The news is out that the leaders of the newest nation, South Sudan, have not wasted any time in showing what they’re made of. Thanks to a film by George Clooney’s watchdog group, The Sentry, we now know that they have been amassing hidden caches of personal wealth and buying mansions abroad at the expense of their impoverished people. They are in no hurry to end the civil war because they and their families are profiting from it. Enormously. Thousands are dead, thousands more will die, and millions displaced as these people squirrel away the revenues that they are supposed to be distributing. Meanwhile world leaders are trying desperately to find a road to peace by bringing the two sides back together.
Why not go the other way and make the separation permanent? We just created South Sudan 5 years ago, so why not Southeast Sudan and Southwest Sudan? Make it a looser federation, or confederation, or try something new for crying out loud! Are these people ever going to trust each other again? Split ‘em up!
What is this obsession we have with maintaining borders as they are? Does anyone think that in a hundred years we will be looking at the same map of the world that we see now? For one thing, a lot of what today is coast will be under water—where are all those people going to go? But the larger point is that conditions are always changing–environmental, social, political, philosophical—and to say that the borders in 2016 will be the same in 2116 is as absurd as to think there would be no change from 1816 to 1916.
Surely the wiser course would be to figure out a way to divide countries up when conditions indicate that the time is ripe. Czechoslovakia did an excellent job of this in 1993. The Scots have almost reached escape velocity, and the Catalans are right behind them. If we could only have a procedure ready to hand, so when things heat up we could say, “OK, we recognize there’s a movement for change. Here’s what we do now: First A, then B, then C….” and on to the split.
What stands in the way of peaceful change is nationalism. Too many people equate pride in their country with some notion of the Motherland or Fatherland with inviolate frontiers. When I asked one of my students from central Spain what he would do if Catalonia voted to secede, he said without hesitation,
“I would go fight them.”
“You mean, join the army and kill people?”
To him and everyone else with this mentality I say our slogan should be: more pragmatism, less patriotism. Focus on well-being, not real estate. Syria, South Sudan, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey—so many countries could benefit from partition. And the world would benefit because there would be less war, less displacement of peoples, less need for emergency food supplies, and all that goes along with civil unrest.
Of course there are problems. There are always opportunists, provocateurs, warlords….but isn’t it worth a try when you have such a clear indication in some of these cases that the majority of people in certain districts want a change? Do we believe in self-determination or not?