corruption-associated cases, by empowering relevant institutions like the South Sudan Anti-corruption Commission and the judiciary to execute their operations effectively.
  • The R-TGoNU and its development partners should embark on agriculture to diversify the country’s economy. Agricultural exploitation is a noble course to undertake to feed its hungry population. It has been estimated that about 80 percent of South Sudanese living in urban centers are largely dependent on imported food and nonfood items, and another huge population is depending on humanitarian assistance. The Republic should not continue on this path. Also, it should not continue to depend on oil as the chief export when almost 80 percent of its land is virgin. Over-dependence on oil exports has proven less productive and less sustainable. Hence, there is a need to initiate alternative paths of economic growth and development such as the industrialization program. Other areas of concern include infrastructural development like the construction of world-class roads and bridges, airports, and possibly railway systems. Transformation in the education system and improvement of health care services for all stand at the forefront and they require quick actions.
  • Finally, the R-TGoNU should, without hesitation, cater to our war veterans. Those ladies and gentlemen are the people whose achievements we celebrate today.

 As we commemorate the 13th Anniversary of South Sudan’s independence this year, it can be concluded that, unlike its predecessors, this historic day is far better. This year security has significantly improved, and relative peace and calm in both the center and other peripheries of the country have returned with penetrating roots. As such, let us all embrace peace and tranquility as we usher in a new era of our history. Let peace, love, and hope shine upon the Republic of South Sudan.

Amaju Ubur Yalamoi Ayani is a South Sudanese Master’s student of Political Science at the School of Social and Economic Studies, University of Juba. He specializes in International Relations and Diplomacy and can be reached via amajuayani@gmail.com.

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