JUBA, July 9 (Xinhua) -- South Sudan, the youngest nation in the world, marked nine years of independence on Thursday, without an official public event.
The country's independence in 2011 was met with fanfare and celebration, but the past nine years have not been easy for ordinary citizens.
Just two years after gaining sovereignty from Sudan, the oil-rich east African country descended into brutal civil war in December 2013.
The civil war killed tens of thousands and displaced millions of people while pushing others into abject poverty.
Even after the signing of a peace agreement in September 2018, South Sudan is still facing many challenges like inter-communal violence, food insecurity and the COVID-19 pandemic.
"In the past nine years, there is nothing much I realized from South Sudan being an independent state," said Susan Lodu, a restaurant owner in the capital Juba.
She told Xinhua Wednesday that she was upbeat when her motherland got independence in 2011, with the hope that life would get better.
"Next year, we want to see peace not violence in South Sudan," she added.
Despite the numerous problems facing South Sudan, the country has made some achievements since 2011.
The establishment of a transitional unity government in February this year following six years of devastating violence was a major step towards peace in South Sudan.
Since the formation of the government, relative calm has returned to several parts of South Sudan, enabling thousands of displaced people and refugees to return home.
Government spokesperson Michael Makuei Lueth said the signing of the peace pact in 2018 was a major achievement in the history of South Sudan.
He said the main challenge hindering the government from providing services to its people was insecurity, adding that implementation of the revitalized peace agreement would help end the problems facing South Sudan.
"We were interrupted before we could do anything. The government has been trying its best to bring peace to South Sudan," Makuei said.
The process to unify the country's many armed groups also kicked off after the formation of the unity government. Though moving slowly, the unification of armed forces would be a key step towards achieving security sector reforms in the conflict-torn country.
Since independence, the country managed to build only one tarmac road that links South Sudan to its southern neighbor Uganda. And earlier this year, a major road project linking the capital Juba to the north was launched. Once completed, the China-aided road project will be one of the biggest infrastructure development projects in South Sudan.
ROAD OF PEACE
Augustino Ting Mayai, policy analyst and director of research at the Juba-based think-tank, Sudd Institute urged the central government to prioritize development and service delivery in order to restore peace and stability in the country.
"The first thing to do is to make sure that peace is restored in the country. And then if peace is restored, development must follow because peace without dividends means no peace at all," Mayai said.
"The government and international community helping South Sudan need to make sure that they invest in education, health, infrastructure and food security. That is what will bring peace to ordinary citizens," he added.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir said on July 8 the country would not hold public celebrations to mark the ninth independence anniversary due to the threat posed by COVID-19 pandemic.
Kiir appealed to citizens to desist from violence and instead support him to implement the 2018 peace deal.
He acknowledged that his administration had fallen short of expectation from citizens who yearned for peace, stability and prosperity.
"Let us all work tirelessly irrespective of our political leanings to restore trust among ourselves and to mend the social fabric that was torn apart by war that we are now putting behind us," Kiir said.
"Let us all desist from unnecessary propaganda and instead work together as South Sudanese to put our country permanently on the path of peace," he added.