South Sudan Independence
Philip Winter, ID’s Juba Representative, recounts his experience of South Sudan’s Independence Day celebrations on 9 July 2011.
The head of the Sudan Armed Forces, with South Sudan's Minister of Peace and CPA Implementation Pagan Amum, Vice President Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir, as the new flag rose and the old order ended.
I witnessed the arrival of an independent Republic of South Sudan from within an exhilarated traffic jam. On the night of the 8th July, I went to a party at the house of some Sudanese friends to celebrate independence and thought I should try to get back home before the whole city erupted at midnight. So I left at 11:00pm and spent the next hour in a long stream of vehicles, all honking their horns, hazard lights flashing, as we wound our way slowly round the town, with delirious people dancing in the road, shouting, waving the new flag and running for joy.
The next day, two thousand lucky people sat in the new stands for ten hours in the sun, facing 250,000 or even less fortunate people who had no seats. Soldiers in full uniform passed out every five minutes and were ferried away efficiently on stretchers by the South Sudan Red Cross, a body I had never been aware of before, let alone seen in action. The South Africans not only controlled the airspace but had sent four fearsome “technicals” into the space in front of the podium, each draped with serious-looking gunmen in flak jackets and helmets, to surround South African President Jacob Zuma, who had to stop in the resultant scrum of confused protocol officers and worried security men, before he could ascend the steps to his seat. He was lucky – Heads of State were the only ones who had any shade.
Under that one piece of shade, I was told, sat Issaias Aferwerki, President of Eritrea, isolated and alone. One might have expected this to happen to President Bashir too, but the Arab League, Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki, representing IGAD, and South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir himself all had the grace to acknowledge the role he had played in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which brought us to this day, whatever the scale and horror of the damage he has wrought. Bashir’s speech was placatory and he was applauded for coming, braving the occasion with some of the architects of the civil war, Hassan el Turabi, Sadiq el Mahdi and Nafie el Nafie - although the crowds made it clear they were glad they were going, too.
President Kiir’s speech said all the right things, emphasizing in particular the challenge of the violence in the Nuba, Darfur and Abyei regions. He referred to an African proverb – “However long the night, the day will surely come.” He could just see light at the end of the tunnel for South Sudan’s brothers whose problems have not been solved. They were near agreement in some areas. They would not go back to war, they would forgive but not forget and they had to meet the challenge of those who thought they were already a failed state. That meant tackling corruption and delivering services to the people.
The President singled out Norwegian People’s Aid – known to some in the South as the Norwegian People’s Army – for special mention. There was a howl of delight from the Norwegians in the stands in front of me. And he apologized for any organizational shortcomings – he and his government had not done this before. In fact, most people thought they had done very well indeed – what the event lacked in precision was made up for by the delight in the smiles and the depth of emotion across the entire crowd.
Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, spoke early as he had to leave early – his programme being run in units of 60 seconds, apparently – along with the current chair of the UN General Assembly, H.E. Mr. Joseph Deiss. He said South Sudan would be welcomed into the United Nations family. Ban Ki-moon was quite animated and reminded everyone that Southern Kordofan and Southern Blue Nile had not yet carried out their exercises in popular consultation.
The Chinese representative bowed and smiled. The Chairman of the AU, from Equatorial Guinea, spoke in Spanish. The man from the Arab League spoke at length in Arabic that few present could follow. President Mwai Kibaki did not generate much excitement, speaking as IGAD Chairman, though the crowd listened respectfully. They cheered Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni when he arrived, but he was not asked to speak. A group of Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) generals got hold of a microphone and sang an old marching song for a moment, before someone closed them down. No one seemed to mind. South Sudan’s Minister of Peace and CPA Implementation, Pagan Amum, had earlier persuaded them to vacate their seats for the guests, since there were not enough seats to go around. This they did with good grace.
Baroness Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, said the EU would help the new nation, referring to the emblem of the new state, the fish eagle, known for its far-sightedness, and mentioning the new national motto: “Justice, Liberty, Prosperity.”
US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, accompanied by a host of dignitaries and known for her strong support for the South, spoke warmly. Essentially she said we have opened our embassy here, the road ahead is steep and pitted, but the American people will be by your side. Prince Haakon of Norway, perhaps South Sudan’s closest ally outside the continent, spoke warmly of Norway’s special relationship with the South. The Norwegian independence gift to the nation will be a national archive, a huge relief to those who have for long worried that the aged and decaying files the Rift Valley Institute and British Institute have so painstakingly worked to digitize remain housed in a tent. The crowd cheered.
UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, who had hitched a lift in Prince Haakon’s plane, was good – short, clear and a-historical. He said we recognize the new state, we have today opened our embassy and our new ambassador here is Alastair McPhail. We wish you all the best for the new nation. So the UK’s gift to the new nation appears to be an office with an ambassador in it already.
Star of the show was one of the region’s strongest leaders Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi – we recognize South Sudan and will do all we can to help you. Good luck. For people sweating in the equatorial sun, brevity was important. They cheered enthusiastically when he stopped.
South Sudan’s Vice President Riek Machar was working up a lengthy peroration in Arabic, but the gods intervened and his microphone stopped working. SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amum worked the crowds like a professional warm-up man – “South Sudan oyee, South Sudan oyee.” James Wani, the Speaker of the Assembly, did the same – the cheers were resounding as Salva Kiir signed the transitional constitution, the old flag came down and the new one went up, but the wind didn’t blow so it only fluttered for the cameras later. It was impossible not to be moved by the joy of the crowds.
Afterwards, around 4:00pm, the whole thing having fallen about two hours behind schedule, everyone who thought they had a claim went behind the hastily-built stands, which had not collapsed, for the best meal most of us had ever had in Juba, hosted by Salva Kiir, President of the Republic of South Sudan, the world’s 193rd nation. About 600 people ate rare beef, green salads and chocolate desserts, drank champagne, and greeted the greatest gathering of friends of South Sudan since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005, at surely the biggest lunch party Juba has ever seen. A generous lunch from a generous, hospitable and very relieved people.
A Dinka friend later hugged Hassan el Turabi, the eminence grise of the Islamic movement, to his evident alarm and surprise. I hugged the President’s head of security, John Prendergast of Enough, UN Special Envoy to Sudan Haile Menkerios and Vasu Gounden, an old friend from the Congo peace process. I also shook hands with Bethuel Kiplagat, former Ambassador and Chairman of the Kenyan Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, and everyone else I knew. In the space of an hour, one could greet almost everyone alive who had played a role in the long Sudan drama, from Joseph Lagu (leader of the Southern rebel “Anyanya” group in the first civil war) to Ezekiel Gatkuoth (South Sudan’s Head of Mission to the US and UN), from Douglas Johnson (historian and advisor on the CPA and Abyei negotiations) to Hilde Johnson (newly appointed UN Special Envoy to the Republic of South Sudan) , from Bona Malwal (veteran Sudanese politician and adviser to Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir) to Anis Haggar (Sudanese businessman), from Dan Eiffe (publisher of the Sudan Mirror, formerly of Norwegian People’s Aid) to Deng Alor (South Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs). Nothing major went wrong, so far as I know. The long drama of Sudan has not yet reached a conclusion, but a page was turned, a new chapter started.
South Sudan oyee indeed.