Well, the planet now has another nation. As of a few days ago, the Republic of South Sudan has declared independence from the rest of the nation.

This is, of course, a move that has been a long time in coming. The civil conflict that was ultimately at the root of the split has been going on so long that I wrote my IB Extended Essay about it way back in 2002 (approximately forever, in Internet years), at which time it was already old news. For decades the South has been simultaneously ravaged by civil war and held hostage by a long string of tin-pot despots in Khartoum.

But now the fate of South Sudan is largely in their own hands. And as long as they can keep dictators out of Juba, then the future looks bright for them. There are some promising signs, it seems, that president Salva Kiir Mayardit will be a strong leader who reinforces justice and works for liberty and an end to tyranny. But the SPLA/SPLM organizations from which he come carry with them their own track records of abuse. Add to that long-standing grudges left over from a conflict almost as old as he is, and it’s far from certain that he’ll be anything other than a despot in Democratic trappings. (Even if he is a strong, honest leader, he’s far from the kind of open-minded, liberally Democratic one that people always seem to hope for in these situations. Cf. his disturbing comments about homosexuality1, “Western decadence”, etc. and his long history in an exceedingly violent paramilitary organization that, like most such organizations, made little if any distinction between combatants and civilians.)

And then, there’s the continuing violence from militant groups and the good evidence that at least some (LRA, in particular) are getting support from Omar Bashir’s government in Sudan, and a peaceful, prosperous future is far from certain for the new country.

Still, there’s reason to hope. The interests of Southern Sudan have always been pretty separate from those of the rest of the country. The differences in economics, religion, and demography in particular mean that South Sudan’s break from the North gives them a better chance to fulfill the promise enshrined in their national motto:

“Justice, Liberty, Prosperity”

The best of luck to them on all three fronts.

On last note to close on. In his excellent 1999 book on the country, Donald Petterson, former US Ambassador to Sudan, and a man instrumental in laying the groundwork for independence2 relayed the following story:

“…during a meeting at a village called Ulang … [now Vice President] Riek Machar and his colleagues with whom we spoke were categorical in stating that his faction would not budge from its insistence on total separation of the South from the North. … As I sat talking with Riek in Ulang, just thirty yards away from us about 100 terribly emaciated women, children, and old men were huddled.. A group brought a man’s body a few feet closer to us and laid it on the ground. As my party and I were walking back to our airplane, I said to Riek’s well-fed and well-clothed lieutenants that surely ending the factional fighting and thereby relieving the suffering of people like those we had seen was more important than continuing to fight over political or ideological differences. Not so, they replied; adhering to principles outweighed any other considerations.”

– Petterson, Donald. Inside Sudan. pg. 53. 1999, Westview Press

These are the same people who now form the core of the South Sudanese government. I hope that the interests of the South Sudanese people never again conflicts with such so-called “principles”. Because if they do, it won’t be principles that the government sacrifices.


1

“[Homosexuality] It is not in our character. It is not even something that anybody can talk about here in southern Sudan in particular. It is not there and if anybody wants to import or to export it to Sudan, I will not get the support and it will always be condemned by everybody.”

– Salva Kiir Mayardit, Interview with Radio Holland, 2010.7.30 Link

2

“Khartoum had stated repeatedly, I said, that everything except self-determination was negotiable. I therefore questioned the SPLA’s practice of stating publicly on the verge of going into peace talks that their objective was self-determination. Instead the SPLA ought to focus on the substance of its agenda: an interim arrangement for southern Sudan during a cooling-off period, followed by a referendum in which southerners would determine their own future. This would be the same thing as self-determination, but the use of the controversial term would be avoided.”

– Petterson, Donald. Inside Sudan. pg. 113. 1999, Westview Press.

This is, essentially, the path that Southern Sudan ended up taking to independence. The referendum that Petterson suggested ended up happening in January of this year, and led directly Southern Sudan’s recent independence.


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