July 10, 2014 (RUMBEK) – Celebrations on Wednesday in Lakes state capital Rumbek marking the third anniversary of South Sudan’s independence from the north were poorly attended.
In his Independence Day address in Rumbek’s Freedom Square, military caretaker Governor Maj-Gen Matur Chut Dhuol urged Lakes state residents to comply with a disarmament campaign due to get underway soon, warning those who resist will be detained.
“Disarmament is coming, everyone must respect whatever [is] going to be attached with that ... it is compulsory that everyone having illegal firearms must surrender [them] to [the] state government before necessary force is used against that person,” said Dhuol, adding that development and security reform remained the focus of his administration.
The public address drew a lukewarm response, with some activists describing it as an “insignificant speech”.
The comments also prompted a negative response from armed pastoralist groups, with youths questioning Dhuol’s capacity to remove firearms from civilians.
Speaking at celebrations, Mabor Ater Dhuol, the secretary of the ruling SPLM in Lakes state, described South Sudan’s secession from the north as a “turning point”.
“During the long years of our struggle and many preceding years, South Sudanese citizens suffered indignation, denial of equal rights, atrocious sufferings, backwardness and most significantly all forms of exploitations,” he said.
“Such miserable history was finally closed in 2011 when South Sudanese overwhelmingly voted for independence and our flag hoisted high among many other nations’ flags. This was a turning point for the people of this country – a proud moment,” he added, while also paying tribute to the efforts of president Salva Kiir.
The party secretary said the SPLM would continue to work for the good of the nation and South Sudanese people.
“Our government is still making strenuous efforts to meet the needs and improve the quality of life for the people, and ensuring good governance and democracy in the country,” he said.
South Sudan officially declared its independence on 9 July 2011 after a 2005 peace deal ended the 22-year civil war with Sudan, paving the way for a referendum on self-determination.
However, many citizens said Independence Day celebrations had been overshadowed by ongoing instability in Lakes state, economic hardship and lack of basic services.
Lakes state resident Mary Ayen said that the struggle for independence had been fought uniformly for the benefits of all citizens of South Sudan and not solely for the interest of politicians.
“It (Independence Day) was not at all joyous since many families have and continue to lose their young loved ones in [a] spiral of community feuds unabatedly and without remorse from the government,” she said.
“It is sad for this early year of freedom to be overshadowed by more cruel and hateful practices,” she added.
Meanwhile, police and security agencies in Rumbek are on high alert ahead of a scheduled presidential visit at the weekend.
As part of preparations for the upcoming visit, Dhuol ordered students, trade union officials and civil servants to clean town.
“He’s just covering up the mess he’s made by painting trees near Freedom Square ... as well levelling of roads with stones – this is not what we want. We need stable security, hospitals, water, education and development approved by state parliament,” said student Moses Majak Cinrok.
Governor Dhoul was installed in January 2012 after his predecessor was sacked for failing to maintain security.
Lakes state has been blighted by cattle raiding since South Sudan’s independence in July 2011 and continues to be locked in a cycle of inter-clan revenge clashes.
Youth activists and traditional authorities have repeatedly called for the removal of governor Dhuol amid claims he has failed to stem the violence. Kiir has so far overlooked the calls.
Police insist that young people and the wider public refuse to share information with them, blaming the poor relationship between the administration and the people of Lakes state.