If one of the signs and symbols of a nation’s character is its state houses, the anthem, and the flag, southern Sudan has already signalled its future. Many around here will, when the polls open today, be voting for 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 were more a consequence of what the southerners thought would make the Referendum a fait accompli. It came at the opposition of the north. So far, from the signals, the new nation will seek to hang to its heritage.
For one, it’s staking a claim to the biblical 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.”
The day of long ago
Nearly a thousand years ago before Christ, a thriving kingdom, Cush (Kush), existed around this place. In the past six years, southerners have staked claim to this kingdom.
At one point the region established the Kush Foundation, a vibrant aspiration spearheaded by Deng Ajak, one of the Sudan People Liberation Army brightest stars who perished in a plane crash alongside the Defence Minister. “It’s a good thing,” says Bankie Foster Bankie, a member of the National Youth Council of Namibia and the man Deng Ajak convinced to come and build that institution, “they are making a claim to their heritage.”
And it’s not the only claim the new nation is making.
The other is a claim on how the nation’s image is reflected abroad. In a very competitive world, it will have to put its best foot forward as he builds the symbols of its state.
The refurbished state house/presidency, complete with a helipad sits on about two acres in Juba’s centre. Kiir still rarely uses it, except when there state guests come, perhaps a reflection on its insecure position. It has some finishing problems, but it sparkles, nevertheless. If you’re coming from scratch, it is more expensive to build structures, but it presents one distinct advantage: one benefit from the advances of others.
In 2006, the year following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the north-south war, the Presidency and its environs talked of a state in ruins.
The premises were run down. The doors cricked. Toilets smelled. Sandal-wearing tea girls loitered the corridors with tea glasses.
The paint peeled off the walls, and the white paint turned brown. Like the country in which it was built, southern Sudan’s presidency was a rundown structure that depicted the chaos around it.
The streets smelled of excreta. A blanket of dust covered the clouds every day. Goats and sheep loitered the streets. And the town’s zinc and iron structures, reflecting light, blinded the eye. This polished state house depicts a country ready for takeoff.
Laying a claim to how its image is depicted abroad is not easy, but it’s a start nonetheless. And laying a claim to the Cush heritage is controversial.
Cush is claimed from peoples in Eritrea to Ethiopia, from Egypt down to southern Sudan. The ancient Kingdom of Kush, though, is generally placed in the Sudan and Egypt. Only difference being that at the time, Egypt, some academics say was actually ruled by blacks.
At one internet forum, when the committee in charge of the anthem unveiled its effort, a reader wrote, “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 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 been the flag.
According to one contributor on the internet forum, the Black, White and Red combination has a Nazi reputation; and it’s also widely adopted as the colour combination of the Pan Arab flags, “which absolutely deeply differs with the aspiration” of Southern Sudanese. “[Freeing] ourselves from this Pan Arab combination is a must,” writes the discussant.
If the president’s office, presidential guest house, and president’s house depict the state of a country, then southern Sudan has come a long way. But it’s still a delicate future. Cush, for instance, can also mean ‘a Special form of hydro phonic Marijuana. Very Powerful who’s effects last very long,” according to Urban Dictionary. It can also mean a ladies’ man and a gangster. Or, someone who steps up and does the right thing.
If southern Sudanese’ verdict is Yes to independence, many in the voting booths the next seven days will be hoping that the new nation will turn out as the version of the positive Cush, one that steps up and does what is right.