A sign of peace from the past: British and French ambassadors visit historical town where a peace deal was reached in 1898
Late in the 19th century, two imperial powers’ ambitions intersected, literally, in the town of Fashoda, present-day Kodok, South Sudan.
In 1898, after a months-long hostile standoff over territorial influence in Africa, France and Britain were brought to the brink of an imperial war, and eventually, a peace agreement that lasts to this day, during what is referred to as the Fashoda Incident.
And what better way to model this memorable event, than to have the two countries’ representatives in South Sudan return to that very historical location, bearing a copy of that agreement that has created lifelong allies between them.
Britain’s ambassador Chris Trott and France’s ambassador Marc Trouyet embarked on a three-day visit facilitated by the UN mission, to the country’s Upper Nile area.
“We were very keen to go to Fashoda and then to explain to people across the country that South Sudan played a role in helping us to reconcile,” said Mr Trott, “And we wanted to say to South Sudan ‘Thank you for helping us to reconcile, and now we are here to help you through your reconciliation process’.”
I n Fashoda, the diplomats sat in one of the royal tukuls (traditional hut) with high arching, neatly thatched roofs displaying the unmatched artistry of whomever built the panorama of huts with fine lines that form the King’s palace.
There, in the Shilluk kingdom, they engaged with King Kongo Dak Padiet, listening to his views and concerns as he gave his opinion on the current socio-politico environment and chimed in with precision about the current stalemate with the implementation of a peace agreement that has seen the timelines moved forward several times. They also presented him with a copy of their signed accord.
“As an ambassador based in Juba, it’s important for me to see and understand and report the reality of how people are living on the ground,” said Mr Trouyet, “But more importantly we visited Fashoda to send a message of how, more than a century ago, we resolved our differences, not through battle but through diplomacy – and it still holds today.”
Next, the diplomats would visit the proverbial “ground zero” – the main building in Kodok town where France’s Major Jean-Baptiste Marchand and Britain’s Sir Herbert Kitchener signed the agreement. Much like the truce, the building still stands strong. It now houses the Fashoda area governor’s office.
While paying a courtesy call on the Fashoda area governor, the diplomatic duo presented him with a copy of their own agreement and reiterated the importance of not just the signing of it but the spirit that has held their two countries together for years.
“Our request to the South Sudanese people is: as we did, resolve your differences through dialogue rather than through conflict,” said Mr Trott.
The ambassadors and their teams also visited the Central Upper Nile area governor in Malakal, and toured the UN mission’s protection site as part of their visit, to gain a better understanding of the issues in the region.