By Julius N. Uma
July 9, 2012 (JUBA) - South Sudan’s independence, attained a year ago, will only be meaningful if the country becomes self-sustaining instead of depending on the economies of other nations for its survival, President Salva Kiir said on Monday.
“Independence means we do not depend on someone else to feed us, [but]
we must able to feed ourselves,” he told dignitaries in Juba, the South Sudan capital.
The republic of South Sudan’s first head of state, while addressing the country’s first independence anniversary celebrations, acknowledged that the previous year had been a “difficult” one, but said his government remained steadfast in seeing the nation through these testing times.
As thousands of citizens danced and sung in jubilation and honour of their first year of independence, many citizens complain of high inflation, soaring food and fuel prices and insecurity.
Early this year, the country forcefully shut down its oil production, whose revenues accounted for 98 percent of the national budget, prompting the government to embark on unexpected austerity measures, due to oil revenue losses.
“We were forced to shut down this oil when we realised it was no longer a reliable option to export our oil through Sudan…and it’s now affecting all of us,” Kiir said.
“The oil they have taken from us is worth over $800m,” he added. The Sudanese government has said that it confiscated South Sudanese crude passing through its pipes as payment for unpaid fees.
During the six year peace deal South Sudan’s oil was split 50:50 with north Sudan. However, the two sides have not been able to agree a new deal after South Sudan seceded last year, after they voted to separate Africa’s largest nation.
“It is up to the government in Khartoum to refund us this money later on or not refund so that we know there are people in this world who are free to grab from anybody their rights and then it’s left to them.”
Despite border skirmishes with Sudan in March and April, Kiir said his country remains committed to peaceful resolution of all disputes with its northern neighbour through the negotiations being facilitated by the African Union High Level Implementation Panel on Sudan (AUHIP).
South Sudan’s leader also emphasised the importance of creating two viable states, living side by side with each other, saying both Sudan and South Sudan should maintain good relations, as this would be mutually beneficial.
The president further reiterated his government’s commitment to fight corruption, lauding what he described as the “tremendous” support from lawmakers, civil society and citizens in the fight against corruption.
“I will pursue this fight against corruption in a manner that will not undermine the fundamental rights guaranteed in our constitution through our various tools and institutions of government,” he said, adding, “We must build institutions to sustain our new nation.”
Despite an estimated $4 billion being lost to corruption since Salva Kiir’s SPLM came to power as part of the 2005 peace deal, no official has ever been prosecuted for corruption in South Sudan.
The president has warned the public to expect a massive downsising of the government to cope with the loss of oil revenues. He acknowledged that, compared to the South Sudan’s 8.2 million population, his government was one of the largest in the world.
The move, he said, is in line with the current austerity budget and the desire to save money for future development.
In a related development, Kiir ruled out the creation of the new counties that had been demanded by demanded by sections of the population, citing lack of resources to establish effective administration in these areas. South Sudan currently comprises of 79 counties across its 10 states.
According to the president, however, South Sudan in the past one year has made some remarkable achievements in its legislative, judicial and executive branches, pledging his commitment to put in place more institutions for nation building.
More focus, he added, will also be directed to addressing food security, health and education needs of the people as well as infrastructural improvements.
WORLD LEADERS REACT
The Elders, a group of senior international leader, led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Monday congratulated the people of South Sudan on the first anniversary of their country’s independence, and urged the Presidents of Sudan and South Sudan to mark this important moment with a public commitment to building two viable states, living as neighbours in peace.
President Barack Obama, in a message delivered by the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton also lauded the world’s newest nation on the occasion of its first anniversary, saying that despite challenges, South Sudan had worked hard over the past year to build governing structures and a legal framework.
The US, the statement adds, is committed to building an even “stronger” partnership with South Sudan, given the solid ties between the people of these two nations, which dates back decades.