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A nation is born

Deliriously happy nationalism greeted the official birth of the 196th nation of the world, the Republic of South Sudan.

world Updated: Jul 10, 2011 00:07 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

Deliriously happy nationalism greeted the official birth of the 196th nation of the world, the Republic of South Sudan.

Tens of thousands of flag-waving South Sudanese overran carefully planned security lines as their country declared independence.

“Freedom!” screamed young girls and men of Juba as their rural brethren pounded drums, danced with ostrich-feathered hats, ignoring the fierce African sun. Black-suited securitymen, mostly former guerrillas, gave up trying to hold the crowds back and joined them.

“I cannot express my feelings,” said Agnes Wasuk, a middle-aged woman sporting a kameez she had bought during a medical trip to Chennai.

Many celebrants are returning exiles, educated South Sudanese who fled to Kenya and Uganda when the civil war began. They’ve returned with a desire to model their green country after these East African states. “We will be like them,” said Andrew, a young journalist of the Hero newspaper who has come back from Nairobi. “And we will overtake them.”

This sounds ambitious for what is probably the world’s poorest country. Those who stayed behind and fought are warier.

One soldier, who had taken up the gun at the age of 13 and not let go for 28 years, said he was staying in the new South Sudanese army because of continuing border squabbles with Sudan, from which the new state had been carved from. “We still have challenges.”

Annet Yubo, managing editor of the Juba Post, is wary of the new political leadership’s ability to rule. “We are many problems but a small government.”

But the new president, Salwa Kiir, conscious of the worries of ethnic and religious minorities promised to “consolidate the decentralised and democratic rule of governance” in his oath of office. Sudan was repeatedly urged to support the new state by many speakers.

And to reassure the Muslim minority, some of whose leaders have made rebellious grumbles, both Muslim and Christian prayers were made.

South Sudanese did not wait for the world community’s sanction to celebrate. John More, driver and ex-guerrilla, confessed he hadn’t slept in three nights because of the partying.

“I may just roll over, I’m so tired.” South Sudan has become Uganda’s number one trade partner almost solely on the food imports needed for the festivities.

More is among the many South Sudanese wondering what to do with the peace. He began soldiering at 10. Now, 21 years later, he says he’ll plans to “go back to school.”

An older guerrilla mentioned is impressions of Mumbai, which he had visited last year.

“The airport was busy, so busy. We need Juba airport to be like this. That will mean investors are coming and are nation is growing.”