The 16th of May should have been SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army) Day in South Sudan. This public holiday commemorates the birth in 1983 of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, when the Addis Ababa Agreement which had brought 11 years of relative stability, if not prosperity, fell apart.
At the last minute, the celebrations were postponed for a week in the midst of a heavy deployment of security forces in the capital, Juba. Political leaders will of course have been closely observing the events in neighbouring Sudan; while many celebrate the demise of a dictator who brutalised South Sudan – although he did at least concede the country’s right to self-determination – the power of sustained, non-violent protest will not have gone unnoticed.
South Sudanese President Salva’s SPLA Day speech was humble and statesmanlike. Having commended the country’s founding fathers and the role which the various people’s forces played in fulfilling the dream of independence, he spoke frankly about the current situation. “Our people are now suffering deadly violence in our hands as we seek self-fulfilment. We have completely abandoned our vision and we have turned against our people, preying on them. We are selling the country for which millions have died. A majority of our people is now living in poverty. Enough is enough.” He called on all parties to “set aside the greed for power, stabilise our country, return to democracy and give our people a chance to live in a country they deserve, and … serve a higher purpose; that of making South Sudan a prosperous and peaceful nation [and] … leading a dignified nation”.
At a personal level, as someone who lived in Khartoum for several years and has a great fondness for the Sudanese people, I am particularly impressed by the commitment to peaceful and meaningful change. The sit-in has continued despite some very violent reactions from security forces, throughout the hottest time of year, when daytime temperatures never dip below 40°C and nights are little cooler, and during Ramadan, when most protesters will have nothing to eat or drink during daylight hours. This is dedication in the extreme, and was rewarded with the reopening of talks on Sunday.
Many will be concerned that upheaval in Sudan will have a destabilising impact on its southern neighbour. Of course we all hope not, and that instead the president’s powerful speech last week will translate into action that implements and embeds last year’s fragile peace agreement. At the same time, Ibba Girls’ Boarding School is a leading example of the need to invest now in the next generation, in a generation which through education, empowerment and equality can deliver and lead the stabilised, prosperous and dignified nation to which the president’s words aspire.
Mark Simmons, FIGS CEO, 20th May 2019