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Gloom but not doom as world’s youngest nation marks 10 years

Monday July 12 2021
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Soldiers parade through the streets of Juba, during South Sudan’s Independence day, on July 9, 2019. The country did not celebrate its eight-year-old independence anniversary for the fourth year in a row due to financial constraints. PHOTO | AKUOT CHOL | AFP

By Garang Malak

Deng Dau, a father of five has lived in Juba longer than the country’s independence history. Battered by conflict and poverty, he has learnt to bend in the wind like an old tree, eking a living through menial jobs.

And as South Sudan marks 10 years of independence, Mr Dau’s wish is that his children get to live a better life than he has had.

His story is that of hand-to-mouth. At his Gudele home in Juba, he recalls experiencing the nightmare of war, both before independence and after his country formally seceded from Sudan in 2011.

“When the 2016 civil war erupted, my family and I in Gudele, [a suburb of Juba] didn’t know we would be alive anymore. Bullets destroyed our tukul [traditional grass-thatched house] and our livelihoods went up in smoke,” he told The EastAfrican last week.

“Thanks to God, all of us survived the horror. Life has been hard for us though. I work as a porter but I can barely meet my expenses. The cost of living is high. The school fees, food, everything. A very big challenge.”

In all the pain though, Deng is a hopeful man. He knows that by breaking his sweat to feed his family and take the children to school, the rewards may be felt by his kin.

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Education and trade

“My wish is to see a South Sudan, where my children have access to quality and affordable education and there is no war anymore,” he said.

South Sudan, Africa’s youngest nation is marking ten years this week, after a referendum in 2011 saw the population vote in majority to separate from Sudan. But the country did not take a good trajectory; plunging into civil war just two years later, followed by a peace deal before another bout of conflict erupted in 2016.

The bitter-sweet story of South Sudan angers some South Sudanese every day. The country had fought a 21-year civil war with Khartoum before attaining autonomy in 2005, and later independence in 2011.

And as Juba marked Independence Day on July 9, residents say leaders must get back to the objectives Sudan’s People Liberation Army (SPLM) fought for with support from the local population and many international partners, which have not been achieved.

Mohammed Ahmed runs a wholesale warehouse in Juba’s Konyo-Konyo market. When the country attained independence in 2011, the Sudanese saw an opportunity to invest in his newfound neighbouring country.

It earned him roughly $3,000 in monthly profit initially. Then the war came. It has never been the same again.

“I have been here since South Sudan gained independence and I see South Sudan as my home. The biggest challenge is price fluctuation. At times when we order goods abroad, we fall into losses,” he lamented.

“There are moments you order goods with high prices and later hard currency drops. In addition, goods are taxed expensively at the border. We pay a lot of charges to local authorities here and end up getting less profit.”

He refuses to quit but wishes that the country hangs on the recent stability, and focus on enhancing trade with neighbours.

South Sudan’s independence elicited hope across the world. Then US President Barack Obama celebrated its establishment as a mark of darkness of conflict.

“A proud flag flies over Juba and the map of the world has been redrawn,” said Mr Obama then.

After the war in 2016, leaders agreed to form a government of national unity in February last year, following a September 2018 peace deal. That has brought some lull in the country, although problems linger.

UN children agency (Unicef) said a record 4.5 million children in South Sudan are in desperate need of humanitarian support ahead of the 10th anniversary of the country’s independence.

Dimmed optimism

“The hope and optimism that children and families across the country felt at the birth of their country in 2011 has slowly turned to desperation and hopelessness,” said Unicef Executive Director Henrietta Fore.

“The childhood of many 10-year-olds in South Sudan today has been beset by violence, crises and rights abuse.”

Unicef says some 8.3 million people in South Sudan need humanitarian support, a higher number than the levels seen during the 2013-2018 civil war, which ranged from 6.1 million to 7.5 million people.

“If we, as a humanitarian community, do not receive sufficient funding, the reality for children and families is that no help will be coming.

“Without an end to the pervasive violence and insecurity threatening families and hampering humanitarian access, and without adequate funding, health and nutrition centres will be closed, wells will not be fixed and the sound of the generators keeping the vaccine fridges cool will fade away,” said Unicef South Sudan Representative Andrea Suley.

The International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) Juba Office laments that, as South Sudan celebrates ten years after independence, it continues to tend to hundreds of gunshot wounds each year.

“Just last year, someone from our village, suffering from diarrhoea, died on the way while being rushed to this health facility.

‘‘Because of the distance to this place, he could not make it,” said Nyamuch Koang, a resident of Roam Village, Unity State, after visiting an ICRC clinic.

ICRC added that only an estimated 40 percent of healthcare centres remain functional, stressing that wounds that can be easily treated if a patient has access to quick treatment can become much more serious.

Despite this though, South Sudan is banking on the revitalised peace agreement to rebuild its institutions, according to the official government bulletin released this week.

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