A wave of euphoria swept through the continent as South Sudan finally attained its independence from Sudan after decades of civil war. For a continent desperate for any kind of “good news” the negotiated conflict after years of armed conflict was interpreted as yet more evidence of maturity and a sign that we are indeed turning the corner. Everyone seems to have interpreted the breaking up of Sudan into two independent states, as a positive thing, with the predominantly Christian South finally attaining its independence from the mainly Muslim north, but is the independence of South Sudan something that we should be celebrating?
What are we really celebrating? Post-colonial African history is filled with the birthing of many states and the many state failures that have followed thereafter. The reality for the South Sudanese people is that it will take decades to build a properly functioning country. The conditions that the average South Sudanese live in are quite honestly appalling and it is not like independence will improve their plight in any material way. Most people in South Sudan live on less than one dollar a day and seventy five percent of the adults in that country cannot even read. More than ten percent of the children do not even reach the age of five and there is barely any infrastructure to speak of.
Given that South Sudan is oil-rich we have seen typically high levels of interest from the west with promises of funding and assistance for Africa’s newest state, but of course we all know that the aim of the western countries is not necessarily to help the South Sudanese but rather to exploit the oil-rich country in order to satisfy their high energy and fuel requirements. There doesn’t seem to be much to celebrate when you look at the reality that the South Sudanese people are faced with post-independence.
We haven’t even looked at the plight of the people in South Kodorfan, where a massive humanitarian crisis has broken out whilst the world celebrates the independence of South Sudan. What of the people of Darfur and the disputed region of Abyei? Do they have any reason to celebrate?
In a continent that is marked by many conflicts driven by secessionist movements, what kind of example are we setting by celebrating the breaking up of Sudan? If the continent can support the South Sudanese in their break-away from Sudan, then what are we going to do about Western Sahara in Morocco, Somaliland in Somalia, Biafra in Nigeria, Oranje in South Africa etc? Are we not setting a dangerous precedent?
I understand the importance of supporting a people in their quest for self-determination, but at what cost has that support come? Are we really in a place to ensure that South Sudan does not just become another failed African state which begins with much celebration and great hope and ends up being a ‘beautiful letdown” to quote the Switchfoot song, for its peoples? With all of this in mind, whilst everyone was celebrating South Sudan’s independence last Saturday I found myself unable to join in the party atmosphere, but instead asking the question: what are we actually celebrating? Is there really any reason to celebrate?