Independence Day 2012

July 9th, Independence Day
July 9th, Independence Day

Speech I gave at the 2nd Independence Day celebration in London, UK. I am told that it was warmly received by those who were present.

One year one! “Where do we go from here?” We must first honestly recognize where we are now.

I heard a touching story a couple of days ago. The story of a little boy named Independent Moses. He was born just after midnight on 9th July 2011.

His parents, both SPLA child soldiers, were full of hope at his birth. The same hope we all shared that glorious month. They had high hopes for Independent and their other children, Obama; Kennedy and Jimmy.

Education was the key. They wanted their children to have the education that they did not. They wanted their children to be able to ‘read’ and study and aspire and achieve.

That July, they were certain that their children would get the education they deserved. They were certain their children would achieve more than they could ever dream off. They were certain, CERTAIN of what the future had to offer.

Little Independent Moses did not live beyond his 8th month, he died of diarrhoea. His elder brother is badly malnourished may soon follow, if he hasn’t already. I look at my own two children and I can’t even begin to imagine the parents’ pain.

Independent’s parents – both with good, honest jobs – struggle daily to feed themselves and their children. Let’s not beat around the bush, our economy is in intensive care and will soon need CPR.

The certainty of last year has come down with a crash. Education takes second place to getting a meal. And for many, including the parents of Independent Moses, there is nothing but bitter, bitter disappointment.

Independence day 2011 and our hopes were up here, and then we found that the reality was down here, we were all of us disappointed.

This is where we are. Where do we go from here?

Let’s not beat ourselves up too much. We’re not alone. Sara Pantuliano – Head of the Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute said recently, “Our expectations were unrealistic”. Not just our expectations, you and I, but of the entire international community – all those smart people at government departments and the UN, all those enthusiastic people from their NGOs. They all got carried away with the excitement of it all. South Sudan became a Guinea Pig for policy after policy and the failure of experiment and circumstance is clear for all to see.

Martin Luther King Junior once said:

“Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
For those of us who work in an office, we hardly ever say the word ‘problem’ – sshh, never mention it – we say the word ‘challenge’ instead. Every problem is a challenge that needs to be overcome.

Every time you see a problem with South Sudan, when you visit, when you watch TV or when you read about it, I want you to see it as a challenge and come up with a solution to fix it. You all have it in you. I want you to think about how you could help solve that problem, how you may serve.

I want you to do it, working with the government, without the government or – with all respects to his excellency – despite the government if they get in your way.

We here in the diaspora are a powerful instrument in the development of our country. Never let anyone tell you different. We bring skills, we bring a fresh perspective, we bring foreign currency and investment, we apply pressure to the governments of our host nations, we reach out across the distances and we dream of home.

Have you heard the phrase “optimism is a moral duty”. I don’t mean being an apologist about the performance of such and such a person, but being deeply and hopelessly optimistic about the future. It means “We can learn from our mistakes if we put our minds to it”. We can find a solution to any problem if we apply ourselves. But most importantly, what makes it a Moral Duty is that unless we do something now, we are doing an injustice to our children and to their children and to their children’s children.

This is such a great community and I am daily proud to be a part of it. For all the bad news you hear, there is a buzz, an excitement about what the future can hold. We are rich! Every one of us! Our wealth is right there, close enough to touch. People have died so that we can share in it. Others look on in envy. So let’s make this happen people.

What’s the alternative. More Independent Moses’? More disappointment?