hope for South Sudan shattered after decade of horror
In July 2011, Nunu Diana smiled through tears as South Sudan gained independence, envisioning the future of her homeland: a great nation, peaceful and prosperous, full of hope and opportunity.
Ten years later, with these aspirations shattered by civil war, chronic instability and economic ruin, Diana looks back on this youthful optimism with resignation.
“I think it was just a dream,” the 33-year-old social worker and mother of four told AFP.
As celebrations erupted in the capital and the flag of a newly independent South Sudan fluttered high, Diana watched the festivities on television from a refugee camp in Uganda, where her family had fled seemingly unsuccessful years of war. end.
The declaration of independence meant an end to the bloodshed between the predominantly Muslim north of Sudan and its predominantly Christian and animist south – and a chance to finally return home.
“July 9 actually made me more independent than South Sudan itself because I knew I would come to my country,” Diana said.
The happiness of this moment, she said, and the hope for her country and its people was like “a new baby was born”.
– Lost hope –
Growing up, Diana listened with wonder to speeches from revered leaders fighting for the independence of Sudan: “It gave me hope that one day we would be a great nation,” she said.
At independence, the possibility appeared limitless. South Sudan was rich in oil, blessed with fertile land and abundant White Nile water, a land of fantastic natural wealth and potential.
“I imagined a South Sudan where the health system would be very powerful given that we have our natural resources,” said Diana.
“I also envisioned South Sudan where we had the human resources, especially young South Sudanese, who came from different countries to come and build the country in a more peaceful way.
Above all, she saw for her children the chance to study and learn, opportunities that were denied to her growing up in war and misery.
Diana returned with hope and ambition to South Sudan in early 2012, but it didn’t take long for the mirage to wear off.
At the end of 2013, the latent tensions around the control of the new state between President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar erupted in broad daylight, their respective troops opening fire on each other.
South Sudan was at war with itself. On December 20, Diana entered Uganda again as a refugee, taking her young son with her.
“We had all our hopes for South Sudan, that our children will not go through what we have been through,” she said.
“Taking my son to Uganda was one of the things that made me lose hope in South Sudan.”
The war lasted for five years, fragmenting along ethnic lines, subjecting South Sudan’s war-weary civilians to terrible atrocities.
Nearly 400,000 people have died in the conflict while another four million – a third of the total population – have been forced to flee like Diana, some to safer parts of the country and others across borders.
– “Things are getting worse” –
Diana returned in 2014 and founded a nonprofit organization to help people living with HIV / AIDS four years later.
But during that time, she kept her four children in Uganda, where at least their safety and education was assured, she said.
In South Sudan, conditions have deteriorated.
Almost three-quarters of all school-age children were out of school, according to UNICEF, while one in ten do not live beyond the age of five.
“I think things are getting worse,” Diana said.
Hunger has reached levels not seen since independence. Some 60 percent of the population – about seven million people – suffer from severe food shortages, according to the United Nations World Food Program.
More than 100,000 are on the brink of famine.
A currency crisis and runaway inflation made daily life difficult, even for residents of the capital.
Diana has started planting okra, peanuts and other vegetables in a small garden in an attempt to cut costs, and can only afford to cook once a day.
“What we eat for lunch should take us to supper,” she said.
– Cries for leadership –
Droughts, floods and locusts have destroyed harvest seasons and pushed entire communities to the brink.
Man-made horrors, in particular the pervasive levels of inter-ethnic armed violence, have meanwhile claimed dozens of lives and forced many to constantly relocate.
Diana maintains that there is meaning to the nation’s motto: Justice, Liberty, Prosperity.
But she has little faith in the country’s rulers – the men who have chosen war over state building, whose government fails to provide for its own people, and who squandered the state’s gift.
“We just need to change that leadership,” she said.
“All these leaders – our liberators – I think they have to take a back seat and give the country to the young people, who have the energy, the aspirations and the hopes for this country.”
str-sva / np / txw / pvh / spm