By Steven Wöndu
May 14, 2014 - My memory has failed me, again. I cannot remember how ‘Greater’ slipped in the names of our Regions, States and Counties. The practice has become so absurd that last year and the year before, the States of Western, Central and Eastern Equatoria resolved that collectively they are called Equatoria NOT Greater Equatoria. Unfortunately, this ridiculous ‘Greater’ is spreading, not diminishing. People now talk about Greater Upper Nile, Greater Bahr el Ghazal, Greater this place and Greater that place. South Sudan Television (SSTV) is even promoting South Sudan as Beled Azim (Great Country). Is it really? What happened to humility and modesty?
At this rate we are soon going to confuse our guests. The proliferation of ‘Greater’ in our naming system is taking us into the theatre of comedy. We might tell someone to take a taxi to Greater Atlabara via Greater Nim. At Greater Rujal Mafi, take Tombura Road to Greater Libas Mafi before proceeding to Greater Kator. If you want to go to Greater Kajokaji, take the road to Greater Yei. When you are approaching Greater Tarawa, take a left turn to Greater Lologo. If you wish to travel to Greater Yambio, drive past Greater Munuki. After Greater Gudele, proceed across Greater Luri to Greater Rokon. Avoid Greater Wonduruba otherwise you might end up in Greater Lainya.
Visitors to South Sudan would not be blamed if they associated our word ‘Greater’ with bragging. To be great is to be awesome, fantastic, brilliant, famous, admirable, tough or terrific. ‘Greater’ is a comparative adjective. There was Alexander the Great because there were other Alexanders but none matched his adventurous victories and exploits. If there is Greater Equatoria, there must be another Equatoria that is not great but daft, dull, inconsiderate, mean and hopeless. ‘Great’ can also mean massive, big, large, huge, or enormous. In this context, we have the Great Barrier Reef of Australia and the Great Wall of China. They are great because there are other reefs and walls in this planet which are tiny by comparison. So when we say Greater Equatoria in terms of size, we imply that the other Equatoria or all other Equatorias are tiny.
Greater Equatoria is meaningless unless one is talking about the Equatoria of Sir Samuel Baker which included parts of Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile, and Uganda. That Equatoria was reduced during the era of General Charles Gordon and finally dissolved during the Condominium period (1898 – 1956). The Equatoria of today is confined to the territory between ‘greater’ Tombura and ‘greater’ Kapoeta Counties. It is not great qualitatively. It is not great quantitatively. It is certainly not greater, by any measure, than other territories in the region, Africa and the world. There is no political or geographical entity called Greater Equatoria.
Up to the mid-1970s, the three Southern Provinces of Sudan were Equatoria, Upper Nile and Bahr el Ghazal. The government of Jaafar Numeiri decided to create three new provinces by simply breaking each province into two. Biologists call the process binary fission. Bahr el Ghazal gave birth to Lakes, Upper Nile gave birth to Jongolei and Equatoria begot Eatern Equatoria. When oil was discovered in Western Upper Nile District, Numeiri carved it out of Upper Nile, called it Unity Province, and attempted to transfer it to the North. This was one of the wrangles that led to the abolition of the Addis Ababa Agreement (1972), the dissolution of the Regional Government of the South (1983), and the launch of the liberation struggle (1983-2005).
In the 1990s the government of Omer Beshir decided to convert the Provinces to States but not before Vice Persident George Kongor gerrymandered Warap State out of Lakes. A third State was cut out of both Western and Eastern Equatoria. They called it ‘Bahr el Jebel’. That is how South Sudan as we know it today got ten States.
Apparently, the citizens of the new States have not internalized their new identities. The first order of the business of the Government of ‘Bahr el Jebel’ was to change its name to Central Equatoria at the beginning of the interim period under the CPA. Central Equatoria is a geographical reference not a human identity. The citizens identify themselves as Equatorians. They do not want to let go of their ties with the Madi, Acholi, Toposa, Makaraka, Zande, and Moru. Similarly, the citizens of Warap and Lakes States feel at home in Wau. They do not want to loose their Bahr el Ghazal identity. That name binds the Dinka, Jur, Balanda, Ndogo, Fertit and other ethnicities into one. The history of Sudan and South Sudan is replete with references to The Upper Nile. It is an address no Shilluk, Dinka, Nuer, Murle and Anyuak would wish to forfeit. Jongolei is good but Upper Nile is better. Perhaps that is the explanation for resorting to ‘Greater Upper Nile’.
In the historical context therefore, one can understand why there is talk about Greater Equatoria, Greater Upper Nile and Greater Bahr el Ghazal. It is an attempt to minimize the effects of the balkanization imposed by Numeiri and Beshir. Things could have been less complicated if some of the new States in Upper Nile and Bahr el Ghazal had not lost the original brand names. Maybe we should have had Northern, Western, Southern and Eastern Bahr el Ghazal States. Similarly we could have had Northern, Western and Southern Upper Nile States. In such a scenario, the campus prefix could be ignored when referring to the entire Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile and Equatoria Regions. Any alternative is better than the ‘Greater’ syndrome.
Amb Wöndu is the is South Sudan General Auditor