A Long Struggle

by Jeffrey Kaiser:

Juba is noticeably different this week. Traffic is a nightmare, journalists are everywhere, and security is tight, but you can feel the excitement everywhere. I’ll try to write more about the details in the next few days. But I thought it important to share a few thoughts I had today while watching the final rehearsal of the Independence Day parade.

Independence for South Sudan did not come easily. Nearly 2.5 million people lost their lives in the liberation struggle. Some 4 million were displaced. Tens of thousands of fighters were injured, thousands of children were taken to the bush to fight while they should have been in elementary school, and families were torn apart. These are historical facts, and ones that I knew before coming here. But getting a glimpse of effects of the war today in person was an important reminder of the struggle that led to this day.

Disabled war veterans march in the July 5 parade rehearsal (Kaiser/TYG)

It shouldn’t have taken this small group of disabled vets to cause this realization. You can simply look around Juba and see the effects of the long war. But like many people here I have been swept up in the buzz and excitement surrounding independence. Watching these men walk proudly in the parade rehearsal had an inexplicable effect on me. They are incredibly lucky to have lived to see this day when so many of their fellow soldiers did not. But in the moment they were a manifestation of just how difficult this journey was.

Independence for the South was not always the desired outcome. When war broke out for the second time in 1983 and the SPLA was formed, the vision that Dr. John Garang had was for the liberation of Sudan from discriminatory Arab Islamic regime and the creation of a New Sudan, a unified democratic state with freedom and equality for all its people. After more than 20 years of war the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between North and South in 2005. The CPA called for a referendum in 2011 to determine whether or not the South would secede. At the time of the signing, independence was not the obvious end state. But in the years that followed, both parties (the NCP and the SPLM) began to give up efforts to make unity attractive. But not until a few months before the referendum did Southern independence seem inevitable.

To be here to witness the very end of the struggle and the very beginning of the new nation is an honor, but it was important for me to take a short mental break from the celebration and excitement and remember how much this place and the people here have been through.

The simple verse sang by the civilians marching at the back of the parade–repeated hundreds of times as they walked–said it all:

“We will never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never surrender, surrender. We will never, never, never, never, never, never, never, never surrender, surrender.