In 2011 after years of civil war, the nation of Sudan was divided into Sudan and South Sudan. The predominantly Arab Muslim population of northern Sudan had long oppressed the Christian and animist southern Sudanese. After long years, the international community finally accepted the proposition that it would be better for the southerners to be independent. Now, though border disputes continue and may flare into a border war over a small disputed territory, the region is more peaceful than it has been for years.
But the division of Sudan took 50 years of civil war (with a ten year break) to bring the international community to the conclusion that partition was the answer. Two million people died and four million were displaced. When the vote on separation was finally taken in a UN-supervised plebiscite in 2011, southern Sudanese from around the world were allowed to vote because of the size of the refugee diaspora. In a world where the international community stubbornly resists partition of nations, Sudan is the exception that proves how strong the rule is.
Many countries of the world would be better off divided into two or more smaller countries. The system of international boundaries is treated as far too sacrosanct when it would often be better to help nations, especially those whose boundaries were drawn by colonial powers, to divide themselves peacefully. In other places, it would be better for currently separate countries to combine in order to strengthen their economies and defenses. And in many other places, regions should be broken off of one or more countries and joined to another.
A recent article in the New York Times advocated letting the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) fall apart into two or more pieces as a natural outcome of the growing civil war there. It made the point that the local militias are more trusted than the central government by the local populations, showing that the militias are taking on some of the roles of the state. Though they are still more like gangs than governments, they are in the process of dividing the country into natural regions of like peoples. The resulting divided DRC may actually be much more peaceful than the current “unified” one.
The author also points out that a unified DRC only really benefits the kleptocratic government that nominally holds power. Currently there is a UN peacekeeping force in DRC trying to keep the country from splitting apart. The peacekeeping troops there would be much more useful distributing food and encouraging peaceful partition than trying to hold rebellious pieces together.
In my next post, I’ll talk about the best example (from an American perspective) of a country that should have been peacefully divided while we had the chance: Iraq.