That’s the question put to Amb. Philip Jada Natana, South Sudan’s Mission Representative to the United States, Amb. Susan Page, former U.S. Mission Representative to the Republic of South Sudan, and myself today. The panel discussion organized by the Washington-based Voice of America was meant to provoke discussion around South Sudan’s independence vote and what it stood for today as millions of South Sudanese languish in abject poverty, hopeless and uncertain about what the future brings to them.
The panel moderated by the VOA’s Nabeel Biajo also invited voices from the ground and the South Sudan diaspora with a common message: we have lost it! South Sudan’s 11th Independence Anniversary is on the corner. This critical conversation came at an opportune moment. In my opening remarks, I made the point, without reservations, that although the independence vote was a massive success, the South Sudanese dream particularly of the women and its youth has not been realized, and suffering indeed, doubled more than we had under Sudan. Independence for me, means physical security for women, peace of mind for the youth, freedom to feel a sense of belongingness, and a voice for our girls. None of this exists today in South Sudan.
Amb. Susan Page stressed my message; she too, believed without doubt, that South Sudan’s independence vote did not translate to results. “Many people wanted independence which they rightly voted for but above all, they wished for freedom, respect for their rights, and the ability to enjoy social services such as good education, and proper health care,” Page asserted in her opening remarks. As expected, Amb. Natana disagreed outrightly by even disputing the framing of the discussion topic, arguing that the phrase “Dream Unrealized” was problematic because South Sudan did realize its independence. The Ambassador introduced the old argument that South Sudan’s current problems are actually issues of a young, fledgling state making comparison to the challenges of a 200 plus years old U.S. “Today, the US still grapples with gun violence after 200 plus years of independence. How about an 11-year-old country?” He wondered.
As a matter of framing solutions, I proposed that South Sudan’s way forward largely depends on empowering the critical mass; women, and the youth, giving them a voice and providing them with education. I mentioned that my book is my two cents for providing such a solution as it brings hope to millions of South Sudanese girls and women. Amb. Page added that although South Sudan’s leadership messed it up, there was still a window to make sense of the situation. “Every peace agreement needs the grassroots buy-in in order to be a success,” Page offered. “They have to have programs that must be implemented,” she added. Page also emphasized the need to have social services such as education, and healthcare, and that the old narrative of ‘we are young’ has lost flavor. Meanwhile, Amb. Natana spoke about the need to have a professional army as a sustainable exit from perpetual wars.
Callers from both South Sudan and the diaspora all agreed that the independence does not look real. As Jacob from Juba interrogated poetically: “Where would South Sudan be if it had listened to Amb. Page?” Hakim Dairo, South Sudanese UK-based put it mildly by saying that “today’s South Sudan is dysfunctional riddled with illegitimacy and corruption.”
The closing remarks for me stressed the need for physical protection of our girls, youth, and women. I also put forward the need to invest in education for girls, the need to bridge the widening gender gaps, and in order to build a sustained future for girls and women. I challenged parents to have a vision for their girls so that they too, can reach their fullest potential. I also urged young women battling negative gendered norms to fight on. “Win is possible,” I declared. Amb. Page shared my message and urged South Sudanese women and girls that, “don’t give up, look up to Captain’s story.” She also called on the South Sudanese leadership to “not arrest people but to protect them.”
In his closing words, Amb. Natana stressed that South Sudan tried her best, giving examples of women occupying top leadership positions today and that it needed to build upon that progress.
What do you think? Let's have a conversation here and on my social media handles.