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Looking Forward to "New Sudan"

August 28, 2007


Some people are surprised when they learn that the Kurdish region of Iraq is booming while the rest of the country remains embroiled in a civil war. They might also be surprised to learn that an analogous situation could develop in Sudan. Most people have heard about the turmoil and genocide taking place in the Darfur region of Sudan, but few people know about what’s happening in the rest of the country, especially in the south. Southern Sudan, like the Kurdish region of Iraq, is ethnically different than the north. It is also religiously different. As a result, people living there are looking to forge a new identity as an independent country. They may get that chance in a couple of years. An article in The Economist magazine discusses how the next few years might unfold and what people living in southern Sudan hope to achieve [“Looking for a new identity,” 28 July 2007].

“In many respects, south Sudan is already its own country. It issues its own visas, decides most its own policies and mishandles its own budget. Of course, tricky deals over the ownership of oil and the Nile waters must be negotiated before full independence. And there is always a small chance that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which runs the south, may do well enough in elections for all of Sudan (due to be held in 2009) to alter the shape of Sudanese politics overall, the north included. But as things stand, almost all southerners believe that, after a referendum promised by the central government in Khartoum, south Sudan will become a sovereign country by 2011.”

With the south already acting autonomously, even success in national elections is unlikely to stop the push for independence. People living in the south consider themselves more African than Arab and see their futures tied to eastern African more than northern Africa, the Mediterranean region and the Middle East.

“That raises new questions. For one thing, what would the new country be called? The betting is on New Sudan, the name favoured by John Garang, the SPLM‘s charismatic leader killed in a helicopter crash in 2005. But establishing the new country’s identity will be harder. Even SPLM zealots accept that the largely Christian and animist south cannot define itself just negatively, in opposition to the Muslim north. Many leading lights in the south Sudanese government, including the president, Salva Kiir, want the new country, whatever it is called, to become part of east Africa rather than a southern spin-off from the rest of Sudan, which is mainly Arab and Muslim and looks more to the Arab world. South Sudan’s economy would tilt to the south and east.”

As the situation is developing, the nascent country — New Sudan — is setting itself up as a good candidate for the Enterra Solutions® Development-in-a-Box™ approach. It will begin life having a relatively secure environment, leaders with a clear vision, natural resources (mostly in the forms of oil and natural beauty), and a population eager to embrace the future. What it won’t have is experience, infrastructure, and the connectivity required to maximize its positive attributes. It will be an economy begging for a jump start. Seeking stronger ties with east Africa makes sense.

“Most trade goes via Uganda. In Juba, the southern capital, the most-used mobile-phone network operates from Uganda with a Ugandan code and Ugandan local rates, while calls to Khartoum are deemed international. There is also talk (in South African and German circles, among others) of building a railway from Juba, south Sudan’s capital, to Gulu in Uganda, to connect with the main east-African network. Most of south Sudan’s diplomatic links are through Kenya. Some schools are already replacing Arabic with English. Another new way to nudge south Sudan into east Africa is through wildlife and tourism, especially after a recent discovery that south Sudan’s wild game is far more abundant than had previously been reckoned. Earlier this year, the Wildlife Conservation Society, an American outfit, uncovered one of the world’s biggest animal migrations in south Sudan. Conservationists flying low over uncharted territory discovered a vast array of wildlife, especially in Boma, along the border with Ethiopia. Paul Elkan, the Kenya-based Wildlife Conservation Society’s main man for south Sudan, says the scale of migration may exceed that of Tanzania’s Serengeti.”

If New Sudan is going to succeed as an independent state, it needs to start now putting the pieces in place that will strengthen its chances. That is what Development-in-a-Box does. It provides a framework upon which an economy can be successfully built. It doesn’t dictate how that development must progress. It’s about interfaces not content. The current leadership of southern Sudan appears to have a vision — to preserve its natural beauty and extract oil without damaging the environment. One of the reasons they want independence is so that they can take control of that vision, which is currently being undermined by Chinese oil exploration.

“‘It is a paradise not yet lost,’ says an ecstatic Mr Kiir, who has already signed agreements with the conservationists. An immediate goal is to limit the destruction caused by the oil business. Thanks to graft and negligence, Chinese and other contractors have installed massive and polluting infrastructure across the south with no environmental oversight. In the long run, Mr Kiir hopes to set up a national parks system to protect the Boma migration, improve land management and provide jobs for former fighters as rangers and guides. A grander hope is that it could bolster New Sudan’s new identity—and its claim to be part of east Africa.”

Like so much of Africa, Sudan was a country cobbled together by colonial powers with little regard to traditional boundaries. South Sudan probably won’t be the last new country that emerges to correct this situation, but it will probably be the next one. With good planning and the proper approach, New Sudan has a real chance of becoming a successful and prosperous state.

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