Weekend Question: What to do about the violence in South Sudan?

As many of you may know, the recently-minted country of South Sudan has descended into civil war. I’m going to show you how this violence was actually predictable, but first I want to point out a couple of things.

  1. Why did South Sudan get international recognition and not Somaliland, which has been a functioning democracy for about twenty years now? I’ve got two theories: One of them has to do with Islam. The peoples in what is now South Sudan are Christians and animists and the Arabs they were fighting in Khartoum were Muslims. Theory 2 has to do with Western pseudo-guilt associated with its past, state-sponsored racism. The peoples of South Sudan are black and the people running Khartoum are not.  Neither of these theories makes sense, mind you, but I think this actually bolsters my thoughts on ‘why?‘.
  2. Where did the violence between South Sudan and Sudan go? These guys were duking it out over an oil-rich region just a few months ago and now I can’t find much about the conflict. I’ll bet Khartoum’s disappearance has to do with both Western threats and the realization that it could accomplish more behind the scenes, so to speak, by playing its former enemies (various black ethnic groups) off on each other.
  3. The violence between former allies in war against Khartoum is also worth musing about, if only for a moment. A bunch of different ethnic groups were former allies in the war against Arab Khartoum and now they are at each other’s throats. I don’t think ideology, specifically ethno-nationalism, is an issue here…yet. It won’t be for a long time. Ethno-nationalism seems to be something that shows up within a society after years and years of botched efforts by elites to mold a nation out of a post-colonial state.

Ok, back to the issue at hand. I’ve blogged a little bit about secession before, and one thing I like to remind readers of is that there is an underlying concept that is much more important than case studies. For instance, you can probably get a much better understanding of what is going on in South Sudan by reading this old piece by yours truly:

In fact, the West could help to turn this disaster into something quite worthwhile: Build an international consensus and recognize the independence of the fiefdoms.  If the West does this now, there is a good chance that local players will be more agreeable in their claims on territory.  To secure independence from a Leviathan like Libya would guarantee a period of time for the local fiefdoms to regroup and rebuild what Ghaddafi had destroyed.

A parallel can be drawn to the velvet divorce of the Czech Republic and Slovakia just after the collapse of the USSR.  What made the divorce “velvet” was international cooperation.  When the international community doesn’t play the game smart, however, divorces look more like Algeria, Indonesia, the Congo basin, the Balkans, and, of course, Somalia.

If the West is to “do something”, and I think it should in most cases, then pursuing diplomatic relations that focus on decentralized governance and international trade are a good way to start.

Can you see how this works? Just replace ‘Libya’ with ‘South Sudan’ and ‘Ghaddafi’ with ‘Khartoum’ and you have the right parameters in place for what needs to be done in regards to making secession in failed states work (I blogged a little bit more about these parameters in South Sudan here as well).

Here is the relevant map for our weekend question:

This is a map of South Sudan’s ethnic groups. It looks like Switzerland, to be honest, but unlike Switzerland South Sudan does not have the same institutional structures in place. Nor does this new country have the full support of the international community. There are plenty of condescending Leftists “monitoring” the country inside and out, but that’s about it.

If the West wants to play a role in helping to avert a violent downward spiral, then it would do well to quickly recognize the futility of South Sudan’s existence and start acknowledging the legitimacy of the fiefdoms. You know where the ‘comments’ section is!