America was at the forefront of the development of the nation state, founded upon the principles of democracy over 200 years ago. As citizens of this nation, it is challenging to fathom the current struggles for national sovereignty that exists in every region of the world. Southern Sudan is being born and, if established as an independent state, it will have its very first birthday in July 2011. Elections for Southern Sudan’s succession were held in Jan. 2011, anticipated from an American-backed peace treaty in 2005, which granted Southern Sudan the right to self-determination. Final results will be announced Feb. 7 but if appeals create controversy, results will be postponed until Feb. 14.
United, Sudan holds the title of the largest African nation, and the record for the longest civil war that finally ended in 2005, killing over 2.2 million and displacing 4 million. Since its beginning stages of independence from the United Kingdom and Egypt in 1953—under a transitional period of independence, Sudan has been the victim of two brutally violent and devastating civil wars: 1955 to 1972 and 1983 to 2005. Brutal violence, rape, the recruitment of child soldiers and chaos dominated the region. On the most simple level, the conflict between the north and south is the result of ethnic differences between the African Christians and Arab Muslims. However, the complex history and ethnic composition of the region recognizes a much deeper and troubling conflict. Currently Sudan is governed out of the capital Karthoum in the north by dictator Omar Al-Bashir. He is the first head of state to be prosecuted by the ICC for crimes against humanity and war crimes. Southern Sudan in on the brink of celebrating its first success in national sovereignty, but the new nation must combat internal conflicts over citizenship and economic development and external conflict with the north over oil (which is located in the south) and the contested Abyei region.
Do not confuse Southern Sudan’s triumph with the genocide in Darfur, located in west Sudan. The Darfur conflict began in 2003 between the Janjaweed, a militant Islamic group supported by Al-Bashir, and combined rebel groups of the Sudan Liberation Movement and Justice and Equality Movement.
A common misconception is that the Darfur conflict is an Arab Muslim versus African Christian conflict, but many Arabs and Muslims are fighting against the Janjaweed in support of the rebel movements. Separate from South Sudan, the Darfur peace process remains stalled and Darfur will not be included in the 2011 southern succession territory.
Although, Sudan’s self-determination struggle has dominated the recent media there are many other passionate movements for national autonomy in every region of the world. In the region between France and Spain, the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), defend to maintain Basque tradition and culture, desperately fighting for some form political autonomy. Between Syria, Iraq, Iran and Turkey, a hopeful Kurdistan with 25 to 30 million people continually struggle for self-rule. And with too many to name, indigenous people from the Americas to Europe to Africa to Asia persistently fight for increased rights and recognized independence.
Humanity’s struggle for autonomy is admirable and as American citizens who succeeded in national autonomy after a bloody Revolutionary War in 1776, it is instinctive for us to support self-determination. A liberal advocator would certainly defend the democratic argument that people deserve to rule themselves. But contrastingly, what does the fight for sovereignty in ethnically divided states say about humanity’s ability to coalesce with differences? Internally nations are fighting to separate themselves based on a diverse cultures, religions, politics or ethnicities. Division of national boundaries on this basis sets a dangerous precedent for the meaning of progress.
Why can’t Sudan’s north and south share one nation and government? Will Southern Sudan’s success spark revolutions and desire for self-determination from Sudan’s 600 ethnic groups? When will these struggles for sovereignty—from the Mexico to Taiwan—cease? The reality is that humanity, like most aspects of life, was not meant to be separated, labeled, defined and categorized into boxes. But as history has shifted from dynasties to empires to imperialism to colonial rule, we have accepted the distinct boundaries of the independent nation state. The desire for self-determination is not ending as movements advance and the fight for autonomy continues.