SRSG bids farewell urging unity and optimism: “Do not give up on South Sudan”
The mood somehow managed to be simultaneously solemn and relaxed as the UNMISS Special Representative of the Secretary-General (SRSG) Ellen Margrethe Loej on Monday bid farewell to media and UNMISS staff. “I have not given up on South Sudan”, she said, urging the world to remain optimistic and the South Sudanese to unite to create a national identity.
It was an SRSG in fine form who embraced her last full day as head of UNMISS. Continuing where she left off last Friday, when she said farewell* to government officials and the diplomatic community at Juba Grand Hotel, Ms. Loej’s remarks on the day covered a wide range of topics.
Her pet theme - the boys and girls of South Sudan, their right to fulfill their aspirations and the need to keep their wellbeing at the forefront of every effort - jostled for attention as it shared the limelight with remarks on issues like bride prices, farming, national identity, optimism and the origin of Santa Claus. In return, the SRSG received gifts, numerous touching tributes and moments of musical surrealism.
Greeting local and international media representatives for the last time, Ms. Loej was frank in her comments on her more than 2-year-long tenure as the UNMISS SRSG and the many problems still facing South Sudan and its people.
“South Sudan is a new country, a new nation. Each and every one of you will have to unite and work on creating a national identity. I thought that you fought and fought for years for one independent country, not 64 independent countries”, she said, referring to the number of ethnic groups in South Sudan.
The soon-to-depart SRSG urged the South Sudanese people to look at other ethnically diverse African countries, such as South Africa and Ghana, for inspiration in their own pursuit of that hitherto elusive national identity.
Daunting as the numerous remaining challenges may be, Ms. Loej insisted that the future of the country can be bright - if peace returns and fertile land areas and other natural resources are properly used.
“I have not given up on South Sudan. You cannot live and work here, as I have done, without being hopeful”, she said, adding that this is a message that she will repeat upon returning to Europe (and also echoed when she said goodbye to UNMISS staff):
“My message will be: ‘do not forget, do not give up on South Sudan’. The potential is there and I have the trust in the people of South Sudan.”
Ms. Loej also had the ears of UNMISS staff in Tomping and at UN House. In Tomping, she was treated to various gifts and tributes delivered by the Chairperson of the National Staff Association, Bennett Kenyi, and others. In addition, a farewell song performed by Staff Welfare Officer Jose Carlos de Oliveira left those in attendance stunned.
Moving her farewell show to UN House, there was room for more tributes and lighthearted banter. UNMISS Chief of Staff and MC of the day Paul Egunsola described Ms. Loej as “dedicated, tough and a real leader”, while the Acting Force Commander Maj. Gen. Chaoying Yang thanked her for her guidance and leadership and singled out “vigour, wisdom, firmness and care” as the SRSG’s most outstanding qualities.
Michael Munywoki, Chairperson of the Field Staff Union, also showered Ms. Loej with praise. “The youngest lady among all UNMISS members” was hailed as an “energetic, focused, passionate, driving and resilient” leader. When Mr. Munywoki signed off he did so by saying goodbye to not only “our great friend” but also to “our elderly sister”. Sometimes time does fly.
At other times, however, it stands virtually still. That was the case when reality was subsequently replaced by the surreal. MC Egunsola was lost for words as he introduced the next act, UN Police Officer Gaspar Da Costa. Following Mr. Da Costa’s heart-breaking karaoke version of a Bee Gee’s love song “Don’t forget to remember”, attending staff members were as speechless as the MC. A musical milestone in mission history had been firmly planted in our minds.
Ms. Loej, having received a painting and an engraved plaque from the Office of the Director of Mission Support, somehow regained her composure in time for her final remarks.
“We, representing the UN, have to be optimistic, or things will get worse. You are professional, you are committed and you are dedicated to the future of the people of South Sudan. Never lose sight of the ultimate goal: peace and prosperity.”
Lighthearted banter about the origin of a prosperous man with a beard followed, with a somewhat biased yet unshakable SRSG affirming that Santa Claus comes from Greenland, an ice cool outpost of Denmark.
Lots of staff selfies with Ms. Loej, not to mention much general rejoicing, rounded off a memorable day in Juba.
*As part of her bidding farewell to the country, Ms. Loej paid November visits to the UNMISS field offices in Aweil, Yambio, Torit and Rumbek.