South Sudan: A Tragedy in the Making

By Bill the Butcher

As many of us who keep up with world news (and that means news from some of the less familiar parts of the world as well) are aware, the people of Southern Sudan (the red bit in the map) have just held a referendum on whether to secede from Sudan.

This referendum [1] was the result of a 2005 agreement that brought an end to civil war in one of the world’s largest nations, and for the past several years the country has had two governments, existing side by side. Apparently having their own government wasn’t enough for the people of South Sudan, though, so they decided to break away.

The reasons aren’t that difficult to seek. While the northern part of Sudan is largely Muslim and “Arab” (the quotes because they are of mixed Arab and black African blood, but identify themselves more with the Arabs who ruled over the region for centuries) the South is mostly “African” (likewise with some admixture of blood, but far more tribalistic) and animist, or, very significantly, Christian. And during the civil war the South suffered much at the hands of the government, and from internecine fighting as well. The South Sudanese (who are at the moment seeking a name for their country [2]) probably don’t want to risk that happening again. And who could really blame them?

But there’s a saying: be careful of what you ask for, because you might get it.

Meanwhile, a certain Empire has been at the forefront of imposing punitive sanctions on Sudan –sanctions whose apparent purpose is simply to try and teach the Sudanese a lesson and make them suffer, because going by most accounts they haven’t made the Sudanese regime change its allegedly criminal behaviour in any way. However, seceding in order to escape those sanctions makes excellent sense…and if the purpose of the sanctions is to provoke secession, then they are certainly explicable.

Therefore, according to the prognostications, some 99% of the people of South Sudan (the only ones to have been eligible to vote in the referendum) chose independence [3]. I’m not sure if these figures were padded or manipulated – the chances they were is frankly quite high – but I’m willing to believe that the overwhelming majority of the people of South Sudan did, indeed, choose independence.

This isn’t quite non-music to the ears of certain people in centres of power elsewhere. It’s not perhaps all coincidental that South Sudan has extensive oil and natural gas deposits, especially in areas which will be a bone of contention between a new southern state and the northern rump of the country. In fact, the peoples of these regions are already fighting each other. [4]

These deposits, quite certainly, will be up for grabs. And, if they are, guess who’s going to get the first rights to these deposits?

If I have an orchard, which I share most reluctantly with someone else, and a third party comes in and ensures I have this orchard to myself, guess who I’d prefer to give my fruit to?

And when you remember that the Empire and the majority of the people of South Sudan share, broadly speaking, the same religion, the pieces fall even more clearly into place. Religion, after all, is a ready made excuse for intervention/aggression, when one is looking for an excuse.

These, then, are the three legs on which the independent state of South Sudan, whatever it chooses to be called, will rest on: Christianity, oil, and enmity towards the North. Even though the North has (not doing itself any favours; it won’t buy the Empire’s goodwill, going by recent history) gone out of its way to be conciliatory, even volunteering to take on the debt of the South, it’s not going to stop southern resentment when things go sour…as they inevitably will.

Why should things go sour, though? Isn’t the liberation of a nation a moment of deep joy? Why shouldn’t the South Sudanese enjoy prosperity and peace? They’ve earned it, haven’t they?

I can think of several reasons, but they come down to the oil. The possession of oil, in my considered opinion, is a curse for virtually any nation. Certainly for the South Sudanese, it will prove to be a poisoned chalice.

Now, South Sudan isn’t the most developed nation in the world. In fact, the overwhelming majority of its people are illiterate and desperately poor [1], and it will require tremendous amounts of assistance in order to achieve a reasonable standard of living. However, if the past is any indication, the Southern Sudanese will almost certainly remain exactly where they are, if they’re lucky; or else, if they are not, their situation will swiftly become far worse.

Why is this likely to happen?

Well, when you give foreign oil companies the right to extract your oil and gas, they are there, of course, to make a profit. And the essence of making a profit is, going by history, to cut every corner, ignore every regulation, pay every bribe one can manage. And of course the idea is to have a reliable government in power, one that can be depended on not to change the rules suddenly, to enforce regulations and so on.

What kind of government perfectly fits this profile? You really need to be reminded of the long history of venal dictators the Empire has sponsored worldwide?

So, this is what the independent state of South Sudan will look like in a short time: a military or military-supported civilian dictatorship, lording it over a desperately poor populace. There will certainly be strife, much of it artificially created, with the North in order to keep the people in line. There will be major crackdowns on dissidents, the jails will be full, and the rulers’ Swiss bank accounts will get fatter and fatter.

Any attempt by progressive forces to reverse the slide will be opposed on these two grounds: that they are North Sudanese agents, and they are anti-Christians. And, because you can’t keep the lid on forever, you can be sure that over time the South will sink into its very own civil war.

Any South Sudanese who happens to read this is welcome to contradict me; but wait five years and see if I’m not right.

Sources:

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/09/world/africa/09sudan.html

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/24/world/africa/24sudan.html?_r=1&ref=world

[3] http://www.afriquejet.com/news/africa-news/sudan:-almost-99-pc-of-southerners-in-sudan-voted-for-separation-2011012468551.html

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/16/world/africa/16sudan.html?_r=1