Designing a Country from Scratch: Nation Branding in South Sudan
“We have made Italy, now we have to make Italians,” said Massimo d’Azeglio. Speaking at the inaugural parliamentary meeting of the newly formed Italian kingdom in 1861, the prime minister of Piedmont-Sardinia captured the greatest challenge of newly formed modern states: how to create a national identity that would unify a disparate population. In 2011 the Republic of South Sudan became the world’s newest country and the 193rd member state of the United Nations. The new East African nation comprises of a population of over sixty tribes from five major ethnic groups, speaking sixty indigenous languages across ten states. As with the Italian republic a century and a half ago, defining its unifying identity became (and remains) South Sudan’s most urgent project. The perceived need for official symbols, such as a flag, bank notes, coat of arms and a first national building—establishes unique roles for designers and architects during a time of emergence. It’s not often designers get to design a country’s image from scratch. Using first-person interviews with graphic designers and project managers in South Sudan, this presentation recounts the challenges and opportunities of creating a national corporate identity suite, and explores the politics, aesthetics, and pragmatics of representation at a national scale.