South Sudan celebrates ten years of independence from Sudan on Friday with fanfare, as the world’s newest country faces economic chaos and a food crisis, three years after the end of a devastating civil war.
There will be none of the joyous scenes on the streets of the capital, Juba, that accompanied the historic moment of July 9, 2011, when South Sudan officially declared independence from Khartoum.
Government ministers at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday raised concerns about the anniversary events being staged amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Deputy Information Minister Baba Medan told reporters that President Salva Kiir “orders the public, the citizens of South Sudan, to celebrate in their own homes,”
Kiir is to address the audience through a television and radio address.
From joy to chaos
South Sudan received billions of dollars in financial support when the population voted overwhelmingly in a 2011 referendum to secede from the north after a decades-long struggle for independence.
But two years later, tensions over control between President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar exploded, with their supporters opening fire on each other.
The civil war lasted five years and was fought along ethnic lines. Almost 400,000 people have died and another four million, a third of the total population, have been displaced.
The conflict has wrecked South Sudan’s emerging economy, and today basic services are scarce, funded almost entirely by foreign aid.
A currency crisis and runaway inflation made daily life difficult, and droughts, floods and locusts destroyed harvest seasons.
South Sudan is experiencing its worst food crisis since independence. Some 60 percent of the population face severe food shortages and more than 100,000 people are on the brink of famine, according to the United Nations World Food Program.
Kiir, who leads the country with Machar in a fragile unity government, blamed international sanctions for keeping South Sudan in poverty and depriving the state of revenue.
“This is why we are not celebrating the tenth anniversary the way people would have liked it to be,” he told Kenyan broadcaster Citizen TV on Wednesday.
The anniversary of independence has only been celebrated a few times since independence, with the last official celebrations taking place in 2014.