The colourful banners and billboards hung out to celebrate South Sudan's independence back in July, and still adorning the streets now, are all in English. As are the names of the new hotels, shops and restaurants.How can one not be inspired by this story:
After decades of Arabisation and Islamisation by the Khartoum government, the predominantly Christian and African south has opted for English as its official language.
At the Ministry of Higher Education, Edward Mokole, told me: "English will make us different and modern. From now on all our laws, textbooks and official documents have to be written in that language. Schools, the police, retail and the media must all operate in English."
Brigadier-General Awur Malual had asked the British Council to teach his soldiers.It is a pity that the British Council director's response was a shade on the mealy-mouthed side:
The general had grown up speaking his tribal tongue Bor and Juba Arabic, a colloquial form of Arabic, but can now speak remarkably good English.
When I asked him how he had learned it, he told me: "By picking up books in the bush when I was fighting. I read some things about that man Shakespeare."
"What about Dickens or Jane Austen?" I asked. He scratched his head and said: "I don't know them."
I promised to send the general some Dickens.
After 65 years operating in Sudan, the council appointed Tony Calderbank to oversee the spread of English in the new nation.Goodness me, the man can barely hide his excitement. Would it not be a good idea for him to learn some of the country's history? For example something about the real oppression the South Sudanese have had to put up with, that coming from their northern neighbour, Sudan, and the Arab slave traders. He might then understand that there are many reasons why the South Sudanese might prefer to have English as the unifying language.
Wherever Tony went, I saw people approach him, desperate for courses, books, teachers and grants.
"English has become a tool for development," Tony told me, "and, even if the British in Sudan are sometimes seen as colonial overlords, the English language is respected."