On South Sudan’s 10th anniversary of independence Friday, President Salva Kiir pledged to improve security across the country and initiate widespread economic reforms – but many citizens said there is little to celebrate after living through a civil war, poverty and widespread hunger.
One day earlier, a group of religious leaders called it “a wasted decade.” In his televised speech from the State House in the capital, Juba, Kiir himself referred to the last 10 years as “a lost decade,” but also touted some achievements of the country’s unity government.
Kiir said the post-civil war cessation of hostilities is holding because of "a new spirit of dialogue among the parties,” which he said has “reduced the huge trust deficit that existed before the signing of the revitalized peace agreement” in 2018.
He said the priority of the Transitional Government of National Unity is full implementation of the agreement, with a focus on the security sector and economic reforms.
“What has been achieved so far in peace implementation was arrived at through sustained discussions, and this itself is a great achievement because it puts us on the path of resolving our disputes peacefully,” said Kiir.
No celebrations were organized in Juba because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Salary boost for civil servants
Kiir vowed that the government would use revenue from thousands of barrels of crude oil sold each day to pay the salaries of civil servants, many of whom have not been paid in several months. He also admitted salaries had not been adjusted for inflation, which has skyrocketed in recent years, but he vowed that would change.
“In the 2021-2022 budget the government has resolved to increase salaries by 100 percent as phase one with immediate effect and will be fully reviewed later on during the financial year as the economy improves,” said Kiir.
Continuing with his pledges to improve the economy and usher in good governance, the president said the unity government is implementing a series of measures designed to strengthen and reform the ministry of finance and central bank. This comes after the Kiir administration has faced years of criticism from civil society activists and South Sudanese political analysts about widespread government corruption.
The president also used his speech to admonish young people who staged recent attacks on aid workers and aid agencies, while urging NGOs operating in South Sudan to open up more employment opportunities to young South Sudanese.
“I urged you not to undermine our nationalism by focusing on ethnic and regional activism,” he said. “Demands for equitable employment in the sector should not set us against one another, nor should it force us into confrontation with our partners in the NGO sector.”
The national government has heard concerns and has resolved to form a high-level committee under the first vice president and deputized by one of the vice presidents and other relevant ministers to study and develop a road map to permanently resolve the matter, Kiir said.
He urged young citizens to “exercise calm and restraint in the interest of peace and stability.”
Addressing long-standing complaints from farmers and commuters about the country’s poor roads, the president said the government was also setting aside oil proceeds to pay for new road construction.
“We have dedicated 20,000 barrels a day of the Nile Blend crude for construction of major highways and roads linking production areas with consumption centers in our major cities and towns,” Kiir said. “Presently, road construction is ongoing on the Juba-Bor highway, Juba-Torit- Nadapal highway, Juba-Rumbek-Bahr al Ghazal highway, Juba-Yei road and Juba-Mundri-Maridi-Tambura highway, among others."
Churches lament ‘wasted decade’
In a statement released Thursday, the South Sudan Council of Churches called the last 10 years “a wasted decade,” adding that millions of South Sudanese who in 2011 were proud of their independence now feel hopeless because many have found themselves dependent on humanitarian support for survival.
"We expected a new ray of hope, optimism and reign of sustainable peace with prosperity. However, those jubilations and celebrations were short-lived as the nation in just a span of two years descended into violent conflicts that have devastated all aspects of South Sudanese lives,” said Bishop Isiah Majok Dau, general overseer of the Sudan Pentecostal Church, who read the statement on behalf of the council.
He said the hearts of South Sudanese “continue to groan with pain, anguish, turmoil, despair and misery as lives are lost every day in every corner of our country.”
Dau ticked off a long list of grievances that included rampant intercommunal violence, increasing cases of sexual violence, revenge killings, land grabbing and child abductions.
“These protracted armed conflicts have not only destabilized our peace but have also retarded the socioeconomic development of our country,” said Dau.
Dau said the 2018 revitalized peace agreement was a beacon of hope for South Sudanese, but the country’s leaders have been slow to implement it. He called on all signatories to stop the violence and embrace peace.
“It must not be another lost decade! It is an opportunity to rescue our people from imposed destitution and sustain their livelihoods,” he said.
In response to the council’s statement, Baba Medan, South Sudan’s deputy minister for information, urged citizens and institutions not to solely focus on the government’s weaknesses but appreciate what the government has achieved so far.
“Before independence in 2005, South Sudan was not like now. Juba was having only five cars and today there is thousands of vehicles in Juba. There were no good buildings but now there’s towers in Juba and many achievements. You don’t [need to] always focus on the failures. You also see the achievements,” Medan said.
“So although there was insecurity at that time, the government achieved a lot of things and with the peace agreement, I believe we are going to achieve a lot, because now, the government is focusing,” said Medan.
This is one in a series of stories marking 10 years of South Sudan's independence.