It is hard to describe the euphoria I witnessed during the Declaration of Independence celebrations in Juba. When the South Sudanese flag went up for the first time, the crowds went wild with joy and spontaneously began chanting “Bye, bye Bashir”.
People were bidding their final adieu to a political leader who symbolized the oppressive policies of the Khartoum based government of Sudan. Africa’s largest country was split into two and the flag symbolized this separation and the birth of a new country. This was ‘freedom’. Slogans such as “Free at last” and “Freedom at last” were visible on electronic displays, banners, posters, and newspapers.
The excitement during the flag hoisting was infectious, and yet as I stood among the crowds in the open grounds, burnt and dehydrated by the scorching sun, I could not avoid silently asking: “Freedom? Really?”
South Sudan does not produce anything; all of its food comes from Uganda. It has no big companies and no manufacturing industry. The country does not have a qualified workforce of its own and its service sector is owned entirely by outsiders – primarily East Africans and Asians. The country’s rich oil reserves pay for everything that keeps the country functioning. Again, all the oil refineries are in the North, and ironically, the day before Independence there were long lines in all the gas stations in Juba because of a Khartoum imposed blockage of fuel. So, how in the world is this freedom? How does not working mean ‘freedom at last’? Does dependency equate with freedom? What happens when oil reserves are one day depleted? How will South Sudan pay for what others do for them? Does replacing one oppressor with those who control socio-economic well-being mean freedom?
Freedom equals responsibility, and South Sudanese must recognise that being in charge and working hard for their future is what makes the freedom earned after five decades of war worthwhile and sustainable.
I smiled at the joy of the people but my uneasiness never went away. Only time will tell if this new country lives up to its national anthem of “South Sudan Oyee!!!”