/ 9 July 2011

‘Bye-bye Bashir’: South Sudan celebrates

A crowd in excess of 100 000 gathered on Saturday at the mausoleum of Sudan People’s Liberation Army hero John Garang, to recognise South Sudan’s independence.

As South Sudan prepares to secede, we look at the lead up to the celebrations in this slideshow.

Juba, the capital of Africa’s 54th state, is not a big city, and every part of it has been touched by the event. The roar of planes bringing in dignitaries began early this morning and will continue until after dark, as landing lights were installed on the runway of Juba International airport earlier in the week. Juba’s main road has become a racetrack of VIP convoys mixed with ordinary vehicles, all hooting and most covered in flags.

At the mausoleum a sea of flags rippled each time a speech maker — and there were 10 speeches — exclaimed “Oyeh” (the equivalent of “Viva”). The official celebration kicked off at 10am with dancing displays and performances by South Sudanese bands but the cheering and singing was most intense intensity after midday, when South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir Mayardit, ordered the raising of South Sudan’s flag.

“The red is for the blood of our soldiers,” said Deng Baya, a civil war veteran. “The black is for the people and the blue is for the Nile. You see that unlike other liberation flags there is no gun, because peace is now the priority, and we turned the star from red to yellow because communism is now over.”

Over two million people are said to been died during Sudan’s second civil war, which began in 1983 and ended in January 2005 with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

An equally intense bout of cheering followed Kiir’s signing of the interim constitution, which will be in place for the next four years, and which local media have criticised for according too much power to the president.

Of the 80 governmental delegations present at the ceremony, the largest were from African Union countries led by revolutionary parties, such as South Africa, Angola and Zimbabwe. SA President Jacob Zuma flew into Juba on Saturday morning and is expected to be leave in the evening.

Controversial guest
Perhaps the most talked about guest was Omar al-Bashir, the president of North Sudan, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

When Kiir mentioned that Sudan’s flag would not be sent back with the North Sudan delegation but would remain in South Sudan’s national archives, there were boos. On the main road people hanging out of car windows shouted “Bye-bye Bashir”, and a popular T-shirt depicted al-Bashir’s face next to a paraphrasing of a Jay-Z songline. Instead of “I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one”, the shirts read: “I got 99 problems but Bashir ain’t one.”

It was a wry comment on the many steep challenges South Sudan will wake to on Sunday, which range from a low frequency civil war being fought in border regions of Abyei, South Kordofan, the Nuba mountains and the Upper Blue Nile, to high levels of government corruption, an extremely low level of infrastructure, and tribalism.

South Sudan has mountains and rivers, which drain into the Sudd, the world’s largest swamp and a haven for wildlife. It has oil, and seven different types of soil, all extremely fertile. It also has friends in every direction, reflected in Kiir’s announcement that South Sudan would next week kick off accelerated processes to join the United Nations, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the East African Community. Juba is also very close to Pretoria, and is said to value the South African government’s governance experience, given that the country faced daunting challenges after the end of apartheid.

Earlier this year former Department of International Relations and Cooperation director general Ayanda Ntsaluba told South Sudan government officials to “Be wary of those who love you more than you love yourselves.”

Given the contrast between South Sudan’s extremely low governance capacity and its extremely high natural wealth, it could prove to be very sage advice indeed.