Remembering May 16th as a historic day for South Sudan

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Thursday, 16 May 2013 18:44
Written by David Mabior Atem, The New Sudan Vision (NSV),
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Winnipeg, MB, Canada - It is important to remember May 16 as a “historic day” that brought significant change in the South Sudanese socio-economic and political recognition through elimination of Khartoum’s well-planned injustice and economic inequity, religious interference with state’s affairs, human trafficking, enslavement, and backward style of governance etc. Having an independent state was an achievement that began on May 16 although we are currently entangling and struggling to front forward vision. Also, May 16 is a historic day but its historicity has not glued together the past, present and future by putting up a promising future vision to replace “old Sudan” distorted ideologies. A promising future vision will address infrastructure, insecurity & cattle rustling, electricity, purified drinking water, permanent education settings with refined curriculums and food insecurity and other basic human needs. Through the initiative of May 16, SPLA/M became entity that represents the interests of the marginalized communities in the history of old Sudan although keeping up with a prudent course of action has become unsuccessful path. However, the SPLA/M had managed to reach the destination of a Promised Land by guaranteeing the South Sudanese independence on July 9, 2011. An ongoing distress is that current promised land’s environment is not favorable to civil liberties such as freedom of expression and political association, which is an ultimately defeating our purpose of why we staged the war against oppressors. The obvious questions are: why did we sacrifice millions of lives in exchange of miserable state of affairs? Are we still following our manifesto? Do we really want to follow the same “old South Sudan” or “new South Sudan” characterized and exemplified by the ten states instead of three states? Answers are yours. But let me come back to celebration of May 16 itself.

Few years ago, I made undocumented observations during a May 16 celebrations. I came up with an observation by comparing a May 16 celebrations during our time and present. When we were in the movement, we lived on almost nothing but we always used to have spirited and inspired May 16 celebrations through an expression of revolutionary songs, encouraging speeches from our leaders and highly projected determination of overthrowing a Khartoum government any time. In my mind, those spirited and inspired May 16 celebrations memories are still fresh. Through my undocumented observations, I had a personal conversation with one of the individuals that were involved in the preparation for May 16 celebration few years ago. I had posed a question to that friend of mine. Why May 16 is being celebrated quietly as if we are in a funeral mood? I went on by saying to him that we have so many revolutionary songs in form of cassettes or CDs that could be played to remind us about unquestionable commitments and morals of our gallant forces. The answer I got was that most of the SPLA songs were composted in languages that are not representative of our diversity. I laughed in grief, nevertheless I got courage to ask another questions, that, was it the fault of the groups who composted the SPLA songs in that unrepresentative languages? Was it a bad idea? Was anybody prevented from composting songs in diverse languages that you are looking for? I knew that they were very tough questions for him but I was left with no option than asking such questions.

In that discussion, there was an obvious lack of first-hand account, particularly about the movement from that friend of mine. People at the distance might know about SPLA/M as a conventional movement but not internal processes such as how its man-power was assembled. During that discussion, I did not disclose to that friend of mine on the SPLA/M recruitment processes, which was not representative of our diversity as some individuals claim now. However, in this piece, I would share with readers one example of different technique that was used by the SPLA/M to recruit its manpower. For example, a policy of “Buluk ka Diak in Dinka” meaning that figureheads with (3) three people every month was introduced by the Zonal Commanders in mid 80s, of which current Governor of Jonglei State was one of then zonal commanders. Any failure from figureheads not to name three people within a given time would result into loss of resources from that family and section/sub-community. In other instances, severe torturing was also executed against figureheads. Those communities have paid heavy price in any form to sustain the SPLA/M until we reached the current shape of Promised Land. That conversation had left me with different mindset about May 16 celebration and our different understanding toward SPLA/M as an institution that liberated South Sudanese.

Time has gone so fast. A child that was born on May 16, 1983 would have ruled a nation 9 years ago according to majority age allowed by the national constitution. It is in my wish and hopes that May 16, the 30th anniversary, will be a turning point in the history of South Sudan; where an ongoing human suffering will be reversed through an introduction of meaningful programs. Meaningful programs should start with country restructuring of current programs to streamline service delivery to citizens. I have come to believe that the word “development” is a generic term, which lack replications in South Sudan. There is no way that the word development can reflect its true meaning if we use it in isolation of agricultural scheme to address food insecurity, infrastructures; road & rail accessibility, community economic development to create job opportunity, refined education curriculum to our settings, preventive environmental degradation and rapid insecurity. All these and others are what constitute the word development. Changing service delivery mechanisms will minimize current challenges facing South Sudanese across the board or else we will wait for years to see significant change(s) in citizen’s lives.

In my view, May 16, 30th anniversary, will also be a turning point only ‘IF’ the word decentralization is properly contextualized through undertaking of rearrangement of current institutions to addresses:

I am hoping that our government could go further in enriching the meaning of the word “decentralization” by distributing national government ministries across ten states. Each ministry will be moved to the states based on the specialty of its services. For instance, Ministry of Oil can be moved to Unity State or Upper Nile where the majority of our oil is being pumped from, and Ministry of Agriculture to North Bhar el Gazal because of its well-known rice scheme. This idea will bring hope to the people in the rural areas through visibility, viability and equitability of job creation, and leaders’ interactions with citizens; which will create and develop an open communication, transparency and accountability between citizens and government. Readers should not panic by this suggested idea. There is no conventional practice when it comes to government deciding on how to reach its people, to delivery services and to have lean or huge government etc. Creating our own ways of doing things within our own culture will defines and reflects our socio-economic as South Sudanese. It will also do away with importing of ideas elsewhere that are not applicable to our current situation as a nation with our own distinctions socially, culturally, economically, environmentally and politically.

For some readers, who know that I am a columnist for and regular contributor to other websites such as, and, I wrote an article in 2008 and I said that SPLM should not be used a chance but rather a choice where one would live up to obligations.


May 16, 30th Anniversary, Oyee

Victory & Hopes Oyee


David Mabior Atem – Canada, was an author of Start peace and reconciliation at the grassroots level: An open letter to H. E. Dr. Riek Machar, South Sudan’s controversy peace initiative. Here is a link:;view=article&id=2683:start-peace-and-reconciliation-at-the

He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.