South Sudan's President Salva Kiir made a pledge for peace on Friday as the country marked 10 troubled years of independence, with little cause to rejoice in the face of chronic instability and a deep hunger crisis.
At midnight on July 9, 2011, raucous celebrations erupted as the world's youngest nation was born and the people of South Sudan cheered the end of a decades-long struggle for statehood from Sudan.
But the revelry was short-lived.
Just two years later South Sudan was at war with itself, the task of nation-building forgotten as its liberators tore the country apart, dashing expectations of a glittering future.
Close to 400,000 people died and four million displaced before a ceasefire was declared in 2018.
Today the country is more fragile than ever, beset by looming starvation, political insecurity, economic ruin and natural calamities.
"I assure you that I will not return you back to war again. Let us work altogether to recover the lost decade and put our country back to the path of development in this new decade," Kiir said in an televised address marking the milestone.
He hailed a "new spirit of dialogue" among political rivals and said the Transitional Government of National Unity would focus on economic reforms and improving security.
But on Friday, there was none of the jubilation that greeted statehood, save for a fun run through the capital that attracted some 10,000 people and was cheered by Kiir's nemesis and now vice president Riek Machar.
Kiir had warned this week that the cash-strapped state was in no position to celebrate, blaming international sanctions for keeping prosperity out of reach.
South Sudan is reeling from economic chaos, with soaring inflation and a currency crisis, and faces its worst hunger crisis since independence.
Conflict, drought, floods and a record locust plague have ruined harvests and left 60 percent of the population including millions of children facing severe food shortages.
Of those, 108,000 are on the very edge of famine, the World Food Programme (WFP) says.
The South Sudan Council of Churches described the past 10 years as "a wasted decade", a byproduct of self-sabotage.
"It must not be another lost decade! It is an opportunity to rescue our people from imposed destitution and sustain their livelihoods," it said in a statement.
The international community appealed to the oil-rich country's once warring leaders to fulfil their promise to the 12 million population.
"The journey from war to peace has been a long and difficult one and there is still much to be done so that people can exercise the democratic right they earned a decade ago," Nicholas Haysom, the head of the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), said in a statement.
Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby issued a similar message, saying the people of South Sudan continued to live in fear and uncertainty.
South Sudan still faces many obstacles to achieving peace and prosperity.
These include the lack of a unified security force, pervasive insecurity linked to intercommunal conflict and crime driven by poverty.
'Never too late'
South Sudan enjoyed immense international goodwill and billions of dollars in support when its people voted overwhelmingly in a 2011 referendum to secede from the north.
But its leaders failed to stem corruption and the new South Sudan was looted rather than rebuilt, as huge sums from its vast oil fields were siphoned off and squandered.
The political leaders who led South Sudan to independence -- and then back to war -- are still in power today, ruling in a tenuous coalition forged under a peace deal.
The power-sharing arrangement between Kiir, a former military commander from the Dinka ethnic group, and Machar, a rebel leader from the Nuer people, has kept fighting between their forces largely at bay since the ceasefire in 2018. Fighting however continues in ungoverned areas.
But the old foes have violated past truces and progress on the latest accord has drifted, inflaming distrust between the pair and raising fears of a return to fighting.
The "unity" government they belatedly formed in February 2020 under great international pressure is weak, and safeguards to prevent another war have not been put in place.
"Despite some lost opportunities, it is never too late to invigorate the peace process so that humanitarian assistance is more effective, and conditions are created where development activities can have broader and greater impact," said Matthew Hollingworth, the WFP's director for South Sudan.