Naming the New Country that Separated from Sudan

By Dr. James Okuk

January 16, 2011 (SSNA) — When I was scrolling in the, I came across an article written by former Sudan Ambassador to Japan, H.E. Steven Wöndu, on January 15, 2011 and titled “Lend Me Your Ears.” I thought it was a good article but to my disappointment it wasn’t. I will tell you why after reading the content of the article:

“I wish to add a point to the debate on what present Southern Sudan should be called after independence. We must avoid the word ‘Sudan’ altogether. I am more interested in the present and the future than in antiquity. The word ‘Sudan’ in the current world is associated with terrorism, genocide, rape, bigotry, violence, sanctions and all the undesirable traits of the modern world.

This morning I was denied access to an anti virus software because my lap-top is in Sudan, a country under sanctions. Two months ago, a bank in New York froze funds I had remitted to my daughter because it originated in Sudan. When I was Sudan’s ambassador in Japan, I had to use my local employees to send money to relatives because the banks would not transact money transfers with the Sudanese ambassador. Even my Sudanese-American wife was not allowed to wire funds because she had been ‘contaminated’. I have used my personal family experience to sharpen the focus on the matter. In the broader picture, the word ‘Sudan’ will block or at least slow the flow of trade between us and those countries that fear the word ‘Sudan’. Those ‘Junubin’ who are nostalgic with the word ‘Sudan’ can argue that South Sudan will not be the same as ‘Sudan’. That is true in theory and international law. But to the bank clerk in Tokyo, New York, Amsterdam, Beijing, London and Paris, that distinction is elementary geography.

The second hazard comes when you need to travel abroad. It is near impossible for a Sudanese to obtain a visa even to our neighbours in the region. If one does succeed, the treatment by immigration officers is humiliating. The word ‘Sudan’ on the passport sends you to a special room for stripping. Please tolerate my use of personal experience again. While in Japan I applied for a visa to Britain. Normally ambassadors treat each other with utmost diplomatic respect. They issue each other multiple entry visas ‘gratis’ without having to appear before a consular official. Poor me, I had to go to the British embassy in person, appear before a junior Attaché, and had my fingers printed. In Heathrow airport, I was searched in a manner no ambassador should be. Call our country South Sudan and the immigration officers and their computers will identify us as a Sudanese.

On a positive note, I wish to associate myself with Professor Ali Mazrui’s lament. Why is the name of the great Nile not adopted by a state? Those of Uncle Gordon Mortat did use the name ‘Nile Republic’ in their time but luck was not on their side. Our generation has been honoured and blessed by history to be the founders of the youngest nation in the Nile Basin. By the stroke of good luck and divine design, the name of the mighty river is available. If we pick it quickly, we shall be the envy of our neighbours. Having picked my choice, I need not entertain other antiques like Kush or Cush or whatever.

If the Republic is the Nile, what then do we call its citizens? Nilots or Nilotics could have been nice except for their exclusive association with some ethnicities. My spouse has suggested a more inclusive version; let us call ourselves Nilons.”A good South Sudan Samarian who nicknames himself Maroof quenched my disappointment as I read his reply saying: “I beg to disagree with you, Mr. Steve. Sudan is called Sudan because of us (Southerners). Naming our new country "South Sudan" is fine and will not affect anything. You know very well there are two Koreas, South and North, and the U.S. and the rest of the world have good relations with the South and North Korea is saddled with sanctions. Hence, I do not see any reason as to why South Sudan will not be like South Korea. I understand your frustration, however, our issue has never been the name "Sudan": Late Dr. John was working for "New Sudan" and I never heard you talking against the idea. Thanks.”

As a rejoinder to this reply I think Ambassador Steven Wöndu should not mix his own tiny family and Embassy problem/troubles they had with US and UK immigration departments or banks with the right name of biggest South Sudan. Even Nigerians, Iranians, Syrians, South Koreans, Somalis etc., including their Ambassadors and Ministers face the same immigration problems in visa offices and airports of US, UK and other countries. This has nothing to do with the nomenclature of their countries, but the manner these countries govern themselves either in accordance with the civilized standards of respect for the dignity of human persons or in oppressive terroristic manner.

Likewise, the so-called Nile Republic of Ambassador Wöndu supported by his dear wife could also face the same problems/troubles if its leaders mess up with human rights civilization and invite sanctions upon themselves and their citizens in future. Ambassador Wöndu could still be prevented to wire money to US or UK or get a gratis visa when sitting in his office in his Nile Republic Embassy anywhere. This is a fact for a fiction.

What I would like kindly remind His Excellency Steven Wöndu is that the name South Sudan is historical. It did not begin with the NIF/NCP regime who invited the US, UK and others’ sanctioned and alerts on the citizens of the Sudan. South Sudan was there even before the Sudan was still a sweetheart to US, UK and other countries. South Sudan was already there during the European scramble for Africa in Berlin. South Sudan was also there during the British Colonialists “Closed District Ordinance.” South Sudan was there in the historical 1947 Juba Conference. South Sudan was there in the historical 1955 Torit mutiny and rebellion. South Sudan was there during 1965 Round-table Conference. South Sudan was there during the initial historical 1982 – 1983 rebellions even when the vague “New Sudan” ideology was imposed later on our liberation strugglers by late Dr. John Garang de Mabior and his friends. South Sudan was there during 1991 SPLM/A split into Torit and Nasir factions with the resultant tactic of peace from within with Khartoum. South Sudan was there during 1992 Frankford Agreement on Self-determination for the people of Southern Sudan. South Sudan was there during the 1994 Chukudum SPLM/A First Convention. South Sudan was there during the 1994 IGADD Declaration of Principles. South Sudan was there during 1994 Asmara Declaration on Self-determination for the people of Southern Sudan. South Sudan was there during 1997 Khartoum and Pachoda Peace agreements, which constitutionalized for the first time in the history of the independent Sudan the right of self-determination for the people of Southern Sudan. South Sudan was there in the 2005 CPA and its implementation (including wealth and power sharing that gave way for Steven to become a Sudan Ambassador in Japan), which has landed the people of Southern Sudan into the land of long-awaited independence.

All along the history of the struggle for the freedom and independence of South Sudan there was nothing called Nile Republic. Let any body who wants to temper with the historical name of South Sudan keep any wrongly suggested name to himself before the blood of its unforgettable martyrs pour out from the graves to curse him/her forever.

I have no doubt that the secession and independence of South Sudan could be a blessing to the lifting of sanctions in the Sudan and for a better relation with it as a good unavoidable neighbour. We should even work hard for these sanctions to be lifted quickly because of some interests we have with the Sudan regarding the agreement on four freedoms for our citizens there and vise versa: the right to work, reside, own and move freely between the two countries. Other rights could be agreed and granted too, who knows.

The hatred attitude Ambassador Steven Wöndu wants to implant between the South Sudan and the Sudan after the secession is officially declared and recognized worldwide, is undesirable and unacceptable by all measures. The name of the separated Southern Sudan from Northern Sudan should be the Republic of South Sudan for history sake and for the honour of the 4 million lives and blood spilled to achieve its independence and dignity.

Viva the Republic of South Sudan.

Dr. James Okuk is reachable at [email protected]

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