JUBA, South Sudan — After enduring two decades of warfare
and the deaths of 2 million people, the Republic of South Sudan saw its day of
independence July 9.
Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Juba, the new nation’s capital, as
they heard their president, Salva Kiir, declare the southern region of Sudan
free and independent of the north.
South Sudan’s official declaration of independence was read out at 1:25 p.m.,
followed by Kiir being sworn in as the new nation’s president.
“Never again shall South Sudanese be oppressed for their political beliefs,”
Kiir said. “Never again shall our people be discriminated (against) on account
of race or religion. Never again shall we roam the world as sojourners and
The division between the north and the south is sharp. The north is arid, Arab
and Muslim, while the south has many varieties of vegetation, is black African
and is predominantly Christian and animistic.
“We have reclaimed our permanent home given to us by God as our birthright,”
Kiir said. “As we bask in the glory of nationhood, I call upon all South
Sudanese to put the long and sad history of war, hardship and loss behind them
and open a new chapter of peace and reconciliation in our lives.”
With elaborate ceremony, the flag of Sudan was lowered and the new flag of
South Sudan was raised. South Sudan is now the world’s newest nation, raising
the global number to 196, and the African continent’s 54th nation-state.
Among the many dignitaries on hand Saturday were former U.S. Secretary of State
Colin Powell, who played a key role in the 2005 peace agreement to end Sudan’s
civil war, and Susan Rice, the U.S. permanent representative to the United
“Independence is not a gift that you were given,” Rice said. “Independence is a
prize that you have won.”
The official ceremonies began with the singing of the country’s new national
anthem. “Oh God, we praise and glorify you for your grace on South Sudan,” the
opening lines say.
In preparation for South Sudan’s independence, government officials urged
citizens to attend churches and other houses of worship to pray for peace and
thank God for their newfound freedom. Many churches held special services
Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Nuru Baptist Church, the only Baptist church in Juba, held community services
on Saturday to celebrate independence day, taking opportunity to share the gospel
The congregation played drums, sang and danced in traditional African worship.
Many waved flags as they danced and sang. A feeling of jubilation filled the
One community leader, specially invited to the event, not only thanked God for
the country’s independence, guaranteeing religious freedom, but also for
establishment of the church in the community. “Your presence here is a benefit
and a blessing to our area,” he said.
“Let us praise God that He has given us our freedom,” said Sworo Elikana, a
pastor of the church. “We must rejoice!”
The service focused on the theme “Heal the Brokenhearted and Set the Captives
Free,” from Isaiah 61.
“The passage says we must bring good news to the poor,” Elikana said. “We have
The U.N. Security Council continues working to stabilize several areas in Sudan
and South Sudan; however, U.N. troops assigned to Sudan since 2005 are being
removed by Sudan President Omar Al-Bashir, despite disapproval from the U.S.
The troops are expected to remain in the Darfur region and to occupy South
Sudan during the early years of independence.
Rice said in a speech July 7 the U.S. was “extremely concerned by the
government’s decision to compel the departure of the U.N. mission in Sudan from
Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states and elsewhere in the north.”
President Bashir, who spoke favorably of the new country’s efforts during the
ceremonies, must now work with President Kiir to divide oil revenue, set
borders, apportion responsibility for Sudan’s $38 billion foreign debt and
decide which country the oil-rich border states belong to.
One controversial state is Abyei, located just north of the proposed border.
Abyei has long been hotly disputed because of oil in the region, but recent media
reports say oil reserves are low and conflicts have become ethnic.
In May northern troops violently annexed Abyei in overwhelming numbers, forcing
nearly 100,000 southern Sudanese to flee; however, a recent deal was made to
pull out northern troops and allow Ethiopian soldiers to serve as U.N.
peacekeepers for six months in the region.
During the July 9 gathering, Simon Gatluaklim, another pastor at Nuru Baptist
Church, asked for special prayers for Abyei, for believers there and for the
state to be joined with the south.
Fighting also broke out in Kadugli, the capital of Southern Kordofan, a key oil
state bordering South Sudan and Abyei that has a large population of southern
sympathizers. Thousands have fled the state to escape killings and air strikes
by the northern army.
Despite ongoing reports of conflict initiated from the north, President Bashir
may soon realize the secession’s benefits for Sudan. U.S. President Barack
Obama has offered to remove Sudan’s designation as a state sponsor of terrorism,
enabling it to use the World Bank and restore diplomatic ties.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Braddix and Allen are members of the International Mission
Board’s global communication team.)