The potential balkanisation of Sudan and the role of meddlers

In this article, I want to address two issues: The potential balkanisation of the Sudan and the proposed Ethiopian Peacekeeping role in Abyei.

I think there is a clear consensus that defining and demarcating the border between North and South Sudan is one of the necessary preconditions for peace. However, Sudan’s troubles are numerous and peace remains elusive. The proposal of an Ethiopian peacekeeping role in Abyei is a band-aid that would not help peace and may even make things worse by intensifying regional rivalry. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), as the government is known in Ethiopia, is not impartial and can never be a neutral arbiter in Sudan. So how did Sudan reach the predicament it is in?


Sudan was colonised by Britain, with Egypt as a junior partner (1899-1956), as one entity with separate local administrations. In some areas the British established clear boundaries between communities while in others pastoralists roamed from one area to another according to grazing needs and seasonal changes. Prior to British colonialism, within Sudan as in many parts of Africa, the functional equivalent of borders consisted of frontiers among ethnic groups. A frontier, as opposed to a boundary line, is a zone of less contact; a boundary marks a clear line over which a state exercises sovereign power. The character of the modern state necessitates the establishment of such clear-cut limits of its area of authority and organisation.

Contemporary South Sudan is often superficially compared with Eritrea, which separated from Ethiopia in 1993. The historical trajectory of Eritrea and South Sudan differ in one important way. Whereas, Eritrea was an Italian colony with a separate evolution from Ethiopia, Britain colonised South Sudan as one entity historically contiguous with North Sudan. So, the comparison that narrowly focuses on just the breakup of two modern African states is simplistic as it fails to take into account how colonialism redefined Africa. Yet, even in those countries where the African state system and territorial composition in the 19th and early 20th centuries were quite arbitrarily defined during colonisation and transferred after decolonisation, we are today witnessing an unprecedented crisis of state structures and authority, contributing to the continuation of conflicts and wars. Indeed, these inherited borders, consisting of diverse ethnicities, are at the root of the crisis of the post-colonial African state, as is the case in North and South Sudan.

‘Balkanisation’ is a term used to refer to ethnic conflict and fragmentation within multiethnic states.[1] This term was coined at the end of the First World War to describe the ethnic breakup of the Ottoman Empire, specifically in the Balkans. The partition for which Southerners in a referendum did vote overwhelmingly is to be formalised on 9 July 2011 between North and South Sudan, making South Sudan the world’s 193rd nation – and giving the world the illusion of finality. Yet the impending balkanisation between North and South Sudan is already marred by violence in Abyei, whose fate was not addressed by the referendum. At present both sides are making irredentist territorial claims backed by violence. There are ethnic enclaves in the frontier areas of Abyei whose national affiliations are ill-defined and/or overlap with territory claimed by both sides. An urgent resolution of this border issue is of paramount significance before it deteriorates from an already acute to chronic instability between the two neighboring states.

Already, North Sudan contains seemingly intractable ethnic divisions and potential flashpoints of cleavage like in Darfur, Blue Nile province, and South Kordofan; additionally, the South has several ethnic militia groups who refuse to surrender their arms to the central authority. South Kordofan is north of what will soon be the international border where many pro-south ethnic Christian Nubans reside: They are now being targeted by the Omar Al Bashir regime in Khartoum because they fought along with the South against the North during the civil war. Since South Kordofan is where one fourth of the remaining oil wealth is located, the area is fiercely contested and another site of struggle for self-determination. It took Hollywood focus on Darfur to make it visible, but South Kordofan is barely beginning to make it onto the radar of the Western media. South Kordofan is now the latest victim of the mayhem perpetrated by Khartoum.

In the South, the ethnic conflict between the Lou Nuer and the Shilluk, on the one hand, and the Dinka on the other hand, is a major impediment to peace. The Lou Nuer and the Shilluk see the southern government as pro Dinka. Nuer, Shilluk, and Dinka are overly broad categories; each consists of clusters of ethnicities. Part of the animosity among ethnic groups reflects the divide and rule strategy of the North in pitting ethnicities against one another during the long civil war. But there is also a much longer history of interethnic conflict over cattle or land in localised settings. In the post-independence era, competition between ethnic groups for the best place in the sun promoted injustice and violence. In the Sudanese equation, the Southerners have long stood out as conspicuous losers. It is not surprising that they voted so overwhelmingly (98.9 per cent) for an independent South Sudan. Yet the southerners themselves are far from being cohesive, and the North is obviously fractured and in danger of further disintegration.

Abyei lies along a migration route, where the Missiriya graze their animals. The Missiriya are nomadic but are considered northerners. Traditionally they negotiated grazing rights with the southern Ngok Dinka communities who live primarily in Abyei. This competition for land and grazing rights will linger regardless of where the boundaries are drawn. Unlike African borders, European borders were resolved over hundreds of years through wars and treaties. Borders continue to be adjusted; new states continue to appear even in Europe. There is nothing timeless about borders, especially those imposed on Africans by the overarching power of Europeans in 1884 in Berlin, during what is commonly referred to as ‘the Scramble for Africa.’ The Europeans drew nation-state lines without any regard for language groups or ethnic communities. These relatively recent colonial boundaries are at the root of the numerous border disputes in Africa.

The predecessor of the African Union (AU), the Organization of African Unity (OAU), adopted colonial boundaries as sacrosanct in order to discourage balkanisation resulting from secessionist movements. Perhaps a re-conceptualisation that scrutinises the failed assumption that nationalism supersedes ethnic loyalties within a significant part of African states is long overdue. Is the nation-state system a viable organising principle in the African context? If not, what is the alternative? Can ‘federalism’ help to keep secessionist tendencies at bay? If so, what federal formula may work for African states plagued by ethnic insurgencies? Sectarian division within states is unravelling many countries in Africa. Fundamental questions must be asked in light of the real possibilities of balkanisation of Libya, Ivory Coast, the Congo, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Nigeria, etc., as well as of Sudan. Somalia in particular is one of the worst examples of a fragmented region ruled by competing warlords.


The German political philosopher, Max Weber, famously defined the state as ‘a human community that claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.’ North Sudan – along with the emerging South Sudan and a few other states in Africa, where intra-state wars are waged to legitimate the sectarian claims to statehood made by one side or another across different centers of power organised by warring ethnicities – would not qualify as states in Weber’s definition. Molded out of peripheral provinces of the Ottoman Empire, Sudan never really had a strong national identity or anything that might pass for it. In Sudan as in many African states, we have clusters of peoples with separate ethnic, communal, and religious identities. The human and social cement that creates and sustains identity still lies in the family, the tribe, the sect, or religious confession, not in statehood or nationhood. Allegiance to those of one's own kind is what counts. Village elders have thus always had special status in traditional African communities.

South Sudan, one of the poorest countries in the world, is set to become an independent state in a few weeks after over half a century of violence, displacement and war. The North South war began in 1955, stopped in 1972, only to flare up again in 1983. The civil war and famine claimed about two million lives and displaced over four million people. But South Sudan’s problem is not over yet, and the challenge of building a viable state out of the ruins of war is fraught with many difficulties. The problem of South Sudan is not limited to the violence and duplicity of the Islamist government in Khartoum. Indeed, rival militias, ethnic entrepreneurs and warlords are also vying for the spoils of power. One hopes that South Sudan succeeds against all odds and becomes a successful state. Given the history of post-colonial Africa to date, the likelihood of success hinges on visionary leadership which would benefit from intergenerational wisdom, and an urgent creative compromise between ethnicities.


With South Sudan choosing to strike out on its own, it will retain more than three-quarters of Sudan’s hydrocarbon reserves. Currently, the Islamist government in Khartoum earns US$9.8 billion dollars annually in oil exports.[2] The potential loss of a large part of this export revenue will deal a serious blow to the Northern Islamist government, which is already causing it to lash out in desperation. Khartoum allowed the referendum of the South to take place for lack of viable options. Al Bashir was fighting two civil wars, one in the south and the other in the west, in Darfur. In Darfur the Sudanese state could use a divide-and-rule strategy by arming the Janjaweed militias; the South didn’t allow for such a scenario. Additionally, Al Bashir is facing prosecution at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Al Bashir may have hoped for the withdrawal of this prosecution in return for his acceptance of the referendum verdict. It was an unpopular, forced acceptance born out of the weakness of the Islamic government in Khartoum. The outcome of the referendum will alter not only the map of the country but also the regional geopolitical balance of power.

Resources will shift from the Islamist regime in Khartoum to South Sudan, which has close ties with the West. South Sudan is clearly oil-rich, ranked third in production in sub-Saharan Africa after Nigeria and Angola, pro-American, and is a focus of American evangelists, petroleum companies and geopolitical strategists. According to the IMF, North Sudan will lose 75 per cent of its oil revenues. Sudan's debt was US$36.8 billion by December 2010.[3] The North insists that it needs to share the debt payment with the South, but the South has so far resisted. However, South Sudan still needs the North for at least one practical purpose: South Sudan is landlocked, and the pipelines, refineries and storage facilities required in transporting exportable oil run through the North, with sea access in Port Sudan. One must not forget that Omar Al Bashir still has this important card to play. He can deny South Sudan the transportation link for exporting its oil. There is no easy alternative route for South Sudan to export its oil. It may take up to four years to build the infrastructure necessary to utilise the port of Mombasa in Kenya. For peace to prevail, South and North Sudan must not only resolve the Abyei stalemate but also the oil-revenue-sharing problem in order to learn to deal with one another as good neighbors. These two countries are bound by geography; they have few options but to cooperate.

Oil is significantly responsible for destroying the social fabric which has held communities together. Countries like Sudan demonstrate how natural resources such as oil have become a curse rather than a blessing. Despite lucrative earnings from oil, most people continue to live in abject poverty; violence is exacerbated by greed, while the few become obscenely wealthy. A rush for riches has crushed traditional economic activities, causing the deterioration of living conditions and turning former subsistence farmers into landless laborers. Sudan’s oil is also polluting the water that communities need to sustain life. Sign of Hope, a German human rights organisation, tested the water quality in areas surrounding the oil fields and found it to be heavily contaminated. At least 300,000 people may be affected from drinking this contaminated water. It is also feared that ‘there could be environmental implications for the nearby Sudd Swamp, one of the world's largest wetlands formed by the White Nile.’[4] Biodiversity in the Sudd Swamp is already endangered by the controversial Jonglei canal project designed to increase water flow to northern Sudan and Egypt, while drying up the southern swamps, with possible devastating impact to the rich flora and fauna and the livelihood of local communities in the South. Environmental costs are passed on to local communities who benefit little from the oil wealth.

Oil-producing states make up a growing number of the world's conflict-ridden countries. In 2008, they were the sites of a third of the world's civil wars, up from one-fifth in 1992. It is commonly acknowledged that oil breeds conflict between countries, but the more widespread problem is that it breeds conflict within them.[5] Furthermore, cynical outside forces protect and enable dictators. China threatened to veto a 2004 UN Security Council resolution against Sudan in order to protect its own oil interests.[6] China built the pipelines and storage facilities in Sudan and has put its thirst for natural resources and energy ahead of human rights considerations. China imports 50 to 60 per cent of Sudan’s oil, accounting for about 7 per cent of total imports. The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) holds a 40 per cent interest in Sudanese oil, Malaysia holds 30 per cent and India holds 25 per cent. Rent-seeking from oil enables autocracies by eliminating dependence on tax revenues from citizens, which can force accountability. South Sudan earns 98 per cent of its revenue from oil and easily can degenerate into autocracy if there is no proper mechanism to prevent growing corruption and misuse of money obtained from oil sales.


Ethiopia is jockeying to take advantage of the violence in Abeyei by offering ‘peacekeeping’ forces, which Hilary Clinton has already endorsed and perhaps even very strongly recommended. It was reported, ‘US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton...endorsed the idea of a peacekeeping force in Sudan's disputed Abyei region and encouraged both sides to take up an Ethiopian offer of troops.’[9] This proposal is alarming since it will surely complicate matters even more and must be discouraged by those who seek peace for Sudan and the region. Ethiopia’s motives are undoubtedly complex. The record of Ethiopian involvement in neighbouring Somalia can serve as a useful lesson. Ethiopian intervention in Somalia is one of the reasons for the increased violence and the dysfunctional state of affairs in that country. Efforts by neighboring countries ostensibly to ‘prevent’ terrorism there only generated more terrorism and violence, famine and displacement of hundreds of thousands of people in Somalia. (For more on this, see: ’Somalia: Al-Shabab, extremism and US allies’).

The West's selective condemnation of dictators only complicates things for Africans and peaceful resolution of their conflicts. Overlapping convulsions of ethnic and state-sponsored massacre have been occurring against the Anuaks, in Oromia and the Ogaden within Ethiopia, without a word of acknowledgement from Washington. Successive American administrations protest with righteous indignation regarding atrocities in Sudan; nevertheless, massacres of farmers and civilians in Ethiopia have been unfolding without a murmur of complaint.


The eagerness of Zenawi to involve himself in South Sudan, as well as the quick endorsement by Hilary Clinton, can be seen as a scramble for oil by a trusted client of the West to control this vital resource. Ethiopia has more practical reasons for wanting to lead a ‘peacekeeping’ mission in Sudan. The US cuts Ethiopia a lot of slack. It is able to get away with bogus elections. It is the largest recipient of aid in sub-Saharan Africa, and it is able to ignore an international ruling with impunity. The irony of utilising Ethiopia as a peacekeeper in the border conflict in Sudan must not be lost. Ethiopia itself is in violation of an (ICJ) ruling which requires it to demarcate its border with Eritrea. Ethiopia is sitting in its own Abyei, a border region called Badme, which the ICJ determined to be an Eritrean territory. As the Arab Spring has demonstrated, those who hoped that Barack Obama might hold all dictators accountable equally now know that their hopes were misplaced.

Nile politics is another reason for Ethiopia to want a foothold in Southern Sudan. There is a clear convergence of interests between Ethiopia and South Sudan on this issue. The ousting of Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak and the impending secession of South Sudan will strengthen the case of the upstream nations. Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi signed an agreement which attempts to alter the water-sharing treaties on the Nile River. In 1929 during British rule over Sudan and Egypt, the British government ensured 100 per cent rights of Nile water for Egypt and Sudan.

The 1929 agreement signed between British government and its colony Egypt forbade upstream nations from reducing the water of the Nile flowing into Egypt. The treaty stated that ‘without the consent of the Egyptian government, no irrigation or hydroelectric work can be established on the tributaries of the Nile.’ The 1959 Nile Water Treaty not only maintained Egypt and Sudan’s 100 per cent rights over usage but also inserted their veto powers over any development in the Nile by the upstream countries.

At a time when the destructive effect of big dams is well documented, Ethiopia is building mega dams without any environmental and social impact assessment. Lori Pottinger of the International Rivers writes: ‘Ethiopia is fast becoming Africa's poster child for bad-dam development.’[10] Zenawi has built five dams during the last decade and plans to sell electric power to Sudan in exchange for oil imports. Dam projects are also a way to mobilise support for the EPRDF and to drum up Ethiopian nationalism in an effort to distract Ethiopians from organizing resistance akin to the Arab Spring. The political impact of building these dams, not only in Ethiopia but also in Uganda, is creating regional tension with Egypt. It is widely believed that the sustainable policy for Ethiopia would mean learning from Kenya, for example, and harness its rich geothermal potential. No doubt, the colonial era treaties which give Egypt lopsided hegemony over the Nile need to change. But politically motivated projects that destroy the ecology of the Nile watershed by treating it as a mere pipeline that discharges water will exacerbate instability and regional tension. The Nile is a complex integrated watershed, and protecting it requires environmentally responsible cooperation by the riparian countries. Mega dam projects are proven environmental hazards in Egypt and Sudan, and there is no reason to believe otherwise in Ethiopia. (Refer to Lori Pottinger’s work, for an excellent analysis on the disastrous impacts of dams for hydro power.[11])

The president of the Earth Policy Institute, Lester E Brown, writes:

‘In Ethiopia, a Saudi firm has leased 25,000 acres to grow rice, with the option of expanding… [T]hese land grabs shrink the food supply in famine-prone African nations and anger local farmers, who see their governments selling their ancestral lands to foreigners. They also pose a grave threat to Africa's newest democracy: Egypt. As Egypt tries to fashion a functioning democracy after President Hosni Mubarak's departure, land grabs to the south are threatening its ability to put bread on the table because all of Egypt's grain is either imported or produced with water from the Nile River, which flows north through Ethiopia and Sudan before reaching Egypt. (Since rainfall in Egypt is negligible to nonexistent, its agriculture is totally dependent on the Nile.) Unfortunately for Egypt, two of the favorite targets for land acquisitions are Ethiopia and Sudan.[12]

Land grabs by rich investors and countries should be banned because they harm the environment, small farmers and pastoralists, and dismantle traditional communities. This policy of land grab causes food insecurities by taking away productive and valuable land from the farmers and pastoralists.

In November 2010, Zenawi accused Cairo, without providing evidence, of seeking to destabilise Ethiopia by supporting several groups of rebels opposed to his regime and added that ‘Egypt couldn't win a war with Ethiopia over the Nile’.[13] Despite such confrontational and adventurous policies, Zenawi’s significance for the US may have grown, due to the uncertainty of the times, the loss of a reliable client in Hosni Mubarek, and the chaos in Yemen. Egypt under Mubarek has been the cornerstone of America’s policy in the Middle East for three decades. Notwithstanding the official lip service to democracy promotion, there is more continuity with previous administrations than change in Obama’s policies. According to leaked information from WikiLeaks, former assistant secretary of state for Africa, Dr Jendayi Frazer, twisted Zenawi’s arm to intervene in Somalia. According to the same source, Zenawi had no intention of invading Somalia before he was coerced to do so by Dr Frazer.[14] Zenawi seems ready to shortchange Ethiopia and Africa on request from US officials. For example, during the climate conference in Copenhagen, US undersecretary of state, Ms Otero, ‘urged Meles to sign the Copenhagen accord on climate change…Meles responded that [Ethiopia"> supported the accord in Copenhagen and would support it at the AU [African Union"> Summit.’[15] With this record of acquiescence, it is reasonable to assume Zenawi’s motive for intervention in Sudan is suspect.

Lamenting the betrayal of Africa by Zenawi, the author of ‘The Shock Doctrine’, Naomi Klein, wrote:

‘On the ninth day of the Copenhagen climate summit, Africa was sacrificed. The position of the G-77 negotiating bloc, including African states, had been clear: A 2 degree Celsius increase in average global temperatures translates into a 3-3.5 degree increase in Africa. That means, according to the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, “an additional 55 million people could be at risk from hunger” and “water stress could affect between 350 and 600 million more people.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu puts the stakes like this: “We are facing impending disaster on a monstrous scale.... A global goal of about 2 degrees C is to condemn Africa to incineration and no modern development.” And yet that is precisely what Ethiopia's prime minister, Meles Zenawi, proposed to do when he stopped off in Paris on his way to Copenhagen: Standing with President Nicolas Sarkozy, and claiming to speak on behalf of all of Africa (he is the head of the African climate-negotiating group), he unveiled a plan that includes the dreaded 2 degree increase and offers developing countries just $10 billion a year to help pay for everything climate related, from sea walls to malaria treatment to fighting deforestation.’[16]

Notwithstanding his early background as a liberation fighter of Marxist persuasion, once in power Zenawi had been a darling of the Western counties and all too willing to appease and accommodate his Western benefactors, at the expense of Ethiopians and Africans. Manipulating the UN system, certain client states, and African regional organisations, the West has undertaken peace enforcement operations such as the one proposed for Sudan. With the expansion of the UN global role in peacekeeping after the Cold War, the scope of peacekeeping operations became more ambitious, and the traditional requirements of impartiality were abandoned. UN forces could now be empowered to impose ‘peace’ on warring parties and, if necessary, to take sides in a conflict. Token peacekeeping has all too often been used as a scapegoat for feckless Western policymaking. This modus operandi needs to be questioned, given the limited potential of African States to provide security even within their own territories. The regional organisation known as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is one such regional organisation that has been used as a cover for dubious interventions in the Horn of Africa. IGAD gave support to Ethiopia's intervention in Somalia on condition that Ethiopia would quickly withdraw. That withdrawal only came about after two years, the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Somali civilians, the plunging of Somalia into deeper chaos and famine, and only after Ethiopia found itself in an untenable Vietnam-like quagmire.


Regional organisations and alliances in Africa do not have the practical means to bring security to the continent. How can regional peacekeeping forces coming from pseudo-democratic, dictatorial states bring the values of respect for human rights and governance through the rule of law? Ideally, outside powers without their own agenda must provide short-term stability through infusions of security forces, training police, humanitarian relief, and technical assistance to restore electricity, water, banking and payment systems, etc. South Sudan lacks meaningful infrastructure and paved roads are almost nonexistent. South Sudan is in dire need of controlling its own territory and gaining oversight of its natural resources. Effective collection of revenue, adequate national infrastructure, and a capacity to govern and maintain law and order, including respect for basic human rights, is essential for the new South Sudan. Rival armed militias must come under a centralised national command in order to nurture a sense of national commonalities and establish peace.

Southern Sudan must also be spared from being a pawn of regional rivalries by unscrupulous neighbors and non-neighbors such as Egypt, Ethiopia, China, Malaysia, Japan, India and the United States, etc., who are primarily self-interested. Egypt and Ethiopia are clearly selfishly competing for influence and leverage in South Sudan. This dangerous dance can potentially further destabilise South Sudan and North Sudan.

The future of North Sudan after partition could be potentially catastrophic. Omar Al Bashir’s position is already dangerously precarious after presiding over the division of Sudan and losing billions of dollars in oil revenue. Ethnic cleavages in Darfur, South Kordofan, the Blue Nile state, Kassala as well as sharply contrasting attitudes toward Islamism are all minefields in northern Sudanese politics. The North fears a domino effect in South Kordofan and the Nuba Mountains where government troops are unleashing terror, killing civilians and creating displacement to discourage a growing quest for autonomy and self determination.[17]

The notion of ‘African solutions to African problems’ sounds appealing. But the failure of the UN/AU peacekeeping force, backed by the UN, to provide security in Darfur is a reason enough to pause and ask questions. One can only conclude that the West is dealing with the problem superficially by rendering marginal the status that sub-Saharan Africa occupies in world politics. This myopic view underlies the logic behind the limited logistical and financial support for Uganda and Ethiopia, to enforce this ineffectual version of ‘peacekeeping.’ The African peacekeepers were presented as a panacea in Darfur and Somalia, and it appears a similar unworkable pattern may be replicated in North and South Sudan.

Given the weakness of many state structures across Africa, the pervasive religious and civil violence, and the predatory nature of most African governments, little faith can be placed in such ‘peacekeeping’ overtures. Within the prevailing realities in Africa, the beautiful sounding shibboleth of ‘African Solutions to African Problems’ is a convenient excuse for the big powers to do little in solving African problems. ‘Peacekeepers’ are casually introduced into situations, which require more than a token presence of an outside force to achieve a meaningful resolution of conflict.

Christopher Clapham sums up the problem of peacekeeping in Africa as follows:

‘Peacekeepers in Africa have been plunged into the most intractable problems in attempting to maintain some kind of order.…For them the relatively straightforward tasks of merely policing agreements between states are not an option. They have been called on…to intervene in vicious civil wars and to negotiate and, if need be, to enforce peace settlements among conflicting parties whose commitment to any peaceful resolution of conflicts was often at best extremely uncertain, and at worst no more than a façade behind which to prepare a resumption of hostilities.’[18]

These types of peacekeeping fiascoes were predictable. Where there is no peace to keep, UN peacekeepers are seen as an occupying or hostile force, as in Somalia. The so-called peacekeepers had themselves become players in the conflict. The troops themselves were often confused about their missions. In the aftermath of the Second World War, traditional peacekeeping was designed to keep separate warring states after a cease fire. This was the model applied in the Sinai after the 1956 Suez Crisis. In the post-Cold War era, peacekeeping has come to be used as an ideological tool to build nation states in the image of the West, according to liberal internationalist values. This is ‘a one size shoe fits all’ approach which does not take into consideration the uniquely complex challenges of South Sudan.

Africa and South Sudan need to chart their own future by drawing from their diverse patterns of conflict resolution and restoring the centrality of respect for tradition and for the wisdom of elders. Africa needs to respect the elders whose voices have been drowned out by other imposed cultural patterns and ethnic entrepreneurs. Perhaps an Elders’ Council modelled on the Indigenous Peoples Council and composed of diverse ethnicities, representing all those who have a stake in peace, needs to be created to conduct dialogue. The UN at its best has nobly cultivated such models of sovereignty and autonomy and has empowered indigenous communities, and it can now continue to do so in Africa. A centralised unitary governing system is by itself largely unworkable for multiethnic societies like Southern Sudan; instead, creative application of some form of federalism mixed with some form of centralism maybe the way forward. The current arrangement may breed what Alexis Tocqueville called the ‘tyranny of the majority,’ which might apply (within the context of the issues I have addressed here) to the Dinka. Tocqueville's argument was a brilliant warning, for it opened the way for a new understanding of the potential for harm latent in an unqualified commitment to majority rule and democracy. The Southern Sudanese must try to work out their problems with the North, and they must work to find some internal cohesion while allowing space for a degree of autonomy among the Dinka, the Nuer and the Shilluk. It is a matter of the survival of all; hence, northern stability is also in the interest of South Sudan and vice-versa.

If peacekeepers are truly needed in Abyei as a stopgap measure, they should then be sent from anywhere but the neighbouring countries. Perhaps South Africa or Nigeria can lead the way as they are geographically more removed and less likely to harbour ulterior agendas or to use South Sudan as a proxy for self-serving dictators to expand their influence and divert attention from their own domestic entanglements.


* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.


[1] The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, 3rd ed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2002, 16 June 2011
[2] Richard S. Williamson, Sudan on the Cusp, Current History, May 2011, p.173
[3] Africa News, Sudan: IMF Says North Sudan Must Undertake Measures to Avoid Post-Secession ‘Shock’, Sudan Tribune, April 19, 2011
[4] Peter Greste, Oil 'polluting South Sudan water,' BBC New,16 November 2009
[5] Michael L. Ross, Blood Barrels Subtitle: Why Oil Wealth Fuels Conflict, Foreign Affairs, May 2008 - June 2008
[6] Silvia Spring, Curse of Friendship; Do China and India represent a new kind of player in emerging markets? They say so. But outsiders doubt it., Newsweek, November 13, 2006
[7] Peter Lee, Chinese and U.S. interests converge on Sudan, Albuquerque Express (adopted from Asia Times), 20th September, 2010
[8] Peter Lee, Chinese and U.S. interests converge on Sudan, Albuquerque Express (adopted from Asia Times), 20th September, 2010
[9] Lachlan Carmichael, US backs Ethiopia peacekeepers in Abyei, AFP, June 13, 2011
[11] Ibid.
[12] Lester R. Brown, When the Nile Runs Dry, The New York Times, June 2, 2011
[13] UPI Energy, Ethiopia challenges Egypt over Nile water, December 8, 2010
[14] Rob Prince, WikiLeaks Reveals US Twisted Ethiopia’s Arm to Invade Somalia,, December 14, 2010
[15] US embassy cables: US urges Ethiopia to back Copenhagen climate accord,, 3 December 2010
[17] Jeffrey Gettleman, Sudan Steps Up Furious Drive to Stop Rebels, New York Times, June 21, 2011, p.1
[18] C Clapham, The United Nations and peacekeeping in Africa, in M Malan (ed), Whither Peacekeeping in Africa?, ISS Monograph, 36, Institute for Security Studies, Halfway House, April 1999, p. 32

Leave a Reply