Sudan was troubled from its birth when, in 1956, the British handed over power to the Arab northern elite, despite the country’s vast ethnic and cultural pluralities, setting the parameters for one of the world’s most dysfunctional states. So it is not surprising that the southerners — who have suffered through the two civil wars, from 1956-72 and 1983-2005, which left 2 million people dead and 4 million displaced — are pulling the plug on Africa’s largest nation. The voting in a referendum on southern independence — the key component of a 2005 peace deal — began on Jan. 9 and will last until Jan. 15; the results, not in doubt, should be announced later in the month or in early February.
“Cultural pluralities” is partial code for different religions. Of course, that is only one piece to the puzzle – and not even the biggest piece. But that said, I was reminded of something I said about Nigeria last year:
There is no permanent solution to violence. There are only best solutions. In this case, it is necessary that religious divides be destroyed – and the only way that will happen is either if one group absolutely dominates the landscape or if both groups dissipate. There is nothing like the organizing power of religion and bizarre beliefs…to get a whole pot of hate and violence stirring.
The problems of a poorly developed nation like Sudan aren’t going to go away simply because of a successful separationist movement. But the exacerbation? At least a little of the fuel? It isn’t going to be there. I predict improvements in the two Sudans in the coming years. (I will also point out that if Iraq was diced up according to its religious divisions, a notable bit of the violence there would be quelled – not as much as would be quelled if we just left, but still a notable amount.)