South Sudan will mark 10 years of independence on Friday with little fanfare as the troubled country battles economic chaos and a desperate hunger crisis after a bloody civil war.
The world’s newest nation was born on July 9, 2011, after a decades-long fight for statehood from Sudan, but was plunged into a brutal conflict two years later from which it has struggled to recover.
There will be none of the riotous scenes in the streets of Juba that accompanied that historic moment a decade ago. The anniversary has been marked only a few times since, with the last formal celebrations in 2014.
Government ministers on Wednesday raised concerns at a cabinet meeting about anniversary events being held amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“His Excellency (President Salva Kiir) directs that the public, the citizens of South Sudan, celebrate in their own houses,” Deputy Information Minister Baba Medan told reporters.
The minister said Kiir is scheduled to address the public “so everyone will see it on his TV, or hear through your o so that we also be avoiding any health issue”.
A ceremony to swear in the MPs has been canceled, without any official explanation.
The only formal event appears to be a fun run in the capital Juba. Medan said it would commence at 5 am (0200 GMT) and encouraged people to take part.
Kiir blamed international sanctions for keeping South Sudan poor and depriving the state of revenue.
“This is why we are not celebrating the 10th anniversary the way the people would have wanted it to be,” he told Kenyan broadcaster Citizen TV on Wednesday.
South Sudan enjoyed immense international goodwill and billions of dollars in financial support when its people voted overwhelmingly in a 2011 referendum to secede from the north.
But in late 2013, the country collapsed into a bloody civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people and forced millions more to flee their homes.
The conflict ruined the nascent country’s economy and basic services for its 12 million people are in short supply, and financed almost entirely by foreign aid.
The young country faces its worst hunger crisis since independence, with some 60 percent of the population enduring severe food shortages, some close to famine, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) says.
Kiir and his deputy, former rebel leader Riek Machar, rule in a fragile unity government created after the historic foes signed a peace deal in 2018 that ended the war.