Posts Tagged ‘referendum’

Duped

July 4, 2016

The Leave camp are going to have a serious problem. Or maybe they’ve always had one.

One thing that seems to be coming increasingly clear – at least, observing events from afar – is that not only have a lot of Remainers failed to understand the reasons behind the Leave vote, but many of those that voted Leave don’t seem to have fully understood what they were voting for either.

This could be a huge problem for the Leave camp.

You are never going to convince those die-hard Eurosceptics, who have spent all their life campaigning against the EU, that actually being part of this European project might not be that bad of an idea.

But you might just convince those that thought the world would be different when they ticked that Leave box that they made the wrong decision.

I have seen a number of people wavering on this and this is a reflection of the poor work that the Leave campaign did in preparing an exit strategy.

They probably didn’t think they had to.

As Sarah Vine has been repeatedly quoted as saying over the past few days – no doubt because it is such an awesome quote – “you were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off”.

No one expected the Leave campaign to actually work, let alone those that were behind the campaign. Every eurosceptic that I spoke to before the referendum were focusing on getting as close to the Remain vote as possible. Certainly they never thought they’d beat them.

But they should have thought harder.

Because it now appears that we are a country without a plan. And since we do actually live in a parliamentary democracy, folk, in case anyone has forgotten, leaving the EU isn’t simply a question of laying a hand on the Magna Cart and saying, “I solemnly swear to invoke Article 50”. As some that voted Leave thought it would be.

And now Nigel Farrage is gone, having tendered his resignation as UKIP leader today. One might have hoped that he’d stick around to try to… you know… formulate a plan. Or perhaps dust off the one that he’d had all along at the bottom of his sock drawer, but with all the excitement of everything had clean forgotten about.

All of this means that many people are feeling duped.

You might be able to win a battle with false rhetoric, grandiose promises and over-simplification.

But you can’t seal that victory.

Wrong reasons

July 3, 2016

17.4 million people – a little more than a third of the voting-age population – are not bigoted racists who think Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson are gods. This is perhaps the single most important thing to understand about the referendum, because if we fail to understand this salient fact then this country will remain hopelessly divided.

I in no way tried to campaign for one result or the other because for me it was just too difficult to call. There were too many complexities to the debate that I simply could not decide which side to come down on.

What frustrated me about the whole affair, and continues to frustrate me, is this constant barrage of misinformation and a lack of any real debate about the issues that matter. Some people have said that, with such an important issue as EU membership, perhaps it should not have been left up to the people to decide. If I’d have known that the whole campaign was going to be boiled down into such simplistic arguments that started to become meaningless, I would probably have agreed.

There is a very good argument to be made that the whole referendum should be run again, or declared null and void and let our politicians make this decision. After all, we do pay them to take decision on complex matters that we, the humble public, don’t really understand.

Perhaps.

But I don’t want to dwell here on democracy or whether the referendum was democratic or not. Countless others are already making that point.

I want to emphasise something much more fundamental. That, whatever happens to our standing with the EU, the result of this referendum must not be ignored.

Okay, two thirds of the voting-age population did not vote to leave the EU. But one third did. And they are important.

I understand that passions are running high, but it is perilous to ignore those in the Leave camp or to simply dismiss them as bigoted racists. This is what the EU’s political establishment has always sought to do and look where it has got them. The EU is lurching – or, rather, hobbling – from crisis to crisis.

That is not an EU I think we should be part of.

Now it is perfectly valid to think that we should remain a member of the EU. There are exceedingly good reasons to remain, and many people can see them much more clearly than the reasons to leave.

But there are also good reasons to leave. And failing to recognise and understand them, and to engage in a sober debate that doesn’t deride either side, is imperative.

But in amongst all the frustration and hot tempers, I am seeing precious little of this. And this is not a good path to go down. Hostility towards the EU will not go away if the referendum is voided. It must be understood for it to be corrected.

And above all, those that voted to leave the EU must have their voice heard – and not simply dismissed as stupid or daft or insane every time they tentatively suggested that leaving the EU might not be a bad idea. Otherwise all anyone will here are the Nigel Farrages and Boris Johnsons of this world, or those that have made anti-European rhetoric their career path.

(As an addendum to this entry, I am in the process of compiling a list of reasons why people might have voted to withdraw from the EU – besides the anti-immigration argument. But this is a hard list to compile, and needs careful thought, so it is not done yet. I am trying very hard not to demonise either side and to move things forward in a spirit of constructive debate. And incidentally, whilst the next couple of years of withdrawal from the EU might be painful, in the long-run things could turn out for the better; but that slightly contentious point doesn’t seem to ever be properly debated.)

Oh hear us

June 23, 2016

There is something rotten in Europe. As Brits go to the polls today, it is worth bearing that in mind.

With Remain having taken the lead (by between 2 and 8 percentage points, depending on which poll you look at), and an estimated 10% still in the undecided camp, it looks exceeding unlikely that Brits are now going to vote to leave the EU. Most of those who have not yet made up their mind will probably be swayed by the status-quo.

It is perhaps not surprising that there is such a vociferously strong anti-EU voice in Europe. We’ve always had this, ever since we signed up to the single market. It’s in our ethnic make-up. Like Belgians have their strikes. Or Germans have their sauerkraut.

But it is so surprising that Leave came so close to pulling us out of the EU with such a lousy campaign. This isn’t a crazy lunatic movement that doesn’t like the black fella, as some in the Remain camp constantly insinuate. This is a disparate movement of people that have some very real grievances with how the EU is run.

I think that few who have written about the EU would think that everything is hunkydory in the glitzy corridors of Brussels bureaucracy. Over the past months, I have spoken to many people with first-hand experience of the Brussels apparatus who think it is an utter shambles.

So which way are they voting?

In, of course – because they just can’t think of a good enough reason for voting the other way. Because one hasn’t been presented to them.

But, faced with such moderate thinking and a rather shambolic campaign, it says a lot that Leave seem to have come so close.

So if, as I strongly suspect, we vote to remain within the EU, some really tough action is required in Brussels to convince the British that what they voted for was the right thing. And we are not talking about another hastily put-together David Cameron whistle-stop tour of the European capitals. We need real change.

And that real change needs to start with a scaling back of Brussels intervention, a better reliance on the free market economy and an acknowledgement that there are certain powers Brussels does not have to sink its claws in for the single market to work.

And perhaps above all the EU needs to start engaging better with its citizens. Not this half-hearted campaign of misinformation and propaganda, but a real engagement to explain exactly what the EU is. Because what has emerged during this campaign – talking to people about it, reading comments on my Facebook feed and Twitter, tuning into the occasional debates – is that people still don’t seem to get the EU.

And for this to take hold, the EU needs to drop its veil of arrogance and deceit. The EU did not end wars in Europe. The EU is not irreplaceable. And the EU is most certainly not infallible.

Of course, I don’t think any of these changes are actually going to take hold – and indeed we may find ourselves in a situation where the political elite want to bind European nations into an even more tightly-knit bloc, so those pesky Brits can’t hold an entire continent to ransom again.

But if the EU don’t listen to what the British are trying to say – and I mean really listen – then this problem is never going to go away.

Why the Leave camp will fail

June 20, 2016

The other week, during my time in London, I had the privilege to listen to MP and shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn make the case for staying in the EU. Rarely have I heard such a masterful orator and, whilst I might not have agreed with everything he said, it was actually quite thrilling to listen to him make his case. Like hearing a well-read bit of poetry.

By comparison, the Eurosceptics on the panel often sounded shrill and desperate and occasionally a little bit crazy. At one point, one of the panellists – Gerald McGregor, a Chiswick town councillor – brandished a piece of paper in his hand, and suggested that David Cameron’s return from Europe before the referendum was a little like Neville Chamberlain returning from Nazi Germany before World War II broke out. Comparing the European project to Nazism isn’t really what folk want to hear.

And that is why the Leave camp will fail.

Not just because their standard-bearers seem to constantly be making obscure references to fascism or tyranny or to a world that now no longer exists (although that probably doesn’t help). But because arguing about leaving the European Union is a lot harder than arguing about remaining. And the Leave camp just don’t seem to have put in the effort to make this case clearly, passionately and rationally enough.

Of course, this isn’t all their fault. Rational Eurosceptics do have the very real problem of having to make their voices heard above those of charismatic and politically-ambitious spokespeople of the Eurosceptic cause, such as Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. Both likeable enough fellows, but they have managed to boil the arguments of why we might want to leave the EU into such crass shades of grey that they are easily put down by any Remainer with half a brain.

Maybe that is what people want to hear – the simplistic – because it is just too difficult to understand all the nuances behind what it would mean to leave a community that we have been wedded to for longer than I have been alive.

It is extremely difficult to make a rational argument for why we might want to leave the EU without sounding a little crazy, which is why I never try to enter this mine field. But I have some very good Eurosceptic friends who do make such a case very convincingly. The problem is that such convincing arguments never seem to enter the mainstream.

It is precisely because the Eurosceptic case is so much harder to put than the pro-European one that those in the Leave camp should have worked harder at making it. They should have made an effort to understand and explain the more complex areas of the debate, not simply glassed over this and repeated ad-nauseam the rather right-wing snub to immigrants or the subdued left-wing doff to the NHS.

Like what benefit does leaving the EU actually bring to people living in the UK? As with the Scottish referendum, people will be voting with their wallet in mind.

Like exactly why there is such a democratic deficit in the EU, and whether that really matters? Because many people don’t seem to quite get this.

Like exactly what comes afterwards? Okay, perhaps this is a difficult one to answer, since this is a great unknown, but at least they could have tried. At least they could have given us some plan as to what comes once we have taken this leap in the dark.

None of this to say that we shouldn’t leave the EU; I am still split 50-50 on this. Rather, the point of this blog entry is to reassure those committed Remainers out there that they don’t have anything to fear. The Brexiters had a far harder task of persuading people why they should hand back their membership card. And because their job was so much more daunting they should have tried twice as hard to do so.

At least.

And then, even without Hilary Benn in their arsenal, they might just have succeeded in winning enough of the electorate round to make a difference.

In or out?

May 24, 2016

With less than a month to go, I still haven’t made up my mind. One would think it should be simple. I spent five years working in Brussels, after all, and understand something of how the EU works. But the more I think about it the more I just don’t know. Maybe I should tick both boxes.

I think the problem is that we – the British people – are being denied a proper debate about the issues that matter. Which makes me a little mad.

We hear from the Nigel Farage camp that these foreign workers are coming and stealing our jobs. Probably want our women, too.

We hear from the Treasury that we’re going to be £4300 worse off – per year – if we were to leave the EU, with apparently not serious rationale for that number. I can invent numbers, too. Squiggledom. It’s twice a googleplex, so it’s pretty darn big.

So: in or out?

Immediately after my five-year stint in Brussels, I had decidedly made up my mind that we ought to leave this ill-fitting marriage. I firmly believed that the EU needed to be dismantled and rebuilt – and the only way to do that was for us to be out. But now I’m seeing so many more nuances.

Frustratingly, this trip to the UK has so far yielded no useful insights. I’m working in our London office at the moment, and one of my colleagues was handing out “Remain” bumper stickers today. When another colleague told him that he would probably vote to leave, the Remain colleague expressed surprised and said that he thought all financial correspondents would want to stay in Europe the EU.

If only it were that easy.

Here, then, are my meandering thoughts – from someone that really has not yet made up his mind.

Out

– We would be able to adopt our own policy towards immigrants, because to be quite frank the EU’s has so far been an utter disaster. This is not to argue for less immigration – as the dreadful right wing press often do – but just the fact that we would be able to control who comes to our countries, and therefore could make sure this is the right kind of migrant. Jobs are not finite – socialist France flirted with that idea, and to an extent still does, and it’s just blatantly wrong. Just ask Adam Smith. Except he’s dead. But those that come to this country should contribute to its well-being. This also goes for the refugees that we take. I firmly believe that we have a moral obligation to accept a certain amount of refugees fleeing from human rights abuses, but that should be on our terms and we should give them jobs as soon as we can.

– Our government should no longer be able to hide behind the ineptitude of the EU. There are actually things that the British government cannot do because the EU doesn’t allow it. This makes it much harder to hold them to account when they step out of line.

– The masterminds behind the EU project are a dishonest bunch. They were given very good advice that launching the euro currency when it was half-baked would result in a “Greece”. It could have been any one of the peripheral countries – that wasn’t known at the time – but they chose to ignore such advice because it fitted their own narrative. If “Greece” happened then that would be a very good reason to move towards more centralised fiscal control. Which may be a noble end in itself, but I’m not sure I want to place my faith in people that have to lie to get where they are going.

– When I was in Brussels, I lost track of the times I heard the European Commission express in all of sincerity that the EU was the reason that European nations weren’t still at war with one another. No! No! And no! The reason for the longest period of piece that we have had for millennia is globalisation, and the EU is a by-product of that globalisation. Not the other way round.

In

– Strength in numbers. It’s true that we are a small nation – the sun does now set on our noble Empire. So it’s nice to buddy-up to our European partners from time to time.

– We have more representation in Europe than people often realise. Although there is this huge gulf of democratic unaccountability – in the sense that we haven’t actually voted in most of the people that are making decisions for us – we do have a permanent representation to the EU and they are a pretty active bunch.

– Free movement of labour and free movement of trade – these are concepts I hold dear. I am, after all, a migrant worker. I wouldn’t particularly like it if Hong Kong suddenly chose to shut its door on my kind. And I like to think that I am contributing to their society – through tax and being a damn fine pillar of.

– We’ve pissed our European neighbours off a fair bit recently, by being so obstreperous. How about we now start to make amends?

– However you look at things it’s going to be expensive. Contracts will need to be renegotiated or updated, business deals will need to be done on a different footing, some firms may even decide to relocate. If you’re a lawyer, now is probably the time to cash in.

– What is going to happen if we leave? No one really knows. If we stay, there’s almost certainly going to be a relentless march towards greater federalism. And so perhaps that is what everyone needs. Better the devil you know, eh?

But, whatever the outcome of the referendum of June 23, it probably doesn’t matter as much as people think it does. If we stay, we carry on pretty much as before, with maybe a tiny bit more acceleration towards federalism. If we leave, well, it honestly isn’t going to be the end 0f the world that everyone is predicting. Do people honestly think that, after her initial hissy fit, Europe won’t want to engage with us?

Maybe I’ll just tick both boxes and let fate decide.

The case for out

December 17, 2013

You’d have thought that bashing the EU these days was a pretty easy thing to do and yet eurosceptics still manage to cock it up.

Over the past 40 years of die-hard eurosceptism, surely those making the case for pulling the UK out of this project would have learnt to say the right things. But it appears sometimes as though really they don’t realise that a) membership of the EU is a rather emotive subject, b) Brits aren’t as daft as the oft-espoused propaganda seems to suggest and c) that it’s a good idea to engage brain before activating voice.

I don’t feel it fair to name drop here. There are some very rational eurosceptics, and there are some pretty daft ones. Unfortunately, I feel that it is the daft ones that get most of the air waves.

Not long ago, I heard a prominent eurosceptic praise the “bravery” of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan for precipitating the fall of the Berlin Wall. He was of course using this argument to dispel the nonsensical notion that the EU was in some way responsible for this. But even before his words had stopped ricocheting around the auditorium, the come-back was obvious: Really? It was the bravery of Thatcher and Reagan? How about the bravery and tenacity of the East German people?

Of course, it was the europhile making this point that got all the cheers and the eurosceptic, whilst the logic underpinning his poorly-made comment was sound, looked rather foolish.

If this is the strength of eurosceptic argument, then Brussels has nothing to worry about. Hell, we’re definitely going to be staying in the EU.

There is a conspiracy theory that suggests that the reason the UK Independence Party is enjoying so much air time on the BBC, and so many column inches in pro-European papers, is because if this is all the British people hear, then they’re going to certainly vote with the stay-in-the-EU crowd. Listening to some of the eurosceptic viewpoints at the moment, this theory doesn’t seem all that far-fetched.

Just for the record, I am of the view that the UK should leave the EU. I used to be of the opinion that we should try and reshape the EU into something more democratic and less autocratic. But having closely followed European politics for the past 13 years, including five years in Brussels, I’ve come to the conclusion that this simply won’t work.

But it’s totally crazy to entertain the notion that nothing comes after Brussels. This is a point that eurosceptics must be making far more loudly than they are, and not allow the pro-European camp to falsely imply that we could be leaping into some sort of void with catastrophic consequences.

Thank God that we never subscribed to the euro, otherwise things could be far messier. (It’s true that many contracts by European companies are now written in euros, but that’s not going to change whether we’re a member of the bloc of not).

It’s crazy to suggest that, should we leave the EU, our European partners, are going to storm off in a hissy fit and not want to speak to us. We have a population of nearly 65 million. That’s a mighty lot of BMWs that the Germans can sell to us.

Nor do I think leaving the EU means that we have to close our doors to immigrants, which, despite what UKIP might tell you, have done us the world of good. It just means that we can let them come on our terms. Which is: come here, work, contribute to our GDP. Don’t live in the woods hunting our swans.

The UK may be a mere shadow of its former self, but it is still a formidable economy and the ridiculous idea that we suddenly couldn’t survive without Brussels, that we would suddenly be ostracised and treated as a leper, is laughable and should be countered, with all the might of the eurosceptic lobby.

Ten years ago, europhiles were insisting quite strongly that we should join the euro, even though some fairly prominent economists, both pro- and anti-EU, were pointing out some of the fundamental flaws in the project, which have still not been overcome (largely because politics and economics do not see eye-to-eye).

Over the past few years, sterling has done remarkably well in a sea of euro turbulence. It has fallen significantly over the 10 years, but that is only because Gordon Brown allowed it to over-inflate in the first place.

The British pound is one of the most-traded currencies in the world, largely thanks incidentally to our global financial services industry, which Brussels actually wants to curtail (as an aside, the socialist in me does still have reservations about how the British financial services industry is regulated, but that’s a separate issue and should be up for us to decide anyway). So, whilst Denmark, who also managed to keep its currency, has had to peg it to the euro to ensure stability, we haven’t had to. Doesn’t that suggest our comparative strength?

These are the kinds of arguments that the eurosceptics should be shouting from the rooftops.

So why am I only hearing them whispered in the shadows? Why are they being crowded out by all the other nonsensical eurosceptic rhetoric that crosses the air waves?

Speaking to the party

June 25, 2011

President Omar al-Bashir must be quite unhappy with the way that things are going in his country at the moment. In almost exactly two weeks – in fact on the very day that I fly home – Sudan is finally going to separate, after decades of terrible bloodshed and war.

There are quite a few things that still need to be sorted out. Thankfully, the country has a six-month transitional period in which to do this, although, this being Sudan, I fear that six months might not be long enough to do everything that needs to be done.

One of the things that does need to be resolved is whether Southerners and Northerners will be able to freely hop between the two countries (not that they can really be stopped, I might add, given that the new border between South and North Sudan is going to be the longest in the whole of Africa).

Southerners would quite like the freedom to move between the two countries, and perhaps have the option of taking up residency in the North should they so choose.

But here al-Bashir has been displaying something of his ire, and said there is absolutely no question of this happening. The Southerners wanted independence. They have been given it. Now they should get the hell out of the North.

Look at what’s happening in Kadugli, where Northern forces are targeting those that they deem to still have loyalties with the South.

Shortly after the resounding, and inevitable, “YES!” vote was announced to the world, al-Bashir responded by getting up and announcing that, now he was free of those accursed Southern heathens, there would be a fresh imposition of Sharia law in the North.

Under the terms of the 2005 Comprehensive  Peace Agreement (CPA), non-Muslims were theoretically exempt from Sharia. But now it looks like al-Bashir wants to bring it back.

Rhetoric, however, is often very different from reality.

When the South goes, Khartoum is expected to lose three quarters of its oil revenue. That’s a pretty hefty chunk, and it clearly needs to be replaced with something. And that something cannot possibly be a strict interpretation of Sharia law.

What the country needs is investment – masses and masses of investment. Without this investment, al-Bashir’s days will certainly be numbered. The regime may survive, but al-Bashir will not be forgiven for giving away the south and with it the economic prosperity that has made the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) such a durable regime.

In fact, I can’t right now see how Khartoum is going to manage to replace all its lost revenue, at least in the near-term. Already, it seems, certain Chinese oil companies are taking steps towards relocating down South.

I predicted at the start of this year that a vote for independence would spell the end for al-Bashir. At the time, I thought he could even be pushed out by the end of the year. Now I think it will a little take longer.

But he will still go and it is the vote for independence that will be the nail in his coffin: there are people within his party that will never forgive him cow-towing to the Americans and giving away the South, especially as Washington is still umming-and-arring about the possibility of lifting sanctions (which, to be fair, is a step that should have been taken a long time ago).

So when al-Bashir speaks of the re-instatement of hard-line Sharia law, he’s not talking to the people of the North or acting in anger against those Southerners that dared to vote for independence. He is, in fact, talking to those hard-liners in his party that are starting to think more-and-more that a post-Bashir Sudan might not actually be a bad idea.

It is, essentially, nothing more than a survival tactic.

Let’s stop talking about the oil: Abyei

January 13, 2011

Journalists have this really annoying habbit of repeating well-known information verbatim, for years and years on end, without questioning where such information came from. This creates a real problem, because quite often such well-established “facts” change over time, but fail to be reflected in the stories that journalists are writing.

This happened when journalists started reporting how many people had died in the Darfur conflict. A 2005 World Health Organisation (WHO)put the number of people who have died in the conflict at 200,000. Although the report stressed that this number included those that had died as a result of famine and disease caused by the war, as well as the fighting itself, a great many journalists failed to pick up on this and word got around that the Khartoum had massacred 200,000. Three years later, the same statistic was still being quoted in established papers, even though it was now badly out of date. The UN’s humanitarian bureau then decided to revise the 300,000 figure, based on an extrapolation of the original WHO research. It is now this figure that journalists are using, even though once again it has become out of date.

Referring to Darfur as the size of France is something else that journalists love to trot off, without thinking about where this comes from or whether it is true. A measurement of the region reveals, in fact, that Darfur is closer to the size of Spain.

Now, reading the coverage of the Sudan referendum so far, I am reminded of another point that journalists keep getting wrong. They keep referring to Abyei, a small strip of land in the centre of the country, as “oil-rich”. Even the Economist, a newspaper I usually have high regard for, has referred to the region in this way during its referendum coverage.

The statement is completely and utterly wrong, and dangerously so.

As with anything, one must take care to define the problem correctly before defining a solution, otherwise one ends up trying to fix the wrong thing. The problem is not oil – these days, Abyei produces very little. The problem is more to do with a fear of marginalisation that the respective tribes of the region have.

And I am not the only one that believes this – diplomats that have worked in the country, and know Sudan very well, will tell you the same thing.

Here is a comment piece that I wrote, which explains things in a little more detail.

It is absolutely crucial that a solution is found to the Abyei problem. The referendum in South Sudan has so far been run smoothly and efficiently, but, unless Abyei is fixed, peace can not be guaranteed.

It is the responsibility of journalists to tell people what the problem is, not what it once was.

George who?

January 10, 2011

Sometimes, paragraphs in newspapers just leap out of you and stick in your mind.

Here’s one from an article in the New York times, which isn’t doing a terribly bad job of covreing the referendum:

“Who is that man talking?” a Sudanese journalist asked, gesturing to a white man with a group of reporters around him. When told it was George Clooney, a movie star, the Sudanese journalist looked confused and walked away.

That says it all, really.

(For anyone that wants a somewhat longer explanation of what I’m getting at, check out this blog post from The Telegraph. Who does this Hollywood star think he is?)

Balkanising Sudan

January 8, 2011

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.