It has been 56 years in the making, but it is finally here. The year 1955 marks the beginning of the struggle of the people of South Sudan for dignity and self-determination; July 9, 2011, the successful completion of that epic national effort.
The odds were never easy for the people of South Sudan. They had to overcome immense difficulties and pay a heavy price in a journey full of twists and turns, successes and near fatal setbacks. But they found within themselves the fortitude and the capability- political, military and diplomatic- to sustain their liberation movement until victory.
Tribute is certainly due to fighters of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the people of South Sudan. Nor can the visionary leadership of Dr. John Garang de Mabior be forgotten at this joyous hour of celebration. His successor, President Salav Kiir Myardit, kept his eyes firmly on the prize, and has led a highly complex and thorny transition to a triumphant end.
Eritrea is proud to have been associated with the SPLM and the people of South Sudan.
Its solidarity and support began immediately after its own achievement of formal independence in May 1993. The first contacts between the Eritrean Government and the SPLM took place the following September. In February 1994, at the Pan African Conference in Kampala, Uganda, Eritrea became the first country to publicly support the right of the people of South Sudan to self-determination, affirming in a statement by President Isaias Afwerki, that the cause of the people of South Sudan was a just one.
Ever since its initial commitment in 1993, Eritrea never wavered in its support for the SPLM and South Sudan. It stood firm even during the difficult years of 1998-2000, when the Ethiopian Government switched sides with the aim of getting permission from the Government of Sudan in order to attack Eritrea from Sudanese territory.
Given the mutual trust between the Eritrean and SPLM leaderships, Eritrea has always been forthright in its discussions with the SPLM. Eritrea was also in favor of the people of South Sudan attaining their rights fulfilling their aspirations within a united, new Sudan, based on equality for all its citizens. That indeed was the vision of the SPLM and the primary objective that both the SPLM and the Government of Sudan committed themselves to in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. But when the people of South Sudan opted for independence, Eritrea unhesitatingly supported their choice and celebrated with them.
The people of South Sudan will begin a new phase in their nation-building efforts on July 9. The road ahead will undoubtedly be full of formidable challenges. There will inevitably be problems, setbacks and disappointments. It has never been easy for anyone to set up a new state. But given their impressive achievements to date, it would be the height of folly to deny their ability to build a viable state.
More broadly, independent and sovereign South Sudan can be expected to play a vital regional role as it enjoys unprecedented regional and international goodwill, in addition to its significant experience and resources. It is certainly a new element that can create a new dynamics in the Horn of Africa.
As in the past, Eritrea will continue to stand in solidarity with the people of South Sudan as well as the people of Sudan.