The desert landscape is harsh and unforgiving, with nothingness stretching out as far as the eye can see. But as Jeremiah Heaton plants his flag in the ground and declares himself King of North Sudan, he imagines a bright new future for his realm.
He has no riches, no subjects and no castle, but that hasn’t stopped Jeremiah from bestowing the real-life title of princess on his doting daughter. And she’s proving to be surprisingly good at her job.
In 2013 six-year-old Emily Heaton asked her father a question that parents around the world have heard countless times before. Would she ever be a real princess?
Like most parents would have, Jeremiah assured Emily that she could be anything she wanted to be. But then he started to feel guilty about lying to his daughter. He began to wonder – was there a way to make Emily’s dream a reality?
In order for Emily to become a princess, Jeremiah would have to lay claim to a kingdom. So he started scouring the globe for land that wasn’t in possession of any government or nation.
Finally, he stumbled upon Bir Tawil – a small stretch of land located in northeast Africa. Historically, neither of the countries neighboring the region have laid claim to it, making it what’s known as terra nullius, or no man’s land.
Because Sudan and Egypt each use different historical borders to prove their ownership of the profitable Hala’ib triangle that borders Bir Tawil, neither one can claim the latter without giving up the former. Hence, bereft of strategic value or natural resources, the land has been left untouched and empty, save for the nomadic Bedouin tribes who occasionally pass through.
Jeremiah spoke to some lawyers, who informed him that he would have to visit the territory if he wished to claim it as his own. So he left his home in Abingdon, Virginia and embarked on an epic 6,000-mile journey.
First he caught a plane to Cairo, Egypt; then he traveled the rest of the way to Bir Tawil by caravan. And on June 16, 2014 – Emily’s seventh birthday – Jeremiah planted a flag conceived by his children and officially declared himself king.
Bir Tawil, or North Sudan as Jeremiah has christened it, is an 800-square-mile desert territory without inhabitants or infrastructure. But under Jeremiah’s kingship it could be transformed into a futuristic paradise.
When he returned home to America victorious and pronounced Emily a real princess, Jeremiah got stuck into the serious work of running a country. And as he told the Mail Online, his daughter took her newfound royal responsibilities very seriously indeed.
“I asked my children what we should do with the land,” he recalled, “and they said they wanted to grow a garden big enough to feed everyone in the world.”
Having learned at school about starving children in Africa, Emily wanted to use her royal status to help lift such unfortunate people out of poverty. And, once again, Jeremiah saw a way in which his little girl’s dreams could come true.
A farmer by trade, Jeremiah sees the dry conditions of North Sudan not as a setback but as a challenge. He wants to invite scientists to use the land as a testing ground for developing new ways of growing food that will help shape the future of the world.
“If you can make food grow in the desert,” he explained, “you can take that same technology and apply it to other climates. This project is the first project on earth that will [be] one nation dedicated to deal with climate change.”
In 2015 Jeremiah ran a crowdfunding campaign to generate money to build an agricultural research center known as ARC. In return for their donations, supporters were offered titles such as Duke or Duchess of North Sudan.
And although that campaign raised only $10,600, Jeremiah has his sights set on far bigger things. He has already set up two embassies, one in Denmark and the other in the Czech Republic, and is in talks with European companies to fund the project.
“I’m good at bringing things together,” he told All That Is Interesting, “and that’s what my job is in North Sudan: to be the P.T. Barnum, the leader of this multi-ring show that I have going on.”
Despite Jeremiah’s enthusiasm, though, several experts doubt the legitimacy of his claim. Eric Reeves, an authority on Sudan, told the Mail Online that “his vision is, in short, preposterous,” going on to add that any attempts to colonize the area would be met with extreme hostility.
Still, undeterred by his critics, Jeremiah claims that he is simply doing what others have done for millennia – only this time it’s being done for love. “I think there’s a lot of love in the world,” he told The Telegraph, “I want my children to know I will do absolutely anything for them.”