Sudan ambassador reveals country's issues
By Liz Stewart
The Head of Mission to the United States for Southern Sudan spoke at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business' Dean's Convocation Friday as thousands of southern Sudanese voted in Sudan on a referendum to form their own country.
Because of Sudan's bloody past and despite the challenges ahead, Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth said diplomacy, not violence, is needed for a "peaceful divorce" between Northern and Southern Sudan.
"We have been fighting enough," Gatkuoth said. "There is no need to keep fighting. People who advocate war have never been to war."
Gatkuoth spoke to students and faculty about Sudan's predominantly Arab north and the black African south's "forced marriage" in 1956 when the regions became independent from Britain which caused the break out of civil wars. In 2005 the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was established. The CPA, which states the people in southern Sudan will be allowed to decide their own future, ends July 9, 2011.
"On the 10th of July we are going to have an independence day in Africa," Gatkuoth said.
It's a tale of North and South; race, religion, cultures and economic status drive the two halves of this country apart. Although the CPA says efforts must be made to bring Sudan into a democratic, unified nation, Gatkuoth also said the vision is conditional. He said his mentor and the former president of Southern Sudan, Dr. John Garang de Mabior, said if unity is not achieved, then secede.
Gatkuoth joined the rebellion against the North in 1984. He was a soldier for the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army until 1991.
"I was illiterate until 1989," he said. "I didn't go to school. When I joined the rebellion in 1984 I didn't know how to read or write. We managed to be taught by senior commanders who knew how."
He came to the U.S. to further his education, first at Concordia University Wisconsin, and then the University of Maryland College Park, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in criminology and criminal justice.
Gatkuoth said the North will not let the South secede willingly. Southern Sudan is rich in resources, and it is the North's livelihood. Many northerners operate businesses in Southern Sudan.
In spite of the odds, Gatkuoth remains optimistic about a peaceful divorce. The whole world is on the side of the South, he said, and the North has no choice but to let it secede.
A major issue is oil and determining the border between the two countries. Gatkuoth said the United Kingdom has colonial maps that could help determine where North Sudan ends and South Sudan begins.
"The border has been moving southward since oil was discovered," he said.
A major oil pipeline runs from the south to the north, where the refineries are. Northern Sudan has traditionally run the show in that country, and loss of income from oil and minerals won't make the separation easy.
"If you look at it, the oil is in the South, and the pipeline is going north. We are a landlocked country. So we need the pipeline, but they need the oil," Gatkuoth said.
Abyei is another consideration as the South moves toward independence. It is a region in the central part of Sudan where Arab herdsmen and the largest black African tribe in Sudan live. The pipeline runs through this region. The disputed land could be a roadblock to peaceful separation, because of escalating violence, and fingers of blame are pointed on both sides.
"We were forced into this marriage by the ruling powers of the time," Gatkuoth said.
When asked about the future country's role in the conflict in the Eastern region of Darfur, Gatkuoth said the world must come together to make peace. The death toll since conflict started in 2003 is unknown, but it is estimated that at least two million people are displaced.
Carson Ward, a sophomore in finance, served an LDS mission to the Congo, and said he met many refugees from the Sudan in Africa.
"All were hopeful that one day their country could be better, and (they) can return," Ward said. "As for a peaceful divorce, it's pretty hard to find peace."
Utah State was one of many universities and colleges Gatkuoth spoke to last week, before heading to New York to meet with the United Nations on Monday. He said the students' response is overwhelming, and people want to know how to help Sudan.
Gatkuoth will be Southern Sudan's ambassador to the U.S. when North and South Sudan officially split, which may begin in July.
Although referred to as South Sudan now, that could change. Gatkuoth said the name of their new country is in debate. South Sudan is in consideration, but so is the Kush – or Cush – Republic, and the Nile Republic.
"When your wife is pregnant, you wait to name it until after it is born," he said in an interview.