“This has been a very expensive and painful exercise, with over 2.5 million people dead.” Government of Southern Sudan Minister of Information Barnaba Marial Benjamin said today at a Juba press conference.
He added that all would bear witness to history – the transformation of the map of Africa – and the realization of southern people’s dreams -- the Republic of South Sudan.
“I know it will cause chaos in the geography books,” the minister said. “The world will have to have new geography books, so those of you who are in the business of geography have business coming.”
In marking the historic event, the Southern Sudanese capital has been adorned with vivid paintings, billboards, security lights and spotless roads.
Preparing for the day, a 30-year-old student of Juba University and secretary general of the Nuer traditional dancers, John Dei Bilwel, was rehearsing the tribal dance at Buluk area with his Unity State group.
“We as Nuer traditional dancers are joyful to celebrate the independence of South Sudan,” Mr. Bilwel said. “There was no food, no peace, nothing at all during the war, but today there is peace at last, that is why we have to celebrate.”
Rebecca Achol, a native of Jonglei State, who left South Sudan for Kenya in 2000 to seek schooling for her 10 children, said she had to leave them in Nairobi to witness the birth of the new nation with her own eyes.
For her family, independence meant everything, Ms. Achol said. “Independence of our country will give us the right to own land. Everyone will be free tomorrow.”
“Some of us may sleep under the trees, some in the bushes without any problem,” she added.
Ms. Achol injured both legs during the war in Kapoeta, when she felt into a pit while taking food to soldiers on the frontline.
She stressed that South Sudanese should go to school to prosper. “During the war, there were no schools, yet there is nothing better than learning. We took so long to achieve peace because were not educated.”
A 35-year-old widow, Sadia Frederic Loro, who comes from Juba County’s Lobonok Payam said she never believed that one day the independence of South Sudan would come to pass.
“I did not believe that I would reach this day,” said Ms Loro. “This is by God’s mercy. Many people lost their lives, so those of us who have survived the war have a reason to be happy.”
Ms Loro lost her husband during the war when a bomb aimed at the southern army by its northern rivals fell near him.
Warrap State native Majok Bol Kong said he had begun celebrating a week before. “I have been so happy throughout this week because … we shall see an end to our suffering and the beginning of our future.”
Recalling the Juba of a few years ago, he said he was excited to see new vehicles and people as well as a changed environment.
Another resident, Reverent Oliver Tongu, said he was awaiting one event in particular. “What we want to see is our flag raised.”
Mr. Tongu said he would drill his children on South Sudan’s history. “I am going to teach my children or anybody else about the suffering we (underwent) for all this time, so that they can understand the history of our country well.”
He said he had dried some meat for tomorrow’s occasion, which would be mixed with a ground nut paste.
“I have chosen to eat dry meat instead of fresh because it (dry meat) gives more energy,” he said. “We are going to eat it early in the morning to give us enough energy to spend the whole day at the Mausoleum (where the independence ceremony is to be held).”