Sunday, 10 July 2011

A future war in Sudan is now inevitable

This week witnessed the birth of the world's newest state; the Republic of South Sudan. The jubilant scenes and triumphalism depicted by the world's media would have us believe that this is a victory for self-determination, and the first step towards peaceful prosperity in this enormous corner of Africa. However, history is littered with examples which show us that the future for South Sudan will be anything but prosperous and certainly not peaceful.

Despite the hope, the only seeds being sown in Africa are seeds of civil war, murder and famine. The examples of Rwanda, Burundi and others have been completely ignored and the lessons of building in the 'West's' own image remain unheeded.

Hope and Naivety

Ever since the treaty of Westphalia in 1648 the world has been organised by way of ring-fencing geographical areas of land and the people that live within it; and calling that tranche a country or 'state'. The Westphalian system is one which has produced very mixed results. In some cases, like that of Britain and the United States, the Westphalian structure has led to stability and therefore prosperity. In these and similar cases this has been because of sheer luck, rather than design, the 'state' has been insulated by geology, ecology and meteorology against the socio-economic effects of  natural disaster, famine and severe extremes of weather. In these states, survival is almost naturally assured and both national and individual advancement (and enlightenment) is therefore both possible in and enabled by statism.

Nationalism meets Tribalism
However, in others states the notion of statehood itself has led to division and instability. Whilst the state system has meant that we in the West have been kept secure enough to prosper and advance, statism based on geography, religion and perceived ethnicity has also been the very reason why some states 'fail'. An essentially European invention, Westphalianism forces tribal cultures outside of the West to live in false allegiance to a nation with which they recognise no histiographical foundations. It forces ancient moral codes to 'modernise' to Western ideals in less than a generation and ancient hierarchies to contort into western notions of 'civil' society and order.

Against this backdrop, South Sudan has been born, it's legal basis provided by Wilsonian and Kantian ideals of 'self-determination' and legitimated by those states which have emerged as the most successful in the international community, the United Nations security council. However, with the establishment of a state in the south, so too is the north of Sudan significantly altered. Recent history provides us with many north/south divisions in this manner, namely Vietnam, Korea and now Sudan. In each case, those successful heirs of Westphalia have backed the south over the north (curious quirk of fate?) and, in each case this division has led to deep and protracted conflict which has cost millions in what Kant's Perpetual Peace described as 'blood and treasure'.

In South Sudan, the flash-points are already there. In a Foucaultian sense, South Sudan is an essentially tribal society maladjusted to nationalism and reinforced by a commercial system founded in bribery, violence and coercion. Geographically, the border is undefined and has no set internationally recognised for delineation, huge resources of crude oil lay only just inside the south with no port from which to export it, except through a shaky agreement with the north. In addition there are, as ever in Africa, internal divisions within the new state and southern South Sudanese separatists have already begun attacks from within even before the celebration hangovers have cleared. Therefore, whilst we celebrate the birth of a nation, it is difficult not to predict its terminal illness.

One day in the future, those of us in positions of power in the West will realise Ken Booth's assertions that 'emancipation, not power or order, produces true security'. We can only hope that this realisation doesn't come too late for South Sudan.

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  1. Thank you for an interesting and informative post. Although almost totally ignorant of the concepts that you mentioned, there seems to me a difference between Westphalian states that 'succeed' and those which don't - namely that the latter category include people who aren't easily ring-fenced, because, for example, they're organised by tribal group, and the intangible border doesn't encompass complete tribal areas. I should imagine that to such people which state they're in at any time is almost irrelevant.

  2. You've hit it right on the head Nickname. People take the concept of 'states' and 'countries' for granted in the West without realising that they are actually a construction, not a natural position. This construction applies quite well for those of us that created, but seems to be the source of conflict and disaster in other parts of the world. Thank you for the positive comments!