JUBA, July 9, 2011 – President Salva Kiir Mayardit paid a befitting tribute to the victims and martyrs of the 21-year war that forced a comprehensive peace agreement, led to the January 2011 referendum in which the South voted for cession, and culminated Saturday in South Sudan’s formal declaration of independence.
“Achieving independence today means that Dr. John Garang, whose blood has cemented our national foundation, and all our other martyrs, did not die in vain,” President Mayardit told hundreds of thousands attending Independence Day celebrations at the Dr. John Garang Mausoleum in Juba.
“We will always take care of their loved ones and all the families of our fallen heroes and heroines,” said President Mayardit, in a speech that advocated peace, urged action to resolve violent conflicts in the sub-region, and reiterated an amnesty to all those still violently opposed to the government in Juba.
Upon arriving at the ceremonial grounds earlier in the day, President Mayardit laid a wreath on the fallen leader’s grave – in the same manner as other heads of state who attended the celebrations – and then unveiled a John Garang monument at the center of the Mausoleum grounds.
“We have waited 56 years for this day,” said the president of Africa’s 55th independent nation.
“For many generations, we have been made to suffer, have been bombed, maimed, enslaved, discriminated against and treated worse than a refugee in our own country,” President Mayardit said as thousands in the crowd choked back tears or wept openly.
“We have to forgive although we will not forget,” he said, clearly taking the opposite stand to one articulated by President Al-Bashir, who just minutes earlier from the same podium said sisters and brothers from the North as well as from the South are all Sudanese.
“Remember, you are South Sudanese first,” President Mayardit reminded his compatriots, adding, however, that South Sudanese must not “harbor any bitterness” towards Sudanese of the North, whom he described as partners and towards whom he committed to “good neighborliness”.
“Having been at the receiving end of injustice for so many decades, South Sudanese will not be aggressors or trouble makers,” President Mayardit promised. He said South Sudan will provide a safe haven to those fleeing violent conflicts anywhere else in the sub-region as a gesture of thanks for the many years when other nations welcomed and cared for South Sudanese in their hour of darkness.
Independence, he said, is an opportunity to make a “new beginning of tolerance, love and unity”, and for building a nation in which all citizens are equal before the law and have access to equal opportunity in their motherland.
Drawing inspiration from Nkwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s firebrand independent leader, President Mayardit said the political kingdom had been won, but it was only the beginning of the road for winning the economic kingdom.
South Sudan’s government must make it its top priority to ensure service delivery to its citizenry the new leader said, explaining that no other interest – especially not personal interest – can be allowed to rank above “serving the public interest”.
“Those unable to or unwilling to do this will not be part of this government,” said the president. He described transparency and accountability as “pivotal” and pledged that his administration “will fight corruption” – which he equated to cancer – “with dedication, rigor, and commitment”.
In a riposte to articles in several Western newspapers published on the eve of independence which projected that the new state would remain fragile or even relapse into violent conflict, President Mayardit used his inauguration speech to galvanize his citizens to prove “our detractors wrong” and make South Sudan a stable, peaceful, successful and prosperous nation.