John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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South Sudan Independence July 9

by John Campbell
July 7, 2011

Women hold crosses as they march during a rehearsal of the Independence Day ceremony in Juba July 7, 2011. (Goran Tomasevic/Courtesy Reuters)

On Saturday, south Sudan will celebrate its independence. Given the occasion, I have two pieces on the topic.

In a CFR expert brief, I make the point that south Sudan’s succession is the first significant change in any African country’s national boundaries inherited from colonialism. (The only other case is Eritrea, which won its independence from Ethiopia in 1991. But Eritrea had been separate from Ethiopia when both were incorporated into Mussolini’s east African empire, while south Sudan was part of the colonial Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.) The Organization of African Unity and its successor, the African Union, have opposed changing colonial boundaries of African states. I do not think that south Sudan will lead to a wholesale call for a re-evaluation of Africa’s national boundaries, in part because governing elites do not want to open what could be a pandora’s box. But, south Sudan may encourage a conversation about Africa’s often illogical national boundaries, and may encourage the separatist Republic of Somaliland to seek international recognition.

On the Royal African Society’s  blog, I make the point that despite the historic nature of south Sudan’s independence, it really opens a new chapter in a conflict that is likely to continue into the future, particularly given the violence in Abyei and South Kordofan.

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  • Posted by Faisal

    Somaliland was an independent country back in June 26, 1960 and was recognized by 35 countries but 1 July 1960 they became united with Italian Somalia together they became the Somali Republic. But the union did not go well and Somaliland withdrew to its border which it had back in 26 June 1960.

  • Posted by Anthony Nwafor

    I don’t think we can boldly make the claim that South Sudan will not lead to a wholesale recall for a re-evaluation of Africa’s national boundaries. A lot of things could happen in the near to mid term to change the present state of affairs.

    Serious ethnic tensions exist within artificial colonial boundaries and even if the governing elite have a vested interest in ensuring the unity of the state, they have not invested sufficient energy into building institutions that bind different ethnic groups.

    I foresee the political map of Africa being redrawn in the next twenty to thirty years. West Africa, for example, has two separate regions: a Christianised South and an Islamicised South. Nigeria and Ivory Coast are merely symptoms of these rapidly widening gaps.

    I have studied many nations and I am yet to see a nation where large numbers of mainly evangelical Christians co-exist with Sharia law (like obtains in Nigeria). Instead of attempting to bridge these gaps, the ruling elite have cynically exploited these differences for short-term political gain. That is where the trouble lies, events could take a life of their own and something gives.

    Multi-ethnic / multi-cultural states with weak institutions or who lack a strong unifying idea crumble. Yugoslavia imploded and once the fear of the KGB no longer existed, the Soviet Union collapsed.

    Why should Africa be different? Will the same power structures that exist today, exist a few decades down the line. What effect would rapidly expanding populations have on the stability of the state?

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