By Fr. Benedict Mayaki, SJ
South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, gained its independence from neighboring Sudan on 9 July 2011. A decade later, the country, mired in fighting that has killed hundreds of thousands, displaced millions, and triggered a deteriorating humanitarian crisis, struggles to forge ahead, held together by a fragile peace deal.
For the celebrations this year, the country’s Council of Ministers has advised citizens to mark the day in their homes as part of measures to curb the spread of the pandemic.
The Council also postponed the swearing-in of the new transitional legislature members which was originally scheduled to hold on 9 July.
Deputy National Information Minister, Baba Medan, informed citizens that President Salva Kiir Mayardit would speak to citizens in a televised address on Friday.
South Sudan’s challenges
South Sudan won its independence in 2011 following a referendum in which the majority of the population voted to separate from Sudan.
Two years later, the country plunged into civil war. A peace deal was reached but another round of conflict broke out again in 2016 before a second peace deal – the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (RARCSS) of 2018 - was signed.
In 2020, the nation formed a Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity made up of members of previously warring parties in accordance with the 2018 peace deal. However, the peace deal is tenuous as its implementation has been delayed.
Violence between communities has seen an increase, contributing to a dire humanitarian crisis. A recent report by the UN Children’s Fund said that 4.5 million young people, or two-thirds of children in the country, are in desperate need of support. South Sudan’s mortality rate is also among the highest in the world, with 1 in 10 children not expected to reach their fifth birthday.
UNICEF also pointed out that malnutrition and limited access to education are among the northeast African nation’s chief challenges. The UN fears that 1.4 million South Sudanese children will suffer from acute malnutrition in 2021 – the highest number since 2013 – and more than 300,000 youngsters are expected to suffer from the worst form of malnutrition and could die if they do not get treatment.
On top of that, South Sudan has the highest proportion of out-of-school children in the world and a high drop-out rate, with 2.8 million children out of school. School closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic have also pushed an additional 2 million children out of the classroom.
SSCC independence message
Separately, the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC), in their independence anniversary message, have bemoaned the situation of conflict in the country and express the desire that the next decade should usher in justice, peace, freedom and prosperity for all.
“As we mark ten years of our independence today, with pains in our hearts, there is little to celebrate. It is truly a difficult time and experience for us, the people of South Sudan. Our hearts continue to groan with pain, anguish, turmoil, despair, and misery as lives are lost every day in every corner of our country,” the SSCC says.
“Conflict has become the context in which we are evolving with rampant proxy inter-communal violence, increasing cases of sexual violence, revenge killings, and land grabbing and child abduction.”
These protracted armed conflicts, the SSCC points out, destabilize not only peace, but also slows down the socio-economic development of the country.
The way forward
Proposing paths to peace, the churches’ Council said that the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (RARCSS) signed in 2018 is “the most viable framework for peace and a beacon of hope for South Sudanese” but is unfortunately stifled by a lack of political will.
It, however, assures that the churches will continue to stand with the citizens in advocating for sustainable peace, justice, healing and reconciliation. In this regard, the SSCC urges non-signatories to the peace deal to embrace dialogue in order to promote peace.
The SSCC goes on to declare the second decade of South Sudan’s independence as a period of a new beginning, stressing that “it must not be another lost decade.”
“In this second decade, we must stop the self-sabotage of our collective future and prosperity. We must reflect on what went wrong in the first decade after independence, learn from those experiences, and rise to the collective responsibility of this generation to deliver our country from its current predicaments.”
The SSCC concludes: "Never again shall our people be merciless victims of our own hands!”