On July 9, South Sudan quietly slipped through the eighth anniversary of its Independence from Khartoum, in what could easily pass as the most sober commemoration of liberty anywhere in recent memory.
With the state unable to throw a party and civil servants going for months without pay, the occasion turned into a kind of unofficial referendum on the public’s view of the separation from their Northern sibling.
The good news is that despite their deprivation and the hardship imposed by an unnecessary conflict now in its fifth year, citizens remain committed to the idea of an independent South.
Eight years is a long time and one hopes that the quiet occasion was an opportunity for sober reflection.
Beyond a tenuous unity against Khartoum, Salva Kiir and his team have little to show to account for their time. The status of the average citizen remains pitiable; the country has some of the worst social indicators globally. Despite oil, the country is deeply indebted and the hole only gets deeper by the day.
A toxic combination of endemic corruption and a sense of insecurity within the leadership have taken away any incentive to halt the haemorrhage of resources.
Though oil flows have resumed and capacity has been ramped up, revenues continue to be wasted on an unnecessary war as China and other buyers take the crude for a fraction of international prices.
The country remains heavily dependent on oil, with little effort at economic diversification. Government programmes have stalled and there is no coherent strategy for building critical infrastructure or stimulating the supply side of the economy.
Thin on moral capital, East Africa, which hastily integrated South Sudan into its trading bloc, has been unable to engage with the protagonists in any meaningful way.
As hosts of Juba’s illicit wealth, Kampala and Nairobi have refused to pull the levers that would probably have the most profound impact on the chief protagonists.
Yet, with all that is not going right in Juba and swelling ranks of impatient youth, it would be erroneous on the part of the leaders to assume that the population will continue to tolerate the status quo for much longer.
President Kiir and Dr Riek Machar need to wake up to their responsibility to the wider South Sudan community to give the country another chance.
That might require them to consider the possibility that while they are part of the solution, they may not have the credentials to chart a new course for South Sudan.
Rebuilding South Sudan is not going to be a walk in the park and the population must accept the painful restructuring that is necessary for the state to reform and become functional. But South Sudan must first know where it wants to go and that will require it to rediscover its roots.
Despite their imperfections, the agreements that have been ditched by the protagonists in the past offer a good starting point.
Combined with the founding vision of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, these documents should be a source of inspiration for those that seek a functional state in South Sudan.
The East African