This last weekend witnessed the apparent birth of a new nation--the Southern Sudan. Over 60% of the eligible voters went to the polls and voted overwhelming to separate themselves from the North, in a deal brokered by the U.S. in 2005. One wishes them all the best. The South, largely African and Christian, has been under the thumb of the North, largely Arab and Muslim for 55 years. One would have to look long to find a more brutish regime than the one in Khartoum. Southern Sudan should have never been linked to the North, but it was--just one of the myriad of crimes inflicted on Africa by the colonial powers. Since Sudanese independence, two civil wars have taken the lives of 2.5 million inhabitants of the South, while millions have been displaced.
So, the long-oppressed Southern Sudan has elicited much sympathy from the world community. That said, they face enormous hurdles, starting off as perhaps the world's poorest nation. The Sudanese oil fields (3rd largest in Africa) lie largely in the South, though the pipeline to market goes through the North. Over half the population earn less than a $1 a day. The literacy rate is 15% and less than half have access to clean drinking water. I am old enough to remember (barely) the war for independence of two resource-rich provinces in the immediate post-colonial period: Biafra (Nigeria) and Katanga (Congo.) Each ended very badly. Nor am I reassured by representatives of the American Empire--John Kerry (political) and George Clooney (entertainment/philanthropic)--to midwife the birth.
As I say, one hopes for the best--in this case, an end to the brutality and peaceful lives with access to adequate food and water would be a good start. The African Union is a bit uneasy with it all, but at least publicly claim that Sudan is "exceptional," and independence will not ignite further secessionist movements on the continent. This is all whistling past the graveyard. Of course it will lead to other attempts, though one may not be able to distinguish it from the general tumult of sub-Saharan Africa.
Daniel Larison warns of the danger here, and following:
Kosovo was supposed to be exceptional, too, until recognition of its independence more or less directly led to the effective partition of Georgia. When the U.S. and other states recognized Kosovo, few believed that it could have an effect on South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but it did. How many countries will suffer from greater instability because self-determination prevailed in Sudan?
Once major powers start re-drawing borders to satisfy the demands of self-determination or other concerns, there is no obvious place to stop....In many ways, African nation-states are among the most arbitrary, artificial creations in the entire world, but that doesn’t mean that splitting them up into equally artificial, less viable statelets will make things any better. Kosovo’s separation from Serbia and eventual independence empowered a gang of criminals. Is there much reason to hope for better in South Sudan?