Balkanising Sudan

Like many independent nations in Africa, Sudan should never have been joined together as a single entity. Blame the British.

The minutes of the 1947 Juba Conference, which effectively laid the groundwork for the country’s independence, cheerfully refer to the southern tribes as “backward”, unable to fend for themselves without being linked into a larger block.

Here is a typical passage: “The sooner Southern and Northern Sudanese come together and work together, the sooner they will coalesce and cooperate in the advancement of their country. The belief is sincerely and genuinely held by many Northern Sudanese, and they hope that by including Southern Sudanese in the future Assembly, the process of unification will be hastened. I am confident that their recommendations are based on the very highest motives, and think they do not seek opportunities to exploit backward tribes in the South.”

Although the tendency to condescendingly refer to tribes in Africa as “backward” died away with flared trousers, one can’t help feeling that something from the Juba Conference still holds true today. Namely the fear that the South will be unable to survive on its own.

Decades of war, which mainly occurred in the South, and exploitation by Khartoum, has left the region in desperate poverty. Its hospitals are substandard – anyone that can afford to seeks treatment in Nairobi. Only a fraction of roads are paved. Social services are funded almost exclusively by outsiders – the government is unable to provide decent education and other basic services for its people. As for the judiciary and the police force, both are skeletal at best.

But this is not to say that it is not right for South Sudan now, finally, to separate. Tomorrow (Sunday), southerners go to the polls to vote for this option. And it is almost unthinkable that they won’t vote overwhelmingly for secession. In fact, predictions are that the referendum will be so massive that it will be unriggable.

The danger is that people in other countries – such as Nigeria – now seem to be looking at what is happening in Sudan, and think that they might also follow suit.

This is being termed the Balkanisation effect, whereby African countries artificially welded together by the colonial powers, break apart into numerous tribal fiefdoms. Some say that the Democratic of Congo would be a perfect candidate for this, too.

Whilst I would be the first to agree that the artificial division of African countries has inflicted intolerable suffering and war on the continent, unwinding the nation states would almost certainly be painful and might not even, in the long run, be for the best.

As anyone that has even been to the country will tell you, Sudan is unique in many ways. Southern rebels fought the government in Khartoum for decades to be free and independent nation. Millions of people were slaughtered, on both sides.

Such a protracted post-colonial war for independence has not happened in other African countries. There have been other grisly wars, true, but the characteristics of these have been different, and they have not been about fighting for independence. In many countries – Rwanda being the perfect example – divisions have been allowed to heal through the course of improved governance. Not with separation.

Pushing other countries to break up would almost certainly resort to a protracted power struggle between Africa’s big men, as they try to grab as much of the wealth as possible. Were the DRC ever to split, expect a hellish war to be fought over the spoils that lie beneath the ground of the eastern provinces. And not just by the warlords of the DRC. Rwandans, Ugandans and Burundians would probably join in, too.

We don’t want another Sudan. This separation between north and south is to make sure there isn’t one.

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