On July 9 the people of South Sudan all over the world will celebrate the first anniversary of the independence of their country. It will be a moment of reflection for us as individuals, communities and a nation on the real meaning of independence. When the flag of the new nation was raised and that of Sudan was lowered, every South Sudanese either shed tears of happiness or took a deep breath of relief after the long journey of struggle that caused enormous suffering. The feeling every citizen had on the eve of independence was: I am at last free; I can make my own decisions and take care of myself. The way the people of the south conducted the referendum and celebrated their independence was a source of great pride and reassured the international community that they were receiving a responsible new state.
Being independent is a paradigm shift from a state of dependence, when you rely on others to take care of you. Sometimes being independent may prove challenging and one may go back to the status of dependence. In life some children would prefer to stay with their parents rather than having their own lives. Most African elders would say that the era of colonial administration was better than post-independent Africa. Independence by itself will not ensure success.
For the new nation to have a meaningful independence, it must build a new state that fulfills the aspirations of its citizens and produces an inclusive political, social and economic order guaranteed by the rule of law. After one year of independence, one would say that the new state of the South is on the right track towards fulfilling the aspirations of its citizens. Watching our children in Juba walking to school, you see that they are not only healthy and well dressed but there is happiness and joy on their faces. These scenes cannot only be seen in Juba. I was amazed by the positive changes in rural areas I observed during my recent journey by road with my family to Kajo Keji, Yei and Lainya countries, mainly as a result of projects funded through the Constituency Development Fund.
It took decades for some independent states to reach the level of success the south has reached in one year. No sensible South Sudanese can regret our decision of having our own independence. You can easily see the progress made in most capital cities of our ten states and even in most counties. If we were to reflect back, one would say that most of us made progress in improving our living conditions. Our continuous struggle as individuals to secure food, clean water, education, shelter and good quality of life for the members of our families will not only make us truly independent but it will be the basis upon which we can build an effective and successful nation.
Besides our individual successes, our national army, the SPLA, was a source of pride as they showed that they are able to defend the territorial integrity of our new nation. The humiliating defeat of the Sudan Armed Forces by the SPLA in Panthou did not only show the superb military capability of the SPLA but it has also awakened a sense of nationalism. Equally, one would also commend the leadership provided by President Salva Kiir in defending the sovereignty of our new nation, particularly in light of the efforts of the regime in Khartoum to undermine our independence.
In fact the decision of the South to stop oil production, which was seen as suicidal, has reaffirmed the real sense of independence and shown the remarkable stamina and determination of the people of the south to survive without oil. If our great leader Dr John Garang and our martyrs were to rise from their graves, they would certainly congratulate the President and the people of the south for their achievements within a short period of time.
As a nation, we should be proud of ourselves and our success but also recognise our shortcomings. The south unsurprisingly faces enormous challenges in building an effective and successful state. The recent report by the National Democratic Institute claims that our Government is far away from fulfilling the aspirations of its citizens. Recent reports by the UN Human Rights Commission and Human Rights Watch show that we are a long way from producing an inclusive political order and maintaining the rule of law despite efforts to create a democracy, political space and freedom of expression.
An unpublished report by the World Bank shows that our economy is not only fragile but also suffers from the “resource curse” despite efforts by the finance ministry to effect financial discipline and mobilise non-oil revenues. Corruption is perceived as serious and increasing, despite efforts by the President to effect a policy of zero-tolerance and retrieve stolen funds. The task of building nationalism and ensuring social cohesion and tolerance is daunting, despite efforts by the SPLA to disarm the civilian population and reconciliation initiatives by the churches and the Peace Commission.
How can we become a successful nation? The success of any nation largely depends on the existence of a functioning state. The state provides mechanisms to create security, rights and obligations, and an enabling environment for business and civil society, as well as mobilise citizens around wealth creation and human security.
We can learn from the framework provided by Stephen R. Covey in his book titled “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. It attributes success to one’s character. Our character as a new nation is a collection of our habits, and habits have a powerful role in our lives. Habits consist of knowledge, skills and desire. Knowledge allows us to know what to do, skills give us the ability to do it, and desire is the motivation to do it.
Our nation is founded on strong values and principles that shape our character as a nation. Our independence came as a result of a long and heroic struggle of the people of the South for justice, freedom, equality and human dignity. The selfless sacrifices of our martyrs will continue to inspire the new nation in its quest for a better and prosperous future. Also our new nation is endowed with unique cultural values that nurture fairness, honesty, forgiveness, reconciliation, openness and integrity. These values are enshrined in our Constitution.
Rwanda provides a good example of how it emerged from genocide to transform and build a successful nation around its unique values. For example, the national cleanliness programme of the country, including its capital city, is based on cultural values which emphasise personal and collective dignity, honour and pride. Once a week, everyone, from the President down, engages in community service aimed at keeping the country clean. Also the country adopted a national programme of mutual shelter support, built upon cultural values that emphasize unity, harmony and solidarity.
Traditional age-grading and mobilisation are also used for military service and socio-economic development. These values usually associated with military culture, are built upon promoting collective self-help projects, which can be used in building roads, schools, hospitals and other facilities. Also the traditional gacaca courts, based on indigenous values, provide justice, reconciliation and social reintegration in a combined manner.
In fact many of the indigenous cultural values, which Rwanda has utilized in their post-genocide programmes of transitional justice, reconstruction and socio-economic development, have much in common with our traditional legal, social and cultural systems. With our rich cultural values and enormous resources and the inspiring selfless sacrifices of our martyrs, South Sudan has a character with all the ingredients for building a bright and prosperous future and one day become the most powerful nation on the continent. This can only be achieved by visionary leadership.
Luka Biong Deng is the senior member of South Sudan’s governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). He is currently a Chief Representative of South Sudan President Salva Kiir in the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org