South Sudan, The Promised Land, 9 July 2011
by Graham Kings
Date added: 30/07/2020
South Sudan, The Promised Land
The leaders of Africa gathered to celebrate the birth of a new nation, with biblical parallels
On the streets of Juba, jubilation rang out the night before independence day. There were shouts of joy, women ululating, car horns blaring, drums beating, flames fired from aerosols, freedom chants, waving of arms, dancing and praising of soldiers.
This massive street party started on Friday from about 10pm and continued to about 2am on the morning of Saturday 9 July, the day of independence. With six others – a mixture of locals and visitors – I was standing on the back of a pickup truck, belonging to the Episcopal church of Sudan. Halfway through, we stopped at the cathedral for an extraordinary service leading up to midnight, the birth of a nation: South Sudan. Then back on to the streets again, and we were drenched with water from water bottles: baptism after new birth.
Cynics said the five-year comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) would not last. It did. Detractors opined that the referendum set for 9 January 2011 would have to be postponed. It wasn't. Expatriates reckoned that the plans for the independence celebrations would not be completed in time for 9 July. They were. Africa and the world were witnesses.
This was good news for Africa: not the usual bad news of famine, war and HIV/Aids, but news of liberation and freedom. Her leaders turned out in great numbers to celebrate at the arena of the mausoleum of Dr John Garang de Mabior, the leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) who died tragically three weeks after the signing of the CPA. His statue was unveiled as the ceremony began.
I sat next to the archbishop of Sudan, Dr Daniel Deng, and his wife, Mama Deborah, as the representative of the archbishop of Canterbury and of the diocese of Salisbury, which has had a 39-year link with the Episcopal church of Sudan.
The church will continue to cover the north as well as the south. On my right was a southern Sudanese Muslim leader, Shik Juma Said Ali, who led the prayers at the beginning of the ceremony, after the Roman Catholic archbishop of Juba, Paulino Lukudu Loro. As we waited for others to arrive, I asked Shik Juma for his perspective on the day. He said he was delighted with the liberation of South Sudan and longed for a more moderate Islam in the north.
Among many leaders from Africa I noted: Mwai Kibaki of Kenya and the former Kenyan president, Daniel arap Moi, who was greeted with special applause for his influential role in the early stages of the CPA; Yoweri Museveni of Uganda; Jacob Zuma of South Africa, who arrived with two armoured reconnaissance vehicles, which provided the 21-gun salute; Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe; Jonathan Goodluck of Nigeria; Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia; and Kenneth Kaunda, former president of Zambia, who is the sole surviving founder of the Organisation of African Unity.
Major speeches were given by representatives of the "troika" who backed the CPA – Susan Rice (US), William Hague (UK) and Prince Haakon (Norway) – as well as by the representatives of China, the European Union and the United Nations.
The notorious president of Sudan, Omar Hassan Ahmed al Bashir, was present and gave a sort of quid pro quo speech, which included a plea for the lifting of US economic sanctions: an intriguing sign of their effect? It seems to me that, like Belshazzar in the biblical Book of Daniel (chapter 5), he has indeed been "weighed in the scales and found wanting" and "his kingdom is divided".
The new president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, after promulgating the transitional constitution and being sworn in, spoke powerfully about remembering those who had died in the struggle. He encouraged investment in South Sudan and ended by referring to the disputed border areas and recent violence from the north in Abeyi, Blue Nile and South Kordofan. To momentous applause, he said: "When you cry, we cry. When you bleed, we bleed." With the birth, there are also the birth pangs.
On 9 July, Dr Daniel Deng issued a perceptive "Pastoral letter advising the sons and daughters of the Republic of South Sudan". He stressed three priorities: achieving peace and nonviolence; promoting unity through reducing tribalism; and increasing equitable development through decentralisation. For each priority he set out suggested answers to three questions: what has been achieved to date?; what is being asked of the government?; and what is the church offering?
In the cathedral services at midnight on Friday, and on the Sunday morning, 10 July, I discovered the following biblical themes emerging with imaginative resonances. The exodus from Egypt: Garang is seen as Moses, who led his people out from slavery and through the Red Sea, but died before entering the promised land. The crossing of the Jordan: Kiir is seen as Joshua, the successor to Moses, who led his people into the promised land. The return from exile in Babylon back to Jerusalem: those returning in the huge armada of barges southwards up the Nile, and those flying in from the US and Europe. People are rejoicing, for "Babylon" has fallen and its grip of oppressive unity is lost.
All this was summed up for me in a T-shirt worn by a member of the youth choir on Sunday morning. It quoted Psalm 124 verse 7: "We escaped like a bird from a hunter's trap; the trap is broken and we are free."