As Friday marked South Sudan’s 10th independence anniversary, the people of the world’s youngest country are hoping that the day could usher in an era of stability and tranquility after years of violence and civil strife.
During the past decade, the oil-rich country has been mired in a civil war that has killed tens of thousands of people, corruption and a deteriorating humanitarian crisis. Meanwhile, the country is struggling to recover from the still spreading COVID-19 pandemic.
When celebrating the 10th anniversary of independence from neighboring Sudan in 2011, many South Sudanese people expressed optimism about the country’s future.
Nancy Victor, a 32-year-old mother of three who teaches at the Bishop Mazzolidi Memorial Basic School based in the capital city of Juba, said she was optimistic about the arrival of a new era of peace and cohesion.
In an interview, she said her hope and expectations stem from the recent rebound of the economy after years of hyperinflation caused by conflicts that reduced earnings from oil revenue.
Political disputes broke out in December, 2013 between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar. The landlocked country then descended into civil war, with conflicts creating one of the fastest-growing refugee crises in the world.
In accordance with the peace agreement signed in September 2018 between Kiir and Machar, the South Sudanese transitional unity government was formed in February, 2020.
Francis Diima Joseph, deputy headteacher at the Bishop Mazzolidi Primary School, said he was tired of endless conflicts and hoped political actors would fully implement the remaining tasks in the revitalized peace deal.
“We are now tired of war and are praying for a peace deal to be implemented,” he said, expressing hope for enough food and medical supplies.
Diima said that insecurity caused by sub-national conflicts needs to be addressed by the transitional unity government formed in February last year. Refugees and internally displaced persons need peace and security to encourage them to return home.
“If the government implements the peace agreement, it will encourage people to cooperate with each other to end tribalism so that we can develop our nation,” added Diima.
Noting that Friday also marked the 10th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and South Sudan, Diima said China is a true friend to South Sudan. He also said South Sudan needs to learn from countries like China to develop critical sectors like agriculture that can immensely reduce poverty.
Some 7.2 million South Sudanese are suffering from food scarcity this year, including 1.4 million children, who are at risk of malnutrition with humanitarian agencies appealing for more donations amid cuts due to COVID-19, according to the UN.
“On my part I assure you that I will not return you (South Sudanese) to war again. Let us all work together to recover the lost decade and put our country back toward the path of development in this new decade,” Kiir said in a speech marking the independence day.
The dividends of independence were only enjoyed in the first two and half years when “people would move anywhere without insecurity,” Abraham Kuol Nyuon, assistant professor of the Department of Political Science at the University of Juba, said, adding that years of conflicts destroyed the social fabric, leaving communities more divided.
If the peace agreement “is not fully implemented, the people of South Sudan will be hugely disappointed with these leaders that brought them independence,” he said.