Reflecting on the 3B's of South Sudan Independence

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Monday, 09 July 2012 17:44
Written by John Thon Majok, The New Sudan Vision (NSV),
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Washington DC - Mixed tears of joy and sadness irrepressibly fell when the flag of South Sudan was proudly raised on July 9, 2011, marking the long-awaited independence from Sudan. There was an exciting joy for what was achieved, but also a feeling of sadness because people recalled the majority of those who made the independence possible but were not there to witness the triumph of freedom. On this first anniversary of our independence, it is fitting to celebrate our freedom while reflecting on the long tortuous history and the process it took to earn it.

I believe the combination of 3B’s – bullet, blood, ballot – led to South Sudan independence. It was through the bullets that the central regime in Khartoum accepted the ballot box, thanks to our martyrs whose blood was shed in the name of freedom from oppression.

When the dissatisfied South Sudanese mutinied in Torit and fired the first bullet on August 18, 1955, they risked their lives for a cause greater than themselves and went into the bush to form the Anyanya I Movement. When the rights of the southerners were not properly addressed by the Khartoum regime during the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement, the second phase of civil started with the revolution of May 16, 1983 in Bor. This led to the formation of Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), which fought the war for more than 20 years until the Khartoum regime convincingly accepted to sign the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005.

It is indisputable that the bullets made it possible for the peace agreement to be achieved. In turn, the CPA paved the way for the ballot through a referendum in which 99% of South Sudanese overwhelmingly voted for separation. This democratic exercise, which surprised the naysayers who thought it would be impossible, answered the two basic questions asked by South Sudan founding father Dr. John Garang: “If unity is not made attractive, why would any southerner vote himself into second class citizenship? If Sudan does not sufficiently and fundamentally change, why should anybody vote to become a servant instead of being a master in his own independent house?” Today, we are in our own independent house as masters and equal citizens. This prize of freedom came with enormous price and cost. More than 2 million southerners have died, millions were wounded, and more than 4 million were uprooted from their homes.

Our brave freedom fighters from Anyanya I to numerous SPLA battalions died with honor so that their fellow citizens could live in freedom. This last sentence from the 1776 U.S. Declaration of Independence is true of our martyrs: “We mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Today, we are celebrating what these heroes have achieved with their lives, fortunes, and honor on our behalf. What could be more than the loss of life?

During their struggle, South Sudanese were united by a shared sacrifice and a visionary narrative that cemented their spirit of nationalism and patriotism. As Kenyan human rights lawyer Maina Kiai rightly put it, “No country becomes a nation without a common accepted narrative that goes beyond individuals. When there is a narrative that provides a sense of sharedness, then the sense of nationhood cements itself.” Today is a time to reflect on our sense of sharedness.

On July 9, more than half a century of war came to a dignified finish. It is imperative to point out some of the main causes, which compelled South Sudanese to declare independence from Sudan:

Today we are free to worship and to govern; this is what we are celebrating. While South Sudan can always do better to avoid repeating the above mistakes, South Sudanese should not regret their decision to declare independence from a regime that has oppressed them for over 50 years.

South Sudanese are proud, optimistic, and resilient people. Their long struggle for independence has proven these values. In the spirit of optimism and patriotism, the SPLA “Locust” (Koryom) Battalion sang in Arabic: “Faturna Tumbakna,” which means, “Our Tobacco is our Breakfast.” This song was in response to Khartoum claim that the guerilla soldiers would starve in the bush due to lack of food. Through resilience, our civilians survived the horrors of displacement by wandering in the unforgiving deserts and rivers that did not spare most of them; the survivors crossed the international borders to find refuge in foreign lands.

In celebrating our hard-earned freedom and recalling the tortuous struggle that brought it, it is important to reflect on the overall meaning of this day. To me, this day means the struggle of a decent people for human dignity has finally paid off. It means our freedom fighters did not die in vain because through their ultimate sacrifice, we have achieved CPA, referendum, and the ultimate independence. Our challenge then becomes, how can each of us best honor these heroes? Can the citizens of South Sudan make personal pledges today and how to achieve them?

Looking forward in the context of my 3B’s equation, I think it is time to reduce more bloodshed, maintain the bullets for defense, and speed up citizen access to the ballot box. In democratic governance, it follows that citizen participation is high or possible when an individual is not limited by fear, hunger, illiteracy, and disease. When the government does not provide or protect individual rights to these necessities, it loses legitimacy and citizens can act. South Sudanese declared independence because Khartoum did not protect or deliver these basic rights.

Because the price of independence was exorbitant both in human lives and social costs, South Sudan must do everything it can to protect and preserve the prize of freedom. This includes delivering the “independence dividends” to its citizens; supporting the military; and taking good care of the wounded veterans, widows, and the orphans.

 Happy Birthday, South Sudan! May you prosper and remember those who have died for you!

 John Thon Majok, MPA, is a native of South Sudan. He lives and works in Washington DC. For contact, you can reach him at his E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.