After over fifty years of fighting, or civil war, even preceding the attainment of independence by the Sudan, and after about two million recorded deaths, South Sudan obtained its independence from the larger state relatively peacefully last Saturday. And relatively peacefully indeed, since President Omar al Bashir had continued to bombard still contested border areas between the two entities. The independence of the South marks yet another stage in the conclusion of external domination and interference in the area, since the dissolution of what was known as the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan in 1956. And it marks a separation of peoples of differing religious and cultural orientations that have obviously made it difficult for the inherited state of Sudan to endure as a single entity. In the course of those years, Sudan had moved from the status of the kind of parliamentary system inherited from the British, to a virtually theocratic, Muslim state led in recent years, as a military-dominated autocratic system, by Bashir.
As has been the case elsewhere on the continent, the economic inheritance of the new state of approximately eight million people is relatively minimal. It is an exporter of timber to the rest of the world, and possesses a variety of other minerals not as developed as its oil resources which the government of Sudan has exploited, in conjunction in more recent times with the Chinese National Oil Corporation; China, in those circumstances playing a moderating role in the final period towards South Sudan’s independence, cognizant of the fact that the bulk of the oil resources, shared by the Bashir Government on a 50-50 basis between North and South, exist in the South. The North’s 50% is a form of rent by the Sudan government for the pipeline that takes the oil from the South to Port Sudan and for use of the port itself, South Sudan being a completely land-locked entity. But China’s recent diplomatic intervention is, however, in striking contrast to its rather laid-back role in the issue of Sudan’s treatment of Darfur, in respect of the treatment of whose residents President Bashir was indicted in 2009 for war crimes and crimes against humanity. China has insisted, as it has done in respect of other international and civil disputes, that it adheres to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of states; a stance which has made it somewhat unpopular with oppositions in some other autocratic African states, in which the People’s Republic has commenced various forms of investment.
The social inheritance of the new state is also meagre. Infant mortality is said to be 112 per 1000, maternal mortality to be just over 2000 per 112,000 live births, and per capita income just over US$1000 per day (Guyana’s being approximately $2,500). So the new President, Salva Kiir, finds himself in charge of a state among the lower ranks of the development pole, with a population of just over 8 million which is itself culturally, ethnically and in terms of religion bifurcated, with limited infrastructural development, and with a determination of the revenue available to it still in dispute between itself and President Bashir’s Sudan. In that respect, of course, it is not all that different from many other states of the continent. But what is now left to be seen is whether the Northern Sudan (it retains the name Sudan) leadership will be content to come to a quick resolution of outstanding issues, or whether the President will use a continued delay in settling them as a means of political diversion from his own state’s internal difficulties, including the yet unresolved issue of Darfur.
A difference in that regard, probably beneficial to South Sudan will be that some of the unresolved issues will now take the form of inter-state difficulties or disputes, subject to the concern of the international community at various levels. In addition to becoming the 193rd member of the United Nations (the Security Council will be considering its membership this week), it will become a subject, rather than an object as it has been up to now, of that institution as well as of the African Union and, if it feels it necessary, of the Arab League. It would probably be in its interest to adhere to the Arab League, given the outstanding issues, with probably a sympathetic ear from a state like Egypt.
As previously suggested, in spite of its oil resources for investment in which it will presumably now have much more flexibility than hitherto, South Sudan will also be joining the ranks of states heavily dependent on the international community for assistance for infrastructural development and social and humanitarian assistance. For in the latter terms, it resembles not so much the British and French colonies on the brink of independence, but rather the heavily neglected ex-Belgian Congo in 1960. It is to be hoped that the leadership of the new state, unpractised as it has relatively been (its major preoccupation up to now has been the prosecution of war) will be allowed by President Bashir to go about the business of development, rather than force it to feel it necessary to divert its meagre resources to defence and war arrangements.