There are not many people who can say that in the space of a week, they moved to a different country, started a new job as well as witnessed and celebrated the independence of a new nation. This was in fact my first week in Juba working on a food security and agricultural project in Juba, South Sudan.
My first week was truly unique because I arrived in time to witness the build up and the celebrations for the independence of the Republic of South Sudan. In the week I was there, I saw Juba transform in many ways: streets being dusted, street markings being painted on one of the very few tarmaced roads, lamp posts being erected (2 hours after a car managed to hit and throw over one – I guess Nairobi does not have the monopoly on bad drivers), grass, flowers (of the plastic made in china variety because they were slightly too late to plant real flowers) and trees as well as flags flying everywhere.
Having conversations with my South Sudanese colleagues further heightened my anticipation and excitement for Independence Day. They had all witnessed the past years in different ways, some as soldiers, many as refugees and even some as child soldiers. For all, the past decades involved wide spread devastation. However, as a collective, they were so excited and emotional about their independence as they never thought they would see the day in their lifetime. Furthermore, they were also so willing and happy to share this special occasion with everyone. For example, they ensured that I had a copy of the words and the music of the national anthem so that I could “sing loudly” with them on Independence Day.
(For those wondering, the South Sudanese national anthem can be found here. I am told the official national anthem was determined by a pop idol type contest).
On Saturday 9th July 2011, everyone took to the street, many wearing their best clothes, or clothes that they had specifically purchased for independence.
South Sudan flag was waving throughout the country.
We started the day joining the crowds to welcome the MANY motorcades filled with dignitaries arriving for the festivities. I am told that Museveni turned up with a convoy consisting of 80 cars.
It was fun to see all the hustle and bustle around Juba. In fact the cities streets went on lock down a day before and the airport was closed to accommodate all the dignitaries. I was also told (as you can tell, much news in Juba passes by word of mouth) the logistical nightmare of having so many international dignitaries, all with their own security plans that had to be accommodated. For example, Ban Ki Moon had to be out of a country by a certain time. So they had planned to the minute when his plane was to land and when it was to take off again. What they did not take into account, however, was African timing. So when the official proceedings started over two hours late (yes, apparently you can even be late for your own independence) his time schedule became very tight. However, they rearranged the official schedule a bit and all was fine. In fact, at this point I have to give credit where credit is due, with all the dignitaries and excellencies that descended on Juba for the independence day celebrations, the proceedings were all handled in an extremely professional manner, with no major incidences to speak of.
After spending a bit of time at the roundabouts, we went on to the former market area next to John Garang’s mausoleum (considered to be the Father of the Nation), where the festivities were being held. We were welcomed with music, dancing and singing as everyone encouraged us to join in.
Usually taking pictures in Juba is not permitted, but for Independence Day an exception was made. Even the SPLA, who would normally be the ones to arrest you for taking out your camera, wanted their photos taken.
Naturally, therefore, everyone was snapping away; just as we were trying to capture the joy and the emotions of the celebrations, the South Sudanese who were celebrating were getting photos of us, as they wanted to capture the world celebrating with them.
Now, a few weeks later, everyone is back at work. However, the flags are still flying, lampposts are still up and emotions are still high. Rather than preparing South Sudan for independence, everyone is now working towards building the world’s newest country.
For the full set of photos from Independence Day, see my facebook page.