With great interest I have read some opinions that are being put across these days through the Pioneer newspaper regarding the ‘right’ name for the globally expected new state that will be created in Southern Sudan following the anticipated massive turnout and vote for separation (independence) by Southern Sudanese.
One such opinion came in the Pioneer Issue 7 Vol. 001 of November 20th 2010, with the title: Not ‘Southern Sudan’ anymore but the Republic of Kush. The writer, David Mayo, is a well known contributor who delights in provoking debate on political issues and I commend him for that. My piece is not a critique on his contribution but an attempt to look at the issue from another well considered viewpoint in order to enrich the debate he and others have already invoked on the subject.
But as he might be expecting a response to his suggested name ‘the Republic of Kush’, I would like to put mine across here in haste. Mr Mayo’s reference to biblical passages such as “……the second river is the Gihon, it flows round the country of Cush”, and using Cush (or Kush) to refer to South Sudan is a matter of historical and theological interpretation.
The word Cush in the Bible is well established by biblical scholars to refer to the land of the black people. This did not refer to a mere 640,000 km squared patch of land, which is the area of the present South Sudan. But in addition to the present Sudan, it also covered parts of Ethiopia and possibly Chad and Central Africa Republic. This makes ‘Cush’ an ambiguous geographical piece of land we can only claim to be part of, because our land is not the same as the old ‘Cush’. Therefore, Cush does not refer to us (South Sudan) alone and as such is not the right name for our new country.
For obvious reasons we should not call our new country ‘South Sudan’ and be referred to as “Southern Sudanese” nationals as some people suggest. This is not because of the name ‘Sudan’, but because it denotes that we were and are still ‘the south’ of an existing country. When the South separates and becomes independent, the international practice gives the remaining parts (as opposed to seceding part) the right of inheriting the mother country’s name and with it the existing diplomatic and other international representation.
If it were not because of this problem, our new country would have appropriately been called ‘the Sudan’, which the Arabs called ‘Bilad Al Sudan’, and we would continue to be ‘Sudanese’, and that describes us best. Strictly speaking, I find nothing degrading or inferior in being referred to as a black person. In fact, Northerners feel less affinity to the name ‘Sudan’ than Southerners do.
To support my point, I still remember very well reading one of the Khartoum-based Arabic newspapers in the early 1990s to be shocked by a debate about the need to change the name of the country ‘Sudan’ to ‘Sennar’ as the promoting northern elites then argued it (Sennar) was the name that best describes them citing that ‘Doulat Sennar’ (i.e. State of Sennar) was characterised by historical Arab ascendancy in the land.
This was another attempt to run away from the name ’Sudan’ by the more Islamised and Arabicised northern elites, after carefully analysing the declared objectives of the SPLM/A that advocated striving for a Sudanese commonality that restores the dignity of the black man who historically inherited Bilad Al Sudan. It should not be surprising to see that debate resurface once the South is gone.
But let me now take you through my proposition. I was attending the 10th Anniversary of the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) on 7-8 December 2009 in Dare Salaam, Tanzania, as part of the Sudanese delegation. The famous African Scholar, Professor Ali Mazroui, was invited to give a lecture on the peoples and cultures of the Nile River basin, a job that he performed with such inspiring eloquence.
At one point, he pondered why there was no country in the Nile River basin that bears the name of this great river, best known as the longest river in the world.
He cited examples around the world and in Africa where countries got their names from the rivers that passed through them. Examples in Africa include: Zambia and Zimbabwe, from the Zambezi River; The Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo, from Congo River; the Republic of Senegal, from the Senegal River, Niger and Nigeria from the River Niger, etc. He reminded his audience that he expected to see a new country emerging on the Nile when Southern Sudanese vote in their referendum in January 2011, and wondered if that was an opportunity for the ancient river.I could not believe my ears because that is the deafening fact that Southern Sudanese need to hear.
I would like to suggest here that our new country shall be called ‘The State of the Nile’. There are a number of good reasons why we should have the Nile for our country’s name. About 80% of the area of the Nile River basin lies within Sudan, with South Sudan wholly in the basin and contributing about half of that area. The South Sudan portion of the Nile River basin is home to the largest wetland in Africa, the Sudd wetland, characterised by highly complex ecosystem which over centuries has significantly contributed to regional climatic dynamics. With three major tributaries that traverse the three original administrative provinces of Bahr el Ghazal (Bahr el Ghazal River basin), Equatoria (Bahr el Jebel River basin) and Upper Nile (the Sobat River basin), the Nile is the only magnificent landmark that structurally controls the whole land of South Sudan.
In addition, for millennia, the Nile has given life to various communities that live in its South Sudan sub-basin. We know also that our future prosperity lies in exploiting its potential to realise socio-economic and political development. We will utilise its resources for hydropower generation, fisheries, livestock and agricultural productivity. It will continue to connect our people through river transport, as well as provide forest fruits and products, papyrus and other industrial weeds.
Besides, its wetlands will continue to provide other vital eco-services. Recent evidence indicates that the Sudd wetlands have been a refuge for human and animal populations during the last two civil wars in Sudan. One distinctive feature of the Nile is that it is a shared heritage among the three main regions of southern Sudan and not localised to any of them.
In light of the above, I would like to appeal to all Southern Sudanese to be the first to claim the name of the Nile, which we rightly deserve. This proposal is not based on any religious, ethnic, or racial considerations, but an appeal to embrace our common heritage. Let us call our country ‘The State of the Nile’.