How do you name a nation? The southern part of Sudan is set to become the world’s newest country when people there vote on independence in a referendum scheduled for January. But while many of the institutions needed for a country are being put in place, there is no agreement as to what the new nation will be called.
New Sudan, South Sudan and Southern Sudan have all been mentioned. But there is a danger in associating themselves with the original Sudan, a country whose international brand has been ruined by Omar al-Bashir, the president indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes in Darfur.
”The names of countries do matter,” says Simon Anholt, founder of the Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands Index. “When a country is unlucky enough to share a name with a country with a bad reputation, it makes life very hard. Most people don’t usually bother to go past their surface impressions.” South Korea scores badly in Anholt’s survey because too many people fail to remember which Korea is “good” and which is “bad”.
“Sudan is probably a similar case,” says Anholt, “so the south will undoubtedly get off to a better start if it’s not branded with the name of a pariah state.” Perhaps a better bet for the south would be to take inspiration from the river that runs down the middle of the country, and on the banks of which the capital, Juba, is situated: the Nile.
Calling the new country the Nile Republic could instantly transform its image. It is a positive, popular brand known all around the world. There would be some obstacles to overcome – Egyptians wouldn’t be very happy. The Nile Republic would also have to come up with a way of describing its citizens. The word “Nilotic” already refers to ethnic groups in Sudan, Uganda and Kenya.
Changing the name would signal a fresh start, which, if reflected throughout the new country, would be welcome. Already there are worrying signs that some of the worst aspects of the Bashir regime are prevalent among the south’s leaders. At elections last month, Salva Kiir, the current president of southern Sudan, won 93 per cent of the vote. “In the end, countries are judged by what they do, not by what they say,” adds Anholt.
The would-be Nile Republic will still have enormous obstacles to overcome including stubbornly high unemployment. A brewery, established by SABMiller, is the largest manufacturer employing 283 people in a vast new factory on the outskirts of Juba. SAB has already shown the power of branding in southern Sudan. The company’s new beer is called White Bull, named after the animal that the southern Sudanese most revere.
Sat on the banks of the Nile, White Bull in hand, watching the orange sun set on the horizon, this country does not feel like Sudan. It doesn’t have to be.