At just about noon yesterday (25 January 2011), two Mi17 helicopters slowly lifted from the tarmac at Juba Airport in South Sudan, each with a large South Sudan flag hanging below from a rope with a weight on the end. This was the very first flight of the Sudan People’s Air Force (SPAF), which has only just been created and so far consists of a whopping eight Russian-made helicopters (with two more to be delivered). Prior to this, the SPLA has never had any kind of air force, so it’s kind of a big deal.
For the South, this is a point of pride. The helicopters flew a wide circle over Juba, and people everywhere pointed as they looked up to see their flag flying through the sky below the helicopters that had, for the past two weeks, sat idly at the airport doing little more than looking pretty.
While a humanitarian worker should remain neutral and impartial to a great extent, it is at the same time difficult for me not to sympathise a bit with my South Sudanese colleagues whose faces light up with wide smiles when they talk of their impending independence and their pride in being South Sudanese. Who knows how all this will turn out, but for now it’s nice to see people so happy.