The Sudd is a great swamp in South Sudan through which part of the river Nile passes. Pronounced like the English word sad, the name in Arabic means barrier which is fitting because any boat navigating this broad wetland is slowed by the dense vegetation. Some rafts of vegetation are so large that they persist from year to year as floating islands where people can build a hut and live. Full of fish, the Sudd is home to much wildlife, and as it spreads out seasonally, expanding from 30,000 square miles to 130,000 square miles, it floods vast areas which will eventually dry to become rich farmland.
But prior to the independence of South Sudan, the Sudd was endangered. Egypt, far to the north, made a deal with the Khartoum government called the Jonglei diversion canal. Huge machines moved into the swamp. Their purpose? To dredge a wide canal through the middle and thus allow water to move swiftly upstream to irrigate and enrich Egyptian agriculture. In ten years, South Sudanese farmland would have become as arid as the fringes of the Sahara. The hippos, elephants, antelope, giraffe, and other wildlife dependent upon this great wetland would have moved away, not to mention the tribes that had migrated there for part of every year for many generations.
The division of Sudan to create a new nation ended the Jonglei diversion canal project, and now the Sudd can continue to thrive as the second largest wetland on Planet Earth, visible even from outer space!
According to a Wikipedia article, Dar Fertit originally referred to the lowlands south of Darfur containing tributaries of the White Nile in what is now southwestern Sudan and northwestern South Sudan. The article emphatically states that there are no Fertit people, but I say a people shall be known by whatever name they wish to call themselves, and when they unite in an organized manner, they become a polity. Fertit/Faratit is the chosen label of many South Sudanese in diaspora, including the community I met on my recent visit to Cairo.
The Fertit are peace-loving farmers from some 24 small tribes who support themselves through agriculture and production of goods rather than depending upon large herds of cattle for sustenance. Many still live in the region described above, Western Bahr el Ghazal, but others are scattered across the diaspora or living as displaced people within South Sudan. Some Fertit say their name came from the British colonials who referred to all non-pastoralists as “the fruit people”, hence Fertit /Faratit in local dialect, but whatever the source of their collective title, they are united in their belief that they can bring peace and prosperity to their homeland of South Sudan. And I believe in them!
I am a Fertit from the village of Bazia in Western Bahr el Ghazal. As a member of one of the Balanda tribes and the son of the tribal chief, Henry Bazia, I learned that it was my mission in life to serve my people by encouraging them to work hard for educational and economic success. I know these people: they are from my tribe or neighboring tribes. I know they are intelligent, creative, and dedicated to building a democratic nation for all South Sudanese, so in December, 2016, I traveled to Cairo and stayed there for three weeks, talking to large groups of students, male and female, as well as to individuals. I urged them all to achieve English fluency. I emphasized that they should be competent in math and technology. I told them that our new nation needs many diverse skills. Yes, we need doctors, lawyers, and engineers, but we also need businessmen, accountants, journalists, photographers, nurses, social workers, medical technicians, and agricultural experts. We need the open minds of the Fertit to create products for the global market and build a modern infrastructure in South Sudan.
A united, educated Fertit must become the outstanding citizens of South Sudan’s middle class that brings stability to our emerging nation.