On Saturday, July 9, southern Sudan officially declared independence and became the world’s newest nation, the Republic of South Sudan. Its independent status was quickly recognized by political leaders in many nations, including those in Sudan.
When South Sudan became independent, it separated from a genocidal, repressive Sudanese government. But not all is to be celebrated. Political independence is only as valuable as the individual liberty it promotes.
The ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, whose leaders tend to be military men, dominates the politics of South Sudan are dominated by the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. During the struggle for independence its armed force, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, regularly committed war crimes against tribes that had risen against its control. An Al-Jazeera article from earlier this year (“Sudan: Transcending tribe”) describes mass rape, torture, looting, and destruction of villages. A new campaign of mass violence by the regions’s new political leaders, as a project of establishing national unity, would not be unprecedented.
Freedom of the press in South Sudan appears to be subject to the whims of local commanders. In the days of autonomy leading to independence, journalists were repressed and newspaper vendors attacked by authorities. Al-Jazeera suggests (“South Sudan journalists facing intimidation,” July 12) that press freedom is not a priority for the new state.
South Sudan, impoverished and lacking in infrastructure, faces the challenge of developing on a democratic basis. Considering the corruption among its leadership, the country might become a typical example of local political elites securing power and privilege for themselves while offering token benefits to favored subjects. Foreign governments and bankers will certainly be looking for local brokers of economic power that will enable them to profit from the area’s resources, especially petroleum.
Yet it would not be unrealistic to hope that life will improve for the people of South Sudan. The country appears to be developing an active civil society and peaceable political opposition. Official recognition of independence can more firmly establish peace and ease social tensions, mitigating inter-tribal conflict.
Political separation can sometimes resolve the problems inherent in exerting power over a large area of diverse actors. But often the problems will simply continue in a new fashion. The process of drawing borders, still incomplete in the case of Sudan and South Sudan, aggravates numerous conflicts with potential for violence. Borders tend to be drawn by those in power across the lives of people who actually exist on the ground. Often people are forced to move or ethnic, religious, or political strife increases tensions between nations. And disputes over resources and trade will not go away. This is especially relevant to the situation in Sudan, where the infrastructure of control has resulted in oil pipelines flowing in the direction of political power — pipelines from oil-rich and landlocked South Sudan flow to refineries in Sudan proper.
Instead of fighting over national sovereignty — over which people a particular gang will rule — it would be far better to recognize the sovereignty of the individual over his or her own life, and to create communities based on this principle. Territorial disputes would then be dissolved by the free movement of people, respect for their various affiliations, and peaceful interaction of consensual legal associations called polycentric law. Natural resources would be extracted by cooperative industries in which those who actually make the industry work — not politicians — would be in charge of how they operate.
Political secession of the type seen in South Sudan offers “independence,” but independence from what? Often enough, local tyrants will work to control life in their smaller fiefdoms, which might just mean that they can watch people more closely. Those who value liberty should keep on seceding until the only political formations that exist are voluntary and get all powers from the consent of self-governing individuals.