Referendum to create new African country concludes Jan. 15
By Shirrel Cooper
Photo by Cathy Morgan
LOGAN—Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth wants Utah State University students to pray for him and his country, which may become the newest nation in the world this weekend.
Gatkuoth is the head of mission for the government of South Sudan to the United States. He is a former Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement representative to the United States as well as former soldier in the Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Army.
Today Sudan is the largest country in Africa, with a population of 40 million. Today is also the turning point for this northeastern African country.
Voting to determine if South Sudan will secede from the North concluded Saturday.
“So far it is very clear that the referendum will lead to independence,” Gatkuoth said Friday at USU.
British colonialists forced the creation of the Sudan in 1956, marrying the southern Christian region with the northern Muslim territory. United by name only, the South and North were separated by beliefs and by physical boundaries.
“In the North, they are dominantly Arab,” Gatkuoth said. “The South is basically Christian.”
Gatkuoth said the de facto separation is such that Sudanese citizens must carry departure orders, or visas, to travel between the North and South. This has prevented Islam from spreading to the South, but has also contributed to South Sudan’s desire for a permanent separation from the North.
“We need the support of the world to help us,” Gatkuoth said. He and other Sudanese officials are working to get the U.S. government to support the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and to help in the creation and development of a Southern Sudan.
The CPA has two goals, Gatkuoth said: to redefine Sudan into a better Sudan for everybody, and to allow the southern Sudanese to decide their own future.
“We, the Sudanese, we are failing to transform Sudan because the North,” he said. “They are still continuing the Islamization and the Arabization of the country.”
Northern Sudan is resistant to creation of the South Sudanese state, and believes that the country of Sudan should remain united.
Gatkuoth said this is because the North is dependent on the South to sustain its economy.
“Ninety percent of oil that is being exported to China, Malaysia, and other countries is coming from South Sudan,” Gatkuoth said. “When you look at the minerals, most of the minerals are from the South. The North is developed using the resources of the South. And the South is underdeveloped.”
• See related New York Times story: “Roots of Bitterness in a Region Threaten South Sudan’s Future”
Because of this, Gatkuoth said that the North does not want to permit the secession of the South. But he said that the North does not have a choice.
“They will allow us to go reluctantly. So then we benefit from all these resources,” Gatkuoth said.
“Now we are going to have a new nation in Africa.”
Gatkuoth said that other issues besides oil and minerals exist in the creation of the nation of South Sudan. But he believes that border and citizenship problems can be overcome if the world is united in supporting South Sudan.
“I’m very optimistic that we are going to have a peaceful divorce,” he said. The North is already fighting a war in Darfur. Gatkuoth said that, economically, the North would not be able to fight the South as well.
The world is watching as South Sudan will become the newest country in Africa. Gatkuoth hopes that the world will support his country’s secession and welcome South Sudan into the world community.
Brooke Evans, a senior majoring in French and Geography, is glad that the School of Business sponsored this event so people could learn more about it. She said it is an interesting issue that few people know about.
“I think it is really great that the business school is concerned about global issues. There is going to be a new country in the world. This hasn’t happened in a long time,” Evans said. “I am glad that people who normally wouldn’t be exposed to that speech had the opportunity to attend.”
Melody Jensen, a junior in international business and economics, said she was inspired to do more after listening to Gatkuoth speak.
“I really know I have a cush life,” Jensen said. “It makes me want to help out. I am amazed that someone of such importance could come to USU.”
Bree Guennel, a junior human resources major, said the speech makes her interested in how to do more.
“(The speech) opened my mind because the media gives us a different view,” Guennel said. She said that hearing “you can pray for us or help us” made her want to look into helping out.
Gatkuoth said that those looking to help South Sudan should write to their congressmen to make sure Sudan is helped so they “can catch up to the rest of the world.”
And he said to pray.
“There is nothing we can do in this world without divine intervention,” Gatkuoth said. “We are all God’s children.”
“If I am happy, you will also be happy.”