Today is the independence of South Sudan. After decades of civil war and struggle with the North, the people of Southern Sudan have earned their freedom and their right to a country of their own. Through various peace agreements, the latest of which was the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, leading to an overwhemlingly successful referendum last January (2011) favouring secession from the north and which culminated in today, the day of independence and final separation from the Republic of Sudan, the newest nation in Africa and the world, the Republic of South Sudan, is born.
Though themselves diverse in race, religion and ethnicity, the people of South Sudan are very different from the North. Their struggle after the longest civil wars in Africa, decades of marginalisation in terms of services and resources, displacement of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing their homes because of war and conflict, and more than 1.5 million deaths, this independence is well earned. The road however is still rough and long. Conflicts still abide, and health care and education are minimal. Most of the neglected tropical diseases known in the world are endemic in South Sudan, maternal and infant mortality rates are amongst the highest in the world and enrolment in education is very low. Infrastructure and institutions need to be built from scratch. However from the happiness and relief of the people that I have witnessed this past month and especially yesterday and today, from the large numbers of displaced Sudanese who are rapidly making their way back to their country and from the speeches of the dignitaries who were invited to the international celebratory event today and the support they showed, there is a strong will and desire to reconstruct this country and develop it and make it a nation worthy of the struggle of its people and those who gave their lives for its freedom. The country is still treading its first steps but I am optimistic and its people are confident that it will rise to a beautiful nation that recognises the rights of its citizens and respects their diversity and humanity.