JUBA, (AFP) — Volunteers cleared away the rubbish and worshippers offered prayers for its future on Sunday, after South Sudan was feted by world leaders as it celebrated independence and began the tough task of nationbuilding.
“It is a big, big job but we want to make our new capital look beautiful,” John Goi Deng, a youth mobiliser, told AFP, as he looked out at the thousands of paper flags and plastic bottles that littered Juba’s Freedom Square, the site of Saturday’s ceremony.
A handful of teenagers collected the rubbish across the vast dirt field where foreign dignitaries and tens of thousands of southerners witnessed the declaration of independence and saw the new country’s flag raised.
“This is the beginning of building the country. You first have to clean and then you can start to build.” Deng said.
The challenges ahead are truly daunting for one of the poorest countries on earth that was left in ruins after five decades of devastating conflict between southern rebels and successive Sudanese governments.
“Joy at independence is tempered by ongoing troubles in the south and north alike,” said Zach Vertin, Sudan analyst with International Crisis Group, in a recent report.
“On the UN’s Human Development Index — a measure of overall quality of life and development — Sudan currently ranks 154th out of 169. South Sudan will start even closer to the bottom,” Vertin added, in the report that was co-authored by Sudan expert Aly Verjee.
In addition to the chronic lack of even the most basic infrastructure, the government of South Sudan has to tackle the problem of violent conflict within its borders, which has killed more than 1,800 people killed so far this year.
It also has to resolve some highly sensitive issues with Khartoum that were not agreed on prior to independence.
At the Juba Christian Centre Pentecostal church, pastor Marcelo Obwoma was preparing to preside over a special thanksgiving service that he said the new country’s President Salva Kiir would attend.
The large congregation expected meant the organisers were forced to set up chairs on the grass outside.
“So many people are coming today as we are giving thanks on this special day, the beginning of our independence,” Obwoma said.
“We are praying for guidance for the government so that the country remains peaceful and can grow,” Obwoma said.
Standing on the steps of the church, South Sudanese lawmaker Julius Moilinga said that after decades of civil war and struggle, people were keen to celebrate and look to the future.
“All through the years (of fighting), people were praying to God for peace and independence, so now we have to come to church to thank him for giving it to us and ask for his help,” Moilinga said.
“It is one thing to achieve independence but it is another thing to walk together towards establishing a working country,” Moilinga said.
Across town, construction worker Aloysious Keny, 36, said that when he woke up, he had gathered his parents, brothers and sisters together for a private celebration.
“When I got up this morning, we began celebrating again. Yesterday was the public ceremony and today is for the relatives and family,” Keny said.
He said that despite the many challenges the country faces, for the first time he now felt confident enough to bring his children back to Juba from neighboring Uganda, where the family had spent over a decade living as refugees.
“The future began yesterday,” Keny said. “Peace is now confirmed and the happiness that began yesterday, we feel it will remain like this for our land and for our children.”