Amid war and poverty a new country is born

South Sudan declared independence from the North this weekend after years of war. Does independence hold the answer to the region's many problems?

This Saturday night one party was bigger than most: South Sudan's population of 8 million celebrated its independence. The headlines trumpet 'the birth of a nation', Mother Africa's 54th, but all the analysts agree: if this was a birth, it was a difficult pregnancy, and the baby faces an uncertain future.

South Sudan was conceived through war. After Sudan gained independence from Anglo-Egyptian rule in 1956, a bitter struggle for power between north and south broke out, and lasted on and off for 49 years.

The fighting cost 2.5 million lives. Finally, a 2005 peace agreement granted South Sudan autonomy and a referendum on independence this year, which produced a 99% vote for secession.

Independence leaves South Sudan with many problems. Long neglected by northern rulers in the old capital, Khartoum, the south is desperately poor. One in seven children die before they are five and half the population is fed by aid agencies.

Arab northern Sudan and the more racially mixed south were both conquered by Egypt then ruled by the British, but have little else in common. Differences between the Muslim north and the Christian and animist south were emphasised by the fact that Britain governed the two regions separately.

Travel between the two was banned. Some argue that this isolation laid the seeds of future conflict.

Worse: South Sudan is oil rich, but its oil fields are on the border with the North, and the only pipeline runs to the north, making oil disputes a strong possibility. The border has not yet been finally agreed, and fighting which continues over border areas would now be not a civil but an international war.

Straight lines, jagged politics

Many argue that other African nations have similarly arbitrary existences. Their borders are long, straight lines drawn on the maps by colonial rulers, carving up peoples and villages, creating states full of conflict since they ignore ethnicity and religion. Other African countries such as the war-ridden, impractically large Democratic Republic of the Congo would do well to follow Sudan's example and split into two.

Others warn that secession is not a magic cure. First, South Sudan may prove too underdeveloped to become a viable independent state. Second, when a state is created, positions harden and conflicts can entrench.

You Decide

  1. If you were to create a new state, what things do you think it would need?
  2. Should we be creating more borders, or should we be aiming to live in a world without borders?

Activities

  1. Create a table. On one side give all the reasons why London should become a separate nation from the rest of the UK; on the other, why it shouldn't.
  2. Research another African country, find out why it is the shape it is, and whether there is an argument that it shouldn't be the shape it is. Present your findings to the rest of the class.

Some People Say...

β€œAll Africa's problems are the fault of the colonial powers.”

What do you think?

Word Watch

Arbitrary
When something is done based on a personal or random choice without reason or system.
Colonial
Colonial times were a period from the 15th to 20th centuries where mostly European countries claimed power over other countries, often through the use of force. Most of Africa was at some point ruled by one of seven European countries, including Britain.
Animist
Animism is a belief system where non-human entities such as animals, plants and forms of weather are spiritual beings and may be prayed to, or it may be believed that their behaviours hold meaning for humans.
Secession
Withdrawing formally from a union. South Sudan withdrew from its 'union' with North Sudan.
Democratic Republic of Congo
The second largest country in Africa, with a population of 71 million, it has been at war for much of its history.

Subjects

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