Southern Sudan advocate calls for separation of country during USU speech
The Herald Journal
By Kevin Opsahl
Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth called for a "peaceful divorce" between Northern and Southern Sudan in the final days of a referendum vote, during which the Sudanese people will decide if the southern third of Sudan should break off to become its own country.
The head of mission for the government of South Sudan to the United States in Washington, D.C., gave the lecture at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University on Friday. Topics ranged from the historic vote to the significant opportunities for business and investment in South Sudan. Gatkuoth also took questions from the audience in the packed Orson A. Christensen Auditorium.
Southern Sudan would become Africa's 54th nation in July if the referendum is passed.
"The No. 1 thing that I can ask you to do is to pray for us," he told USU students, faculty and the general public at the dean's convocation. "We the Sudanese ... have failed to transform Sudan. The North is not allowing this transformation to take place."
He also asked the audience to write to their senators or local congress members asking them to support legislation dealing with development in the war-torn region of the country.
Gatkuoth predicted the vote would go in Southern Sudan's favor. He is expected to become the ambassador from the new country to the United States if his dream becomes true.
Gatkuoth explained the conflict, saying the black Christians and animists in the autonomous region of Southern Sudan have long been fighting with Arab Muslims of the north. The two sides fought a war that killed 2 million people from 1983 to 2005. In 2005, a peace deal ended the civil war and brought forth the voting that is going on this week.
Gatkuoth rejected the premise that one USU student raised about potential violence even if Southern Sudan becomes an independent nation.
"I'm very optimistic," Gatkuoth said. "The North has no choice. It has to accept the reality of the situation. The world is united (for separation)."
A USU professor asked how an independent southern country would keep corruption of out of the new government.
"When forming a new government, you need to make sure that everyone is represented," said Gatkuoth, who cited George Washington as one of his many influences. "The reason you have corruption is because institutions are weak. People who do the work go through the back door."
Gatkuoth's father was killed when he was young. Gatkuoth came to the United States in 1993 after training with the Sudan People's Liberation Army. He continued his education and eventually received a bachelor's in criminology and criminal justice from the University of Maryland, College Park.
"The experiences that I went through make me so determined to help my people," Gatkuoth said. "I actually feel like I'm not doing enough."
He has been serving as the head of mission since 2006 and lobbies the U.S. government to support the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the development of Southern Sudan.
Gatkuoth said Southern Sudan has reason to be optimistic about their future once independent. Their economy has the potential to become one of the fastest growing in the world, thanks to the vast natural resources, including minerals - oil, gold and platinum - agriculture, infrastructure development and tourism. The North has little to no resources.
"With your help, we can definitely tap into all of these resources," Gatkuoth said. "(And) make sure this is a viable nation, just like any other nation in the world."