/ 1 July 2011

Independent South Sudan prepares to party

Preparations for the celebration of South Sudan’s independence in Juba next week at a claimed cost of $90-million are continuing.

A tense ceasefire in Abyei and ongoing violence in South Kordofan state, both border regions between North and South Sudan, will not hinder the independence celebration, said Peter Alier, a spokesman for the government of South Sudan.

“Preparations are well under way with the support of friends that share the experience of liberation, and nothing will change the fact that July 9 will be a joyous party,” he said.

The South African government, for the ongoing mediation role it has played, is one of those friends and “will be rendering logistical and other support to the government of South Sudan to ensure the smooth and successful operations of the inauguration ceremony,” said Saul Molobi, spokesperson from the department of international relations and co-operation.

A source in the South Sudan government claimed that the celebration price tag had been pegged at $90-million, including the cost of expanding Juba’s airport to enable it to accommodate 300 planes.

The international relations department could not confirm South Africa’s financial outlay and would not specify what the money had been spent on, but said it had trained more than 1 500 South Sudan government civil servants and diplomats “to enable it to function effectively as of its independence on July 9”.

South Africa will send a high-level delegation to the inauguration, headed by President Jacob Zuma. He will be accompanied by a number of ministers and the presidential envoy to the Sudan, Charles Nqakula.

Molobi said “the need to prioritise South Africa’s economic co-operation with the Republic of Sudan and the future state of South Sudan through trade and investment in order to create job opportunities in our respective countries” was of particular importance to the South African government.

Although many claim that the externally funded celebrations will obscure South Sudan’s extreme poverty and economic vulnerability, Juba’s residents are not complaining.

According to South African expatriate Laurie Meiring, Juba “was the messiest place I have ever travelled to” before the government health department initiated a clean-up campaign in March. Now, Meiring said, Juba reminded him of Nairobi or Kampala.

“The clean-up has been highly effective, not only in terms of litter removal but also the establishment of gardens and fountains. I can compare it to the crime prevention programmes implemented for the 2010 soccer World Cup in South Africa.”

Flights to Juba are fully booked from July 7. The South Sudan government has made block bookings in all decent hotels to accommodate an anticipated 2 000 foreign dignitaries.

This article was supported by a grant from the Open Society Foundation. The views expressed in this article are those of the author