JUBA, July 8, 2011–World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region, Ms. Obiageli Ezekwesili, arrives here Saturday as head of the World Bank delegation participating in festivities to mark the independence of South Sudan.
The fast-growing city of Juba, which will be the capital of Africa’s 55th nation, is drabbed in its best colors and Juba International Airport is at its busiest, welcoming thousands of guests expected for the occasion; among them, about 30 African heads of state, according to official sources.
President of Sudan Omar Hassan Ahmed al Bashir will preside over the military parade and popular march, which will precede the lowering and hoisting of flags, singing of the new national anthem, and new President Elect of the Republic of South Sudan General Salva Kiir Mayardit’s oath of office.
The excitement is palpable here among citizens young and old, who are keen to extend hospitality to visitors, and who are working frantically to complete independence-related projects, to keep the streets clean, to add a fresh coat of paint to buildings as Africa’s youngest nation and the United Nations’ 193rd nation prepares for its “big day”.
Hon. Aguil De’Chut Deng, who is a member of the SPLM National Liberation Movement Council and is well-known for her role in the struggle for independence, as well as for her activism in favor of women, children and peace, compares the advent of independence to being in heaven.
“When you are in heaven what do you do?” she asked in a video interview on the eve of Independence Day.
The official celebration—complete with 21-gun salute and speeches from, among others, African Union Chairperson Jean Ping and Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon—will be held July 9 at the mausoleum of Dr. John Garang, former vice president of Sudan, who died in a crash in 2005 only three weeks after being sworn in.
Dr. Garang’s 21-year military campaign epitomized the struggle of the mainly African, Christian South against the dominant Arab, Islamic North.
World Bank staff celebrate Independence
The World Bank, which bypassed usual procedures in order to approve US$75 million in funding for the new state even before Independence, is taking advantage of the Independence celebrations to raise awareness about the challenges, but also opportunities, that Africa’s newest state offers to investors. The Government of South Sudan will use the initial funding provided by the Bank to help jumpstart investments in health, rural roads and private sector development.
“The poor and hungry cannot wait generations for solutions to their most urgent problems,” the World Bank’s Ezekwesili wrote in an opinion piece published by many newspapers ahead of the trip.
The article urges the Government of South Sudan to move with “a sense of urgency” in building the institutions needed to guarantee security and justice for its citizens, create jobs, provide basic social services (health, education and low-income housing) and boost political and trade relations with its neighbors, including the North.
Joined by World Bank Country Manager for Sudan Laura Kullenberg, former Country Manager Laurence Clarke, Acting Country Director Ian Bannon, and Bella Bird, who will become World Bank country director for Sudan and South Sudan on September 1, 2011, Bank staff in Juba Thursday afternoon expressed a zeal and willingness to roll up their sleeves and do business unusual.
“Being as good as Kenya in the next 20 years would not be good enough,” said one staff member, his own yearning to see South Sudan achieve greatness soon prompting him to push back on one of the key messages from the 2011 World Development Report, which asserts that it takes time–an entire generation–to rebuild from conflict and fragility.
Toasting the new country during an emotional Independence vigil Thursday night, Kullenberg confessed that the great expectations the people of South Sudan have are to be expected for “a country of such beauty and potential”.
The Bank team here will now begin the all-inclusive, consultative, bottom-up process of elaborating a country assistance strategy in the coming weeks and months.
A diversified economy – away from oil toward agriculture
Whatever development model South Sudan adopts, “the new country’s leaders and political elite must involve citizens early on in devising a development strategy,” Ezekwesili wrote, encouraging the government to foster private sector-led growth and “a diversification strategy that moves the country away from a mono-product economy”.
The country needs to explore opportunities, notably in agriculture which Ezekwesili described as “a bigger and more sustainable asset than oil” on which South Sudan currently depends for 98 percent of its revenue.
“Fixing agriculture”, she argued “offers the best chance for creating jobs, improving incomes and reversing food insecurity” for a country with millions still dependent on food aid and in dire need of improvements in income in order to curb its 46 percent poverty rate.
“Reforms,” she said must “focus on empowering citizens, especially women, to solve their own problems, awaken the creative genius of citizens and support their efforts to hold their government and development partners accountable”.
“For South Sudan,” Ezekwesili concluded, “setting up the right institutions, adopting the right and sound policies, and ensuring effective and efficient public investment in the sectors that matter to the poor will help lift the maximum number of its citizens out of poverty and commence the country’s journey to socio-economic transformation.”