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Eyewitness: Day South Sudan became independent

As the massive flag of the newly independent Republic of South Sudan was raised, the crowd of thousands exploded into cheers. People shed tears of joy and others tears of sorrow for loved ones lost during the war. Everyone hugged their neighbours and said, “Mabruk! Congratulations! We did it!”

The official flag of the Republic of South Sudan is raised during the ceremony marking the birth of the new nation on 9 July 2011.
The official flag of the Republic of South Sudan is raised during the ceremony marking the birth of the new nation on 9 July 2011.

The people of South Sudan could hardly wait for the official ceremony on 9 July. They were out dancing even before the stroke of midnight to welcome their new nation into the world. Others continued celebrating throughout the weekend.

People celebrate the independence of the new Republic of South Sudan on July 9, 2011. Juba, South Sudan.
People celebrate the independence of the new Republic of South Sudan hours before midnight.
Guests at the ceremony marking the Declaration of the Independence of the Republic of South Sudan. Juba, South Sudan, on Independence Day. July 9 2011.
People decorated their faces, donned flags and patriotic caps, at the ceremony marking Independence.

The national anthem was played non-stop on South Sudan Radio for weeks before the big day, so people could learn the words before the ceremony. And sing along they did! Children and parents alike, women and men singing and dancing with flags.

The National Anthem singers at the ceremony marking the Declaration of the Independence of the Republic of South Sudan, in Juba, South Sudan, on Independence Day. July 9 2011.
The National Anthem singers at the ceremony marking the Declaration of the Independence.
Guests at the ceremony marking the Declaration of the Independence of the Republic of South Sudan. Juba, South Sudan, on Independence Day. July 9 2011.
Father and son at the ceremony.

Today, the streets are still quiet from the hangover of non-stop family gatherings and feasts, concerts, and VIP visits. But the smiles have not left the people’s faces. There is a look of hope in the eyes of every child you talk to.

A young boy smiles and sings along to the new Republic of South Sudan national anthem during the independence ceremony
A young boy smiles and sings along to the new Republic of South Sudan national anthem during the independence ceremony

The mood was both jubilant and reflective, and all of us present knew just how meaningful it was to witness the birth of this new nation. In his statement recognizing South Sudan as an independent nation, US President Obama quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., “I knew about all of the struggles, and all of the pain, and all of the agony that these people had gone through for this moment.”

The war-wounded military and civilian parade marches during the independence ceremony
The war-wounded military and civilian parade marches during the independence ceremony
Abraham Deng, Senior Government Liaison for Save the Children in South Sudan, attends the independence ceremony.
Abraham Deng, Senior Government Liaison for Save the Children in South Sudan, attends the independence ceremony.

As the new President of the Republic of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, said during his acceptance speech, “We have waited for 56 years for this day. It is a dream that has come true. The challenges are great, but we must begin the task of facing up to them right away from today.”

Salva Kiir Mayardit, President of the new Republic of South Sudan, greets guests at the ceremony.
Salva Kiir Mayardit, President of the new Republic of South Sudan, greets guests at the ceremony.

And the challenges certainly are great in the new South Sudan. As Kiir noted in his speech, the education and health situations are dire, and resources should be allocated to bring basic services to the all areas of South Sudan. On Friday, 8 July, Save the Children UK called for the new government to ring-fence oil revenues and create a new “child development fund”.

  • There are around 4.2 million children in South Sudan – around 51% of the population
  • Half of South Sudan’s 8.2 million people lives on under $1 per day
  • 1 in 7 children dies before their fifth birthday
  • 22% of all children in South Sudan are acutely malnourished
  • Just 1 in 10 children will complete primary school
  • 1 in 7 women dies during or immediately after childbirth – the highest rate in the world
  • South Sudan’s life expectancy is just 42 years

Read our report on the challenges facing newly independent South Sudan

The countdown clock in the middle of town lights up with slogans "Free at Last" and "Congratulations South Sudan!"

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