South Sudan duly became an independent sovereign state on 9 July. The day was hot but the people turned out in their tens of thousands at the Dr John Garang Mausoleum to celebrate the birth of their new country. There was a parade and speeches, as well as the unveiling of a statue of Dr John Garang and the raising of a giant new South Sudanese flag. The new national anthem was sung but the words were still unfamiliar to most of the crowd – I’m sure they’re learning them now. Present Salva Kiir was sworn in as President and signed the new Transitional Constitution. The crowd went wild. (See our pictures.)
The world came to join in the celebrations. The dignitaries included the UN Secretary General, heads of state and government and foreign ministers. (Our Prime Minister wasn’t here but he did announce the UK’s recognition of South Sudan.) There were 13 speeches, perhaps unlucky for the people baking in the sun. Our own Foreign Secretary gave one of the speeches, receiving great cheering and applause when he told the crowd that the UK was not only proud to be one of the first countries to have recognised South Sudan, we had also opened an embassy and appointed an ambassador. The keynote speeches were by Presidents Bashir and Kiir. The former gave a gracious speech, congratulating the new country. President Kiir called for national unity and the acceptance of responsibility for building the nation. He vowed to fight corruption. He also repeated his amnesty for the rebel armed forces.
There were lighter moments. The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly is shorter than his colleagues. There’s nothing unusual in that here – the height disparities can be enormous. When Mr Wani Igga came to speak, he couldn’t reach the microphone and so someone brought a crate for him to stand on. The crate returned later for other speakers who share his stature.
Since 9 July the South Sudanese have continued to celebrate. People have had a spring in their step and happily greet strangers on the streets of Juba. I hope it is the same throughout South Sudan. There are flags everywhere, on buildings, cars, people. A sign of their new status came last Thursday when the Republic of South Sudan became the 193rd member of the United Nations and the national flag was raised in New York.
And now the next phase begins. On 11 July President Kiir swore in a caretaker government. He is expected to name a new one any day now. The people of South Sudan have great challenges ahead. But they are facing the future with determination and the knowledge that they are doing so as an independent and free people.
As for us, I am delighted to have been announced as the British Ambassador. I’m looking forward to continuing my work here in Juba.
As well as reading this blog, you’ll be able to keep up to date with developments on South Sudan by looking at the new UK in South Sudan website. I’d also encourage you to head over to our UK in South Sudan Facebook page and follow the Sudan Unit on Twitter for updates from our staff in Juba and London.
There’s going to be a lot for us to discuss.