On the ninth of July, the former Republic of Sudan split to form Sudan and the new Republic of South Sudan. It is inevitable that some people will disregard this ‘unimportant nation’ as no news of any concern at all but I think that is pitifully naïve, and here is why. First, before it split, it was the largest country in Africa, with a potentially huge emerging market for businesses and entrepreneurs who were willing to go into the warzone. Secondly, since the current president of Sudan (the old president of the two combined countries) is wanted for crimes against humanity and genocide against the South Sudanese.
This split is, if nothing else, a triumph of diplomacy to avoid such mass scale killings. Thirdly, the combined international importance of the oil wealth in South Sudan alongside being blacklisted by USA as a sponsor of terrorism means there is a potent arrangement we need to understand, if we care about either of those issues.
Now, this is by no means a success. Needless to say, South Sudan is riddled with ongoing problems. Apart from the curses of horrific health, education, and lack of general standards of living that benight most African countries, this split introduces fresh difficulties. But even these crises will be eased by the simple creation of the new country.
This can be seen when comparisons are made between the relative health and education standards between the north and south before the split. The infant mortality rate, percentage of children finishing primary school, disposable income per household, among many other indices were significantly better in the north because the previous government was stationed there, and as is natural in such developing countries, it concentrated the wealth gained by the oil in its stronghold. Now that South Sudan’s government is devolved to its own people, it can distribute its own wealth.
Or that is the theory. In fact, although most of the oil reserves are contained within its territory, the only working pipelines are through Sudan. Hence, one of the first issues to decide is how to share the profits. This author suggests a 50-50 sharing, as it was before the split, for a few years while a prospective new pipeline is created through Uganda. This should be done as quickly as possible so that the southern state is not economically dependant on one country. Another inheritance that should be shared is the debt the previous state accumulated. Although it may be tiresome to calculate fully, the debt should be transferred according where the investment has gone. That seems the only fair solution, so everyone is responsible for their own repayment. This is the easiest way we will get our money back as well.
Sudan should not be forgotten in all these considerations. Sudan did not celebrate. It stands to lose its main source of wealth – oil – as well as facing mass emigration of people returning to their homes in the south, for those who want it. What remains of Sudan is predominantly desert (as opposed to South, which contains fertile soil ready to be cultivated and exploited), and it is still one of the poorest places on Earth.
There is one further setback which seems to reflect the hasty decision of this whole affair – it has to deal with rebels in several of its regions in its southern provinces, namely Abyei and South Kordofan. Abyei was not given the chance of a referendum to choose whether it will join the new country, and this has precipitated further clashes.
Under the agreement of independence in January, it was concluded that the rebels, who are essentially from South Sudan, will be assimilated into the regional army, or disarmed. This has the potential for further escalation, especially since there is already a border dispute as to whether Abyei belongs to the north or the south. It is right now annexed by the north, and this seems a temporary amelioration of two evils. Otherwise, we are faced with an all out war. As the Sudanese journalist Mahjoub Mohamed Salih reports: it has all the markings of a genuine conflict between two countries. If Abyei remains with the north, and its troops withdraw within a few years, this seems the best solution, enforced by the 4200 peacekeepers soon to join the area.
The road ahead for South Sudan is perilous, at best. Even the reason for its independence creates potential conflicts, as – unlike the Arab Muslim north – South Sudan is a mixture of over 200 ethnic groups with their own languages. Moreover, the largest ethnic group amounts to over 40% of the population, while another four remaining large ethnic groups are another split fairly equally.
There is already talking of the interim government excluding delegates from certain groups. It is imperative that when the constitution is created, along with elections and parliamentary institutions, proper power devolution is given to these groups – as that would place power with the individual. There should also be a pact to teach English to everyone, alongside their local language. However, despite all these looming problems, we have to celebrate the introduction of another country to our overpopulated, chaotic world, and the South Sudanese must try to make their place in it. We should learn our lessons from past mistakes in Somalia and not so easily give up on the South Sudanese.