On July 9, 2011, South Sudan became the world’s newest nation, the Republic of South Sudan. It’s all official: “The United Nations will meet on July 13, 2011 to formally discuss membership and recognition of the Republic of South Sudan; and on July 14, 2011, the UNGA will vote on a resolution to accept South Sudan as the world’s 193rd UN Member State.” Millions of people have died thus far to birth this nation, far more than died in the American Revolution and Civil War combined, and there is no end in sight. The birth of this new nation won’t stop the decades-old bleeding.
It has taken two civil wars (to date) to bring us to this point. The first, from 1955 to 1972 killed half a million people at least. The second, which picked up where the first left off and which was fought for the same reasons, started in 1983 and officially ended with a ceasefire in 2005 after claiming more than two million additional lives, along with four million displaced. Since 2005, the south of the country has largely ruled itself.
Another war has been taking place in the western region of Sudan, called Darfur, an area the size of France, since 2003 when the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM)- took up arms to defend Darfur from nomads and from the central government itself, leading to an additional 200,000 to 400,000 deaths and another two million displaced. Darfurscores.org reports that
“[T]he Sudanese government in Khartoum and the government-sponsored Janjaweed militia have used rape, displacement, organized starvation, threats against aid workers and mass murder. Violence, disease, and displacement continue to kill thousands of innocent Darfurians every month.”
Janjaweed…”devils on horseback.” Thousands killed every month. Why have so many people died? Why do so many continue to die? (for a downloadable briefing paper on Darfur, see SaveDarfur.org)
As the CIA Factbook explains, Sudan has largely been governed by “Islamic-oriented governments” since it achieved independence from the UK in 1956. The wars that have been fought since before that independence was achieved have been the result of “northern economic, political, and social domination of largely non-Muslim, non-Arab southern Sudanese.”
The National Islamic Front (NIF), now known as the National Congress Party or NCP, which forms war crimes suspect President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s power base, supports an Islamic state ruled by Sharia law. Like our own GOP, the NIF rejects the very idea of a secular state. And like the GOP, it rejects plurality and diversity, and also likes a good, solid, one-party system of government.
The proper lesson to be drawn from this situation is not the danger of fundamentalist Islam or of Sharia law, but the danger of any religious fundamentalism. When mixed with politics, as history shows, bad things happen. In this regard, Mosaic law is as deadly to pluralism – as deadly to democracy – as Sharia law and nearly identical in content. As I wrote the other day, religious fundamentalists, properly motivated (and they usually are) can subordinate pluralistic majorities. They have done it again and again throughout history.
Because of this, and despite the south’s declaration of independence, other non-Arab peoples in the Nuba Mountains of central Sudan, Darfur, and elsewhere, continue to fight the central government, and people will continue to die, likely in the new country as well. President al-Bashir shows no signs of ruling happily from Khartoum while everyone revolts against his rule.
Al-Bashir (who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court) rules a polyglot nation like the U.S. but unlike the U.S. it is no melting pot, unless the melting is done at the point of a bayonet.
The dates spoken of above are only “official” – markers by which we can sort out what happened when – they do not really speak to the decades of fighting; fighting which has continued beyond the 2005 ceasefire. They do not speak to the suffering of the people of Sudan ,a country of about one-quarter the size of the U.S., and populated by some 45 million people whose agony is far from over.
There are blacks (52%), Arabs (39%), Beja (6%),a smattering of foreigners (2%), and assorted others (1%) according to the CIA Factbook. There are Sunni Muslims in the north (70%), Christians – mostly in south and Khartoum (5%), and people who hold to indigenous beliefs (25%). Many languages are spoken, though a program of “Arabization” is in process (similar to the program of Americanization in process in many American states) including the official Arabic, English (also official), as well as “Nubian, Ta Bedawie, diverse dialects of Nilotic, Nilo-Hamitic, Sudanic languages.”
According to the “Referendum of Southern Sudan” (download the results report (PDF):
1.17% (44,888 votes) voted for unity while 98.83% (3,792,518 votes) voted for secession
- Votes cast: 3,851,994
- Valid votes: 3,837,406
- Blank votes: 6,222
- Invalid votes: 8,366
Voter turnout: 97.58%
People like to say that war solves nothing. So far, this seems to be true in Sudan. Two civil wars and ongoing fighting have not resolved the differences tearing the country apart. But neither have ceasefires and United States federal laws, like the Sudan Peace Act (Pub.L. 107-245) signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002. As a result of the bill, the United States government spent $100 million to non-government controlled areas in each of the years 2003, 2004, and 2005, announced that the war to that date had “already cost more than 2,000,000 lives and… displaced more than 4,000,000 people” – and the dying continued. Nine years later, it continues still. Peace hasn’t brought…peace.
Sometimes, against all expectations of progressives and liberals, war does solve things. War, for example, put an end to American slavery. As Civil War veteran Dr. Isaac Coates wrote back in 1867, “The ‘pen is mightier than the sword,’ says Bulwer, but the sword chopped off the head of slavery – ‘give the devil his due.’”
Nobody wants American men and women to go overseas and die; enough are dying already in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the French sent armies and fleets to the American rebels; America sent dollars to the Sudanese rebels. Look at your history books and tell me which had more effect.
South Sudan Map from USAfricaOnline.com
Sudan Map from CIA World Factbook
Map of Countries Recognizing South Sudan from Wikipedia Commons
 “On March 4, 2009 Sudanese President Omar al Bashir, became the first sitting president to be indicted by ICC for directing a campaign of mass killing, rape, and pillage against civilians in Darfur. The arrest warrant for Bashir follows arrest warrants issued by the ICC for former Sudanese Minister of State for the Interior Ahmad Harun and Janjaweed militia leader Ali Kushayb. The government of Sudan has not surrendered either suspect to the ICC.” See UnitedHumanRights.org
 Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873), “Richelieu,” 1839. Cited in W.J.D. Kennedy, On the Plains with Custer and Hancock: The Journal of Isaac Coates, Army Surgeon (Johnson Book, 1997), 48.