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Post-independence report card -- Jubilation: unsurpassed. Preparations: see the management

JUBA - With the Republic of South Sudan less than two weeks old and independence day celebrations still fresh in many people’s minds, it’s time for a sobering look at what really happened -- and didn’t happen -- in the preparation department.

Anthony Lino Makana, South Sudan’s Minister for Transport and Roads, at Juba International Airport.
© Akim Mugisa

It was clear the south would secede from the north as soon as the results of the January referendum were announced. Preparations for the big day should have begun immediately.

To put it mildly, there was much to be done: construction of a decent pavilion at the main venue, an airport upgrade, a thorough town scrubbing, and street lighting, among other tasks.

The day after at the John Garang mausoleum, photo by antheap

To give credit where it’s due, the cleanup did much to improve Juba’s appearance to visitors who have been coming since 2005, and security was top-notch.

But the rest of the preparations were undertaken in a very last-minute manner. That is why, when President Salva Kiir took the podium on South Sudan’s historic day, he first apologised to regional and international guests for the inadequate state of affairs before delivering his address.

The largest part of the fully packed pavilion had no shield from the scorching sun, so the honored guests were bathed in sweat.

The committee responsible for the seating arrangement hadn’t done its homework either, as evidenced by the Master of Ceremonies who bellowed into the public address system that army generals and other government officials should vacate their seats for arriving dignitaries.  

I was among the lucky ones able to identify the heads of state present by looking at the short flags on their cars. Was it an oversight that the foreign delegations were not formally introduced to the gathering, apart from those invited to the podium to give speeches?

Technicians installed streetlights one week after independence celebrations in Juba.
The street lighting was behind schedule; by 9 July, the light poles were still standing without connections. Electricians are continuing the installation more than a week after the main event.

Traffic flow on the streets of Juba was chaotic at best. Drivers were continually confronted with impromptu detours, which led to congestion on some roads while other vehicles were forced to maneuver through residential areas.

No one can take pride in the hectic scenes of police relentlessly blowing whistles or yelling at drivers and would-be passengers, including workers who did their best to report for duty at 8:00 a.m. Instead, they had to go long distances on foot and forego their midday meal, since there was no way to get back home.  

Given the restrictions on inexpensive boda-bodas, or motorcycle taxis, some less merciful drivers took advantage of the situation to overcharge desperate passengers.

At Juba’s 71-year old airport, construction work held the Minister of Transport and Roads, Anthony Lino Makana, virtually at ransom.

The VIP terminal at Juba International Airport before 9 July.
He was obliged to spend most of the time monitoring progress and assuring the media of timely completion, when in fact only four days remained before foreign delegations started trickling in.

Abdon Agau, who headed the technical committee for preparations, argued that construction firms almost failed independence day plans because contracts were awarded late and some contractors could not gather the required materials on time.

This argument is insufficient. Why were the contracts awarded when South Sudan is known for having no factories or materials available unless they’re imported from neighbouring countries?

And perhaps most embarrassing, one week after the independence celebrations, a friend in government circles intimated that new equipment purchased for the state-owned South Sudan Radio and Television for a live broadcast of the event had not arrived in time.

Read also: "Wanted: More accountability, less corruption" by Charlton Doki

Reputations can be repaired down the road, the sooner the better. But what we need right now is clear accountability for the inadequate preparations, and most importantly, transparency on how public funds were spent.

There is no doubt that in the rush to meet the 9 July deadline, the quality of construction may have been compromised, with materials wasted. If shoddy work resulted from the rush, structures may start cracking and falling to pieces before our very eyes.

It’s worth recalling the part of President Kiir’s inauguration speech in which he described corruption as a “cancer” that his government has vowed to tackle head-on.

Listen to Marvis Birungi's report about construction at Juba International Airport

South Sudan is hardly alone in this affliction. Corruption is a disease that has blighted the entire African continent, where those in positions of power of any kind take advantage of the slightest opportunity to divert huge sums of public resources, especially cash, for their personal gain.

That said, I suggest that all those tasked with preparations for the celebration of our independence account for the resources given to them, from top officials to service providers.

Let’s put national interest first and make adequate preparations to ensure success of events that make us proud to be South Sudanese.

To quote an African proverb: “Even knowledge is like fire that one has to borrow from a neighbour.”

So whenever we cannot adequately undertake an activity on our own, we can humbly ask for assistance from some of the 192 other member states in the UN family that has already welcomed us with open arms.

Editor: Alexa Dvorson

The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or opinions of the publishers of

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