- May 2nd, 2017
In retrospect, creating a single Sudanese nation in 1956 was probably a mistake, and the ramifications are continuing.
Sudan is a frontier where the Arab World met the Sub-Saharan African South; this meant that the main industry for centuries involved slavery with the unending flow of Africans into captivity. Enter the Victorian British, combining anti-slavery with the Great-Power race to occupy Africa, and the Imperial era. Sudan, for the first time in centuries, was stable.
Come independence and the British/Egyptian retreat from their shared administration after less than 60 years. The Arab/Islamic North might have – mostly – given up on slavery, but the attitude that Southern Sudanese were racial inferiors in every sense had survived. The civil war was underway even before official independence.
Cue the usual: Outside parties sent in arms; the Russians angled for anyone who wanted to dabble in Marxism in exchange for power; the Salafist Arab world looked for their agents; Arab clans and Southern tribes competed with each other for influence; and various strongmen attempted coups… the usual. In the meantime, 500,000 people were killed and a greater number were displaced.
In 1973, the Addis Abada Agreement brought a respite. The South was promised a degree of autonomy and more of a share in the government. The uneasy peace lasted for 10 years.
In 1983, President Nimeiry announced his new governance model – the whole country would be governed according to Sharia law as an Islamic state. Cue the usual once more, this time for 22 years. The Second Sudanese Civil War would claim anywhere between 1 to 2 million lives (usually through starvation) and would displace at least 4 million people – often repeatedly
In 2005, the optimistically named ‘Comprehensive Peace Agreement’ was inked and South Sudan embarked on the process of becoming a new nation in 2011. It took about two years before a new civil war got underway in 2013.
If the two Sudanese civil wars were sordidly complex, the South Sudanese one is much more so. Tribal and political rivalries (especially between the Nuer and the Dinka), gunmen who have known nothing else, ethnic cleansing, well-meaning but meaningless UN interventions and diplomacy, and – probably – Sudan itself sticking their oar in when they can.
Standards of warfare learned in 1956-1973 and 1982-2006, are the new ‘normal’ – robbery, rape, and massacre, along with ‘confiscation’ by armies and paramilitaries to feed themselves. This new war has already displaced a couple of million people, and may have killed as many as 300,000 people so far.
Where one of the four horsemen is galloping about reaping his due, the other three can be expected to turn up soon enough… and they have. Drought has kicked in, and South Sudan has barely any infrastructure to speak of, refugees can’t farm, and what passes for government is setting new standards for incompetence and ineptitude.
But the despair of yet another set of famine-victims have been popping up on our news-feeds, and the NGOs are itching to get in and do good. They’ve been in the Sudan before — many, many times — and cannot redress the real causes of the Famine.
In the long run, however, we have three broad choices, all of them unpalatable: Do nothing and let nature and time take its brutal course; go in and start nation-building (with lousy logistics and few traditions to build-on); or muddle along and hope for the best. At least, the third path seems easiest.
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