By Jenna Jardine
For many, flashing red and white lights in the sky mean that somewhere, someone is getting a bag of airplane peanuts from a flight attendant. To the boy Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, the lights were a divine manifestation of God moving through the heavens.
Mr. Gatkuoth grew up in what he called “the bushes of southern Sudan,” far away from cities and airports. He didn’t know the lights were from airplanes.
Now as the head of mission for the Government of Southern Sudan to the United States in Washington D.C., Mr. Gatkuoth knows well what an airplane is. However, he still looks to God for heavenly help as he watches his country move toward the formation of the world’s newest nation.
In January, Mr. Gatkuoth spoke to the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business about the current problems in Africa and the need for a “peaceful divorce” between Northern and Southern Sudan.
“I believe we are all God’s children,” Mr. Gatkuoth said. “If I am suffering, it is the same suffering that you are having. And if I am happy, you will also be happy. We’re all the same. A problem here in the United States is a problem in the world, and a problem in Africa is also a problem in the world.”
The civil war that raged from 1983 to 2005 has been the longest in Africa’s history. Now there is hope that the formation of Africa’s 54th nation will mean a new and independent country for the Southern Sudanese.
Mr. Gatkuoth said the separation of these two nations will do two things.
“First, it would redefine Sudan into a better Sudan for everybody — a secular, united Sudan,” he said. “Second, it would allow the Southern Sudanese to decide their own future and have their own independent state.”
Mr. Gatkuoth is expected to become the ambassador to the United States for the new country. He said the current government does not represent the people as a whole but only a small group of individuals. Their goal is to create an independent nation that more accurately represents everyone.
“You know that when you are forming a government, you need to make sure everybody is represented in the government,” Mr. Gatkuoth said. “If you’re not seeing yourself there, either through tribal or regional affiliation, then definitely you are going to have a problem. The government must represent all.”
While Sudan has made great progress and has found unity behind a referendum, Mr. Gatkuoth said there is still a lot that can be done to help the developing country.
“We are trying our best, but I think we definitely need the support of the world to help us,” he said. “I would really throw it back to you as students who are in this beautiful university to really think of how you can help Southern Sudanese catch up with the rest of the world.”
Mr. Gatkuoth remarked on how happy he is to be in America and how “life can transform itself.” Although his life changed greatly and the country of Sudan is certainly seeing many new developments, Mr. Gatkuoth’s approach to facing challenges has been consistent.
“You need to pray first,” he said. “There is nothing you can do in this world without divine intervention. You have to call your God. The number one thing I can ask from you is to pray for us, so that we can have a peaceful referendum, that we can have a peaceful divorce with the north, that we can have good relations with the north and that we contribute to the world, peacefully.”
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which was established in 2005, ends July 9. After Mr. Gatkuoth’s speech the vote passed in favor of the referendum.
“On the 10th of July we are going to have an independence day in Africa,” Mr. Gatkuoth said.
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