Sunday, April 22, 2012

South Sudan

The newest country on the globe is South Sudan: it’s been independent for about 10 months.

South Sudan isn’t terribly interesting in and of itself. But it is relevant to class for two reasons: 1) the fixation on oil in developing countries, and 2) this video that I posted last year which is relevant to class discussions of “low tech”.

First, historical some background to help you out as you think about macroeconomics in the future.

Most developing countries do not have logical borders. These borders were set on colonies about a century ago by bureaucrats in European capitals who’d never been to those places or who cared about the facts on the ground. So, South Sudan was carved out of Sudan, which had became independent of the U.K. in 1956, but which had no earlier history as a viable country.

To get this independence, South Sudan fought two civil wars: a failed on from 1955 to 1972, and a successful one that started in 1983.

The reasons for the civil war are geographic, political, demographic, and religious.

The geographic reason is that northern Africa is dominated by the Sahara desert, which ends about 2/3 of the way down Africa’s “top”. Below that is a narrow band of dry grasslands running across the continent called the Sahel. Below that, you start to get into very green, tropical Africa. The Sahel runs across the top of South Sudan, separating the green, tropical, South Sudan, from the arid Sudan.

The political reasons involve the Ottoman Empire. This is the Turkish empire, based in Istanbul (then Constantinople) that dominated the Moslem middle east from the 15th to the early 20th century. The Ottoman Empire didn’t have strong central control. Local, often hereditary governors, called pashas held most of the power. As the Ottoman Empire’s central control weakened, first France, and then the U.K. started to take shots at it: first in Egypt in the 1790’s, then in Greece, later across North Africa. The barbary pirates that America fought in the first decade of the 19th century (famous for the line from the Marine’s Hymn about the “shores of Tripoli”) were breakaway pashas from the Ottoman Empire. At this time, the U.K. and France were the big colonial powers trying to gobble up as much of Africa as they could. The U.K. effectively got Egypt, although there were still Ottomans nominally in charge, and they wanted to claim the entire valley of the Nile River as a British colony. The problem is that no one had ever sailed up the Nile, which is not only long, but has a series of waterfalls (called cataracts on the Nile). In the 1890’s there was a race between the U.K. and France to get to a remote Ottoman army post called Fashoda (now known as Kodok), on the Nile in what is now South Sudan. Whoever got there first would claim east central Africa as their own. The French went up the Congo River from the South Atlantic, portaged into the upper reaches of the Nile Basin, the floated downstream, and made it there first with a small expedition. But, the British built steam gunboats that they could portage around the waterfalls, and showed up with a small fleet a few months later and took over (what could the French do when it would take a year just to call for reinforcements?).* From that claim, the British created their colony of Sudan. What’s important is that what became the country of Sudan was based on geographic and political realities, not demographics.

The demographic problem is that the northern part of Sudan, dominated by the Sahara, has been the land of sparsely populated, richer, “brown” Arab Moslems herders for a thousand years. But, the southern part is dominated by more populous, “black” Africans farmers (basketball players Manute Bol and Luol Deng are from this region). Given the difficulty of communication northwards up the Nile, and the distances involved, the people identify more with neighboring countries to the South — like Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Congo.

Those people in the South also converted readily to Christianity in the 20th century.

But, in 1956, the U.K. set Sudan free with unrealistic borders, and Arab Moslems in charge of more populous, poorer, and remote “black” Christian Africans. As you can imagine, hilarity did not ensue. But, with some western support, the blacks started to win the civil war. A lot of the reason for the current problems in Darfur (in northwestern Sudan) that are so popular with celebrities like George Clooney is that Sudan has created a generation of violent thugs without a lot of central control, and needs something to do with them after South Sudan started winning the civil war about 10 years ago.

It looks like this region is going to heat up again, now that substantial oil reserves have been found in the border region between the two countries. And this war got a lot hotter just today.

Anyway, the refugees in the linked video clip are from South Sudan.

* If you want to read a good history book about this, I highly recommend The Race to Fashoda: European Colonialism and African Resistance in the Scramble for Africa.

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