“We thank God at this time, the birth of a new nation, South Sudan, is real,” proclaimed Paul Deng Chol, an Anglican priest in Juba, South Sudan.
This was one of many statements of gratitude expressed by South Sudanese citizens as they waited to celebrate their Independence Day on Saturday, July 9, 2011. The new nation is the 54th country in Africa, and the Republic of South Sudan, as it is officially called, is the world’s 196th country.
July 9, 2011 was actually the second time the people of South Sudan have observed an independence day. As pointed out by the Africa Messenger, “On January 1, 1956, the nation of Sudan officially became independent of British rule, and the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum immediately began a campaign of persecution in the south of Sudan, including the expulsion of most foreign missionaries.” Independence from Great Britain brought nothing but suffering and deprivation to black African South Sudanese. This time around, the people of South Sudan had far more to celebrate.
In January of this year the citizens of South Sudan participated in a referendum on secession, a provision of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the more-than-twenty year civil war between the North and the South. Southern Sudanese voted overwhelmingly (over 98%) to separate from northern Sudan during the referendum. Until the signing of the CPA, Christian-dominated South Sudan was under siege by the Islamic northern regime that was attempting to impose Islamic law and Arab culture on the African Christians and moderate Muslims of the South and other marginalized regions.
Dr. Grant LeMarquand, Professor of Mission and Biblical Studies and expert in Sudanese Christian history notes that, “Sudan has a painful history of civil conflict.”
Even as Sudan was being given its independence from Great Britain, northern efforts to Islamize southern Sudan led to a civil war between the Arab northerners and non-Arab southerners that lasted from 1956 to 1972. A ten-year period of peace followed the signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement. But the agreement was abrogated by Khartoum just as South Sudan was set to become autonomous, and so the more recent and even bloodier phase of the civil war began in which over 2.5 million people died and about 5 million were displaced as refugees inside and outside the country.
Sudan’s methods of war were distinctive in their targeting of civilians – men, women, and children. They included arrests, torture, and executions, government-orchestrated starvation, aerial bombardment of civilian targets, and the abduction and enslavement of hundreds of thousands of women and children. It was a terrible time for the people of South Sudan.
On Saturday, July 9, however, the people of South Sudan eagerly put the final touches on the long awaited Independence Day celebration. On this day, South Sudan was free from the Islamic Shariah- oriented regime based in Khartoum. July 9th will be one of the most significant days in history of South Sudan.
According to the Minister of Roads and Transport for the government of South Sudan, Mr. Anthony Makana, about two thousand dignitaries, including heads of states, had been invited to attend the ‘Big Day,’ or ‘The Declaration Day’, as many referred to it here in Juba, the capital of the new Republic of South Sudan. Workers were busy day and night, putting together the final touches on the single runway at Juba International Airport.
In interviews with the BBC, Makana disclosed, “Juba International Airport will be receiving about 70 to 80 planes” during the week of celebration. “The airport has never received planes at night since South Sudan was created,” he said. But the Government of South Sudan assured the world that the airport was well lit and adequately equipped to meet international standards that ensure safety and security. Sources close to the Government of South Sudan have also confirmed that notices had been circulated to the public that the airport will not operate for the usual commercial flights from the 6th through 12th of July, 2011. This was to accommodate the landing and takeoff of both chartered and presidential jets, which will be ushering invited dignitaries from around the world in and out of Juba.
Juba and other towns across South Sudan were ready and waiting to receive visitors. A thorough cleaning of the less than 10 miles of paved roads in the city of Juba and beautification of the streets took place. Posters adorned the streets expressing the people’s thoughts and emotions about the long-anticipated day. “This is our new country,” “Celebrating the birth of a new nation,” and “Thank you, Dr. John Garang de Mabior” ranked high among the declarations.
Garang, the head of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/SPLA), became the first president of the regional government of South Sudan and the first vice president of Sudan following the signing of the CPA. He was killed six months later in a helicopter crash, returning from Uganda to Sudan. It speaks enormously to the courage and resilience of the people of South Sudan that they continued on in the face of this crushing blow, but they will never forget his leadership.
Another giant board with a portrait of SPLA soldiers was positioned close by the premises of the University of Juba. This billboard read, “We fought, suffered, survived, and won the freedom together from the oppressor.” Just like patriotic Americans thank the troops who ensure their continued freedom, the people of South Sudan are grateful to the troops of the SPLA who endured so much for the sake of finally securing their freedom.
Shops, kiosks, houses, and government residents were painted and decorated. Some shops along the roads around Dr. Garang Memorial Museum had been demolished to provide the place where the president of South Sudan, H.E Salva Kiir Mayardit was to address the nation. Rehearsals involving several choirs had just ended last week for the performance of the new South Sudan National Anthem. One school teacher from Juba Girls’ School had mentioned that several choirs, including those from the churches, schools, and other institutions, were to perform on the big day.
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