Saturday, July 9, 2011, marked a great milestone for the African continent with the birth of a new nation—the Republic of South Sudan. Traditional and contemporary media outlets across the globe highlighted the new nation’s independence day celebrations as they unfolded in Juba, South Sudan’s capital.
As many countries welcome South Sudan to the United Nations and the world stage, images and voices jubilant with exhilaration light up television screens, Internet-based forums, and all media celebrating the monumental, self-emancipatory process the people of South Sudan have long anticipated.
Watching the people of South Sudan express their joy, excitement, happiness and their sense of freedom was emotionally captivating. The event brought nearly five decades of civil and political unrest between northern and southern Sudan over ideological, religious, and ethnic differences as well as over control of the country’s vast oil reserves to a near end—with a few disputes in some regions pending resolution.
One of the most moving events leading up to the independence celebrations happened when South Sudanese school children sang the country’s new national anthem. Their sense of pride, heart, and hope was both moving and thought-provoking. It made me wonder how many of them understand the significance of what was happening in their country. Their voices—young, sharp, energetic and animated—blended in well with some occasional pitch up an octave or so and back again weaving into a beautiful backdrop for the events leading up to their new nation’s celebrations.
The expressions on these children’s faces varied. Some were happy while a few nervously fidgeted due, perhaps in part, to the presence of a TV camera right in front of them. Some were thoughtful, serious, and contemplative while a few were expressionless. Together, their expressions wove a mosaic of mixed, emotional intensity.
Despite this mixture, their collective hope was palpable.
Certainty and uncertainty influences our life experiences and the hope we personally feel. Many of us have been socialized to perceive certainty as stability and uncertainty as instability.
The hope these children hold for the future, I imagine, is probably tied to the expectations they hold toward the adults in their lives—their parents, teachers, leaders and others. That hope might include what they may have already learned about the significance of their country’s newfound independence and how it will affect their daily lives. Based on what they have experienced and learned, I imagine, these children have probably painted a picture of what life under the umbrella of a new nation might look like.
I wonder how the path these leaders choose based on their perceptions of certainty and uncertainty will affect the lives and shape the experience of South Sudanese children and adults?
I cannot help but think about the people of other African nations who, like the people of South Sudan, once celebrated sovereignty and independence too only to find themselves deeply deceived and disappointed by failed leadership and questionable government practices. These people continue to feel robbed of their dignity as well as a real chance at making the best out of their lives and the resources in their countries.
I hope the children of South Sudan do not meet the same fate.
The future of these children now rests with South Sudanese leaders, who must choose a path that will steer the young nation away from obstacles such as institutionalized corruption, gross abuse of power, and human rights violations—the same obstacles that continue to shatter the hopes of some African nations.
The need for some leaders to exert control in the face of uncertainty plays a great role in fueling even more uncertainty, anxiety, disorder and dismay. In the 1999 article “It Starts with Uncertainty,” Margaret Wheatley and Peman Chondron wrote, “It’s time to drop our illusions of control and certainty… order and control are two different phenomena.” The writers explained, “In the Western leadership tradition, we believe that order is only available through the control that we exert… that’s a great deception in Western thought, and it’s been a hindrance in leadership practices.”
Over the years, the same thinking described by Wheatley and Chondron has emerged repeatedly in the leadership of several African countries. It is with a deep sense of intention that I hope for the leaders and people of South Sudan to forge a path that will enable them to meet their individual and collective aspirations. A path that will give rise to results that they can feel pride over decades from now. A path that perceives uncertainty as an opportunity to explore creativity and an abundance of possibilities.