Photo | AFP Southern Sudanese waiving their regional flag demonstrate in Juba for separation from northern Sudan on the last day of campaigning.
If the signs and symbols of a nation’s identity are its state house, anthem and flag, Southern Sudan has already signalled its future.
Many in Juba, the likely capital, will be voting today secession and a new nation. But what kind of nation will they present to the world?
The national anthem is waiting in the wings, ready to be sung. A national flag only waits to be hoisted. The anthem and the flag are more a consequence of what Southerners thought would make the outcome of the referendum a fait accompli. They arose out of opposition to the North. So far the signals indicate that the new nation will seek to hang on to its heritage.
For one, it is staking a claim to the Kingdom of Kush, or Cush.
“Oh God!,” the proposed anthem goes, “We praise and glorify you/For your grace upon Cush,/The land of great warriors/And origin of world’s civilisation.”
More than a thousand years before Christ, Kush was reported to be a thriving kingdom in part of what are now Egypt and Sudan. In the past six years, some Southerners have staked claim to this kingdom.
The Kush Institution was a vibrant project spearheaded by Deng Ajak, one of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army’s brightest stars who perished in a plane crash near Rumbek in May 2008.
B ankie Foster Bankie, a member of the National Youth Council of Namibia and the man Deng Ajak convinced to come to Southern Sudan to build that institution, called the creation of the new symbols “a good thing,” saying the Southern Sudanese were laying “a claim to their heritage”.
And it is not the only claim the new nation is making. The other has to do with how the new nation’s image will be presented abroad. In a very competitive world, the new South Sudan will have to put its best foot forward as it creates the symbols of its state.
A refurbished state house and president’s office complete with helipad sit on two acres of land at the centre of Juba. President Salva Kiir rarely uses the compound except when state guests are in town, perhaps for security reasons. Some finishing touches still have to be made, but the complex is impressive, and it cost far less than to build the whole thing from scratch.
In 2006, the year following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the 21-year civil war, the presidential complex was in a shambles. The doors creaked. Toilets were stinking. Sandal-wearing tea girls roamed the corridors with tea glasses. Paint was peeling off the inside walls, and the white paint on the outside had turned a dirty brown.
Just like the country in which it stood, the presidential complex in Juba spoke of destruction and decay. Now, the polished state house signals a country ready for takeoff.
Laying a claim to how the new nation’s image is depicted abroad is not easy, but a start has been made. And laying a claim to the Cush heritage is controversial because people from Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia and other parts of Sudan also claim it.
When the committee in charge of the anthem unveiled its effort, a reader wrote on one Internet forum: “To me, if you talk of whole Sudan, Cush could be right word to use. But if you are separatist wanting an independence (sic) South Sudan, I think it is no substance (basis) to use `Cush’ because South Sudan has no history of it.”
Another wrote: “If separation, God forbid, were to become a reality, one could still make Cush of some relevance by giving CU to the North and Sh to the South.”
If the anthem has been controversial, so has the flag.
According to one contributor on the Internet forum, the black, white and red colour combination brings to mind the Nazi flag. The three colours are also the preferred combination of pan-Arab flags, “which absolutely deeply differs with the aspiration” of Southern Sudanese.
“[Freeing] ourselves from this Pan Arab combination is a must,” the discussant wrote.
If the president’s home, office and guest house depict the state of a country, then Southern Sudan has come a long way. But a very fragile future lies ahead.
Cush, for instance, can also mean a special form of hydroponic marijuana; very powerful whose effects last very long,” according to Urban Dictionary. It can also mean a ladies’ man or a gangster. Or even someone who steps out and does the right thing.
If the decision of the Southern Sudanese is Yes to independence, many in the voting booths over the next seven days will be hoping that the new nation will turn out to be one that steps up and does what is right.