Religious Partition to End Wars

Religious Partition to End Wars

Until now many efforts towards peace in troubled parts of Saharan Africa have focused on fomenting coexistence betweenf Islam and competing religions. What the Sudanese referendum says is that coexistence of Muslim and non-Muslim ideologies won’t work.

When the election in The Sudan ends this weekend and shortly thereafter South Sudan declares itself sovereign, Muslims will be in power the north and non-Muslims in the south. But that’s not the end of it.

I expect a migration is going to begin in both directions between the two entities not so dissimilar to what happened in the Hindi/Muslim breakup of India and Pakistan (later, Bangladesh) after World War II. In fact the Sudanese migration began when it became apparent that the process was going to end in partition. More than 50,000 immigrants already turned up in the south in just the last few months.

This migration won’t be as large as the one following India and Pakistan’s partition, because there aren’t as many people to begin with. But it will be substantial enough to notice. And it will further polarize the individual societies at each end.

In America we often read about the religious competition as between Islam and Christianity, but that’s not the case. The perception comes mostly from the large presence of Christian missionaries and aid societies in The South, but the fact is that the majority of The South is not Christian, despite a half century of Christian proselyting.

Neither do I think it fair to call it “animist” as is often read as much as “Christian”. In fact, the two are often combined. I don’t think it fair-minded to say “animist” because that label carries a ton of derogatory inferences from the colonial era.

The fact is that most southern Sudanese are not religious in any regards by modern standards. They revere their family ancestry and create religious ideologies often unique to very small geopolitical areas.

Christianity is probably the largest single recognized religion in the south, but it is far from being a dominant ideology among the majority of southern Sudanese.

What it is truest to say is that the majority of southern Sudanese characterize themselves as anti-Muslim. And this characterization of oneself as anti-something, rather than something-something, is telling.

It is the basis for the conflict not only in The Sudan, but in Chad, Mali, Spanish Sahara and to a lesser extent elsewhere throughout the Saharan belt of the continent.

Religious ideology always tries to dominate government, even at home in America. Less modern societies are less capable of keeping this motivation at bay in part because emerging societies need forms of government that will be readily and quickly accepted by their people.

Muslim ideology with its male-dominated, polygamous hierarchy fits perfectly into many more traditional African societies. This week a Nairobi newspaper published a feature article on how the well-known and very traditional Maasai tribe was accepting Islam in surprising numbers.

The current president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, is a deft survivor of a number of court schemes and military coups, and his current long reign can be linked directly to his decision to make Islam’s Sharia law the law of Sudan in 1983. There’s no question in my mind that this is what has kept him in power since.

And quite unlike a legalistic foundation — even one as entrenched as I feel the U.S. constitution is — the opportunities for amending law in Muslim formulated societies are infinitely less. Some may argue impossible.

This draws a line in the sand, (and in the case of the Sudan, that line goes right through the oil fields). Muslim above the line. Non-Muslim below the line.

There is a huge problem in dividing up the world by religious ideology. It tends to divide not only ideas and faith, but wealth and health. But as with India and Pakistan, the motivation to minimize conflict was a vital one that has been served more or less well, even while they haven’t exactly become bosom buddies.

So if this experiment with The Sudan is successful, which I think it will be “more or less”, then a new formula may emerge for reducing Africa’s troubled conflicts.

The Story of The Sudan

The Story of The Sudan

Sunday is the beginning of the end of one of the most monumental conflicts Africa has ever experience, and Sen. John Kerry was there this week to gently help see it through.

Sen. Kerry arrived in The Sudan on Tuesday and returned home yesterday. Today Jimmy Carter arrived with his wife to monitor the election. Amazingly, there’s very little in American news about this watershed event. There’s not even anything on John Kerry’s own website. But thank goodness he and Jimmy are there.

Kerry has been pivotal in shepherding a half century struggle in southern Sudan to some peaceful conclusion, untangling the mess the British created during the colonial period. His latest carrot to the Sudanese masters in Khartoum was a stunning one: that he could support removing the north from the “States that sponsor terrorism” list if all goes well this week in the South.

There’s no doubt about the outcome of the election which begins Sunday and goes on for a week. The outcome will officially express the will of The South to secede from The North. Everyone knows this and has known it for years. Diplomats have been in training for more than a year. Western donor nations have built the rooms that the new Parliament will use. Even the neutral U.N. has a presence of presumed Peace-Keepers along the contentious potential border with the North.

The question is what happens afterwards.

The election calls for formal succession by July. But that means between now and then a number of contentious issues must be resolved that haven’t been, yet. Such as the border line. How much of Sudan’s current $36 billion dollar debt will be assumed by The South. And probably most dangerous of all, who gets the oil.

The proposed dividing line between North and South goes right through Sudan’s most productive oil fields. The irony is that they haven’t produced very well, because for nearly 50 years there’s been shooting going on. In 1981 I was myself given an offer by a giant oil company to help ransom oil workers being held hostage in the area, who were later killed in the fighting.

But as I’ve been saying for some time, I think this is going to happen, and pretty peacefully. And there is such hope in the air at the moment, that there is a nearly giddy presumption the success of next week’s election will spill over with goodness into regions like the troubled Darfur.

Sen. Kerry arrived Tuesday.

Here’s an extremely simplified time line of the history of Sudan:

The British annexed The Sudan in 1899. They didn’t really want to because it was considered a desert wasteland, which it looked at the time. But The Nile runs right through the country, and Britain was in a contentious and globally sensitive battle with France over control of Egypt. So with reluctance and little real interest the outposts along the Nile raised Her Majesty’s flags.

Seventeen years later in 1916 with World War I as a backdrop the massive Sultanate of Darfur was absorbed by the British into the hodgepodge of what they called The Sudan. This was a terrible mistake which prevails until today. Darfur was a kingdom relatively progressive by the standards of those days, and distinctly non-Muslim. This defined a religious battle that until then simply hadn’t existed.

The British had almost two decades of training Sudanese in Muslim Khartoum as government officials, and as they wrongly did everywhere, they sent into foreign lands the officials they trained in the African capital city. In Kenya, they sent Kikuyu to Luo. In The Sudan, they sent fanatic Muslims into animistic regions like Darfur. That mistake is still bleeding.

The next generation was relatively peaceful. The colonizers of Africa I believe actually did their best work as “colonizers” in the period of 1920-1940. In part this was because of an enormous emphasis on education, but also in part because of the troubled world economies that resulted in a sort of benign interest in things overseas. World War II changed all that.

The end of WWII left a crippled Britain on the world stage, bankrupt and exhausted. Winston Churchill said it was time to end the colonial era. Not much had happened in the colonies over the last 20 years and there was not much hope anything could. The exit from the era of colonialism was a pragmatic, not a moral one. Independence would save money.

And this driving western motivation, saving money, is a theme that has caused so much havoc in Africa. Just collect as many jobs as you possibly can afford and give them as large a responsibility as possible. Forget the hodgepodge of eons of cultures and societies that you’re instantly integrating: just do it, be done with it, and get out.

This was otherwise known as the Juba Conference.

Britain had essentially neglected all of The Sudan for a half century. Now it was giving it eight years to reach Independence, a collection of tribes, more than 200 language groups, and viciously antagonistic religions. This wasn’t oil and water, it was refined uranium and explosions of the sun.

Independence was set for 1956. Imagine the millennia of battles between gallant horse-riding knights and primitive tribes over Sharia, Jesus Christ, palm nuts and women, between 200 groups of people who understood nothing about one another except the length of each other’s spears. They were in 8 short years to create a modern nation, with … a single leader.

War broke out in The South in 1955.

The South which lies over the rich agricultural regions of Uganda was populated by non-Muslim tribes from the Lake Victoria region, the same groups of people who would form the country of Uganda in 1963. In fact, that was what they were fighting for in the beginning, to become a part of Uganda, not of The Sudan.

The Sudan was independent according to British prescription for all of two years: 1956 and 1957. The country was being torn asunder. A military coup in 1958 held it together. All vestiges of British idealism about self-government were gone.

In 1962 as Uganda was about to achieve independence, military leaders of the south declared their own country, South Sudan. The world took no notice. I can imagine JFK looking towards Cuba and finding a second to ask his ambassador to Britain how things were going in the former colonials and not listening to an answer that never came.

Britain didn’t like these upstarts disturbing its jet age plans for African independence. No, Britain said to The South, you can’t join Uganda.

And for that matter, Uganda wasn’t really interested, either. No one knew about the oil, yet.

In Khartoum in the North, one military coup after another essentially destroyed the place until a real strongman, Gaafar Mohamed El-Nimeiri, started a holocaust in 1969 of the most brutal and extreme ever known in this part of Africa. When the dust settled (it took two years), Nimeiri was firmly in control and terrified the world.

But he was pragmatic. He wanted to get rid of the distant war in The South, so in 1972 in Addis Ababa, he signed a Peace Agreement with southern rebels that ended the fighting for nearly a decade, giving them autonomous control of their region.

Things might have stayed that way. Except for one unexpected development.

OIL. 1978.

Chevron began building rigs throughout the Sudd region that exactly today will divide the North and South. It’s a swampy, ridiculously hot, horribly unnice area for human beings. Except for a few areas where nomadic tribes did herd hoofed stock, it was a wasteland. But, of course, no more.

For five years Chevron pumped more and more oil out of the region, paying royalties usually to warlords rather than any established government officials. Niemeri watched millions of dollars creeping away.

Most of these bucks crept south, admittedly. They strengthened the “autonomous region” of the south by, well, providing guns. Oil companies have a way of doing this.

Niemeri was now a dictator growing a heart. The Cold War wasn’t over, but it was cooling. He was growing more acceptable to the West. In a move that at the time meant nothing to the west, he declared Sharia law the law of the land, and this essentially empowered him even further. In 1983 he sent troops into the Judd to secure the oil fields.

All hell broke lose.

And the South prevailed. The north lost the battle. And Niemeri was deposed and killed by fellow officers in 1986. After a few insignificant military coups later, the current president, Omar al-Bashir comes to power in 1993.

The battle rages on in The South. The North grows indebted having lost its Cold War patrons. War has now been going on for nearly 50 years. In 1998 Bill Clinton sends a missile into Khartoum and blows up a factory he claimed was making terrorists’ weapons.

The North is further weakened. Lots of leaders are killed and jailed, but Bashir survives another coup and emerges as a peace-maker in 1999, pledging to end the horrible travail Sudanese in The North have experienced for generations.

In 2002 he signs a peace deal with the South. Rebels in Darfur begin fighting, emboldened by Bashir’s apparent concessions in The South. The North is further weakened as it tries desperately to manage the growing war in Darfur.

In 2005 Bashir and John Sarang of The South sign a comprehensive understanding that would lead to an election for succession the second week of January, 2011.

Top Ten 2010 Stories

Top Ten 2010 Stories

East Africa is booming, so many of the stories of 2010 were terrifically good news. But there were the tragedies as well like the Kampala bombings. Below I try to put the year in perspective with my top ten stories for East Africa for 2010.

1. Populace democracy grows.
2. Terrorism grows, as does the battle against it.
3. Huge stop in the mercenary purchases of Coltan.
4. Momentum for peace in the runup to establishing a new South Sudan.
5. Tourism clashes with development, especially with the proposed Serengeti Highway.
6. New discoveries of fossil fuels produces new wealth and a new relationship with China.
7. Gay Rights grow public but loses ground.
8. Rhino poaching becomes corporate.
9. Hot air ballooning’s safety newly questioned in game parks.
10. Newest early man discoveries reconfirm sub-Saharan Africa as the birthplace of man.

Theoretically, all the East African countries have operated as “democracies” except for the torrential years of Idi Amin in Uganda. But the quality of this democracy was never very good.

Tanzania was a one-party state for its first 20 years, and that same party continues to rule although more democratically today. Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi experienced one dictator after another, even while democratic elections at regional levels challenged the executive.

But the end of the Cold War destroyed the alliances these developing countries had with super powers. Purse strings were cut, and political cow-towing ended. All of them moved towards a truly more democratic culture.

And in 2010 huge leaps were made in all the countries towards more truly representative government. The most important example by far was the overwhelming passing of the new constitution in Kenya in a national referendum where more than 75% of registered voters participated.

And like the U.S. election which followed shortly thereafter, and like support for national health care in the U.S. and so many other issues (like no tax cuts for the rich), Kenyan politicians dragged their feet right up to the critical moment. They tried and tried, and ultimately failed, to dissuade Kenyans from their fundamental desire to eliminate tribalism in government and more fairly distribute the huge wealth being newly created.

I see this as People vs. Politicians, and in this wonderful case, the People won!

And there was some progress as well in Tanzania’s December election, with the opposition growing and its influence today moving that country towards a more democratic constitution.

(It was not so good in Rwanda or Uganda, where stiff-arm techniques and government manipulation of the electoral process undermined any attempt at real democracy.) But the huge leap forward in Kenya, and the little hop in Tanzania, made this the absolute top story of the year.

Four smaller bombings in Nairobi’s central business district over the year were eclipsed by two horrible simultaneous bombings in Kampala bars on July 11 while patrons were watching the world cup.

Police display an unexploded suicide vest.

Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda in Somali, claimed responsibility. And throughout the year Shabaab grew increasingly visible along the Kenyan border as its power in Somali increased.

I’ve written for a long time about how the west has had its collective head in the sand as regards terrorism and Al-Qaeda in particular. Long ago I pointed out that the locus of Al-Qaeda terrorism had moved to the horn from Afghanistan, and this year proved it in spades.

The country with the most to lose and most to gain in this war on terror is Kenya, because of its long shared border with Somalia. And the year also marked a striking increase in the Kenyan government’s war on terror, and with considerable success.

With much more deftness and delicacy than us Kenya has stepped up the battle against Al-Shabaab while pursuing policies aimed at pacifying any overt threats to its security, by such brilliant moves as allowing Omar Bashir into the country and not arresting him (on an international U.N. warrant). As I said in a blog, Kenya Gets It, and the story is therefore a hopeful one.

This is also a U.S. story.

The Dodd-Frank Act is our victory!
The Congo Wars continue but are abating, and in large part because of a little known provision in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act which now makes it almost impossible for major corporations in the U.S. to buy the precious metal Coltan on the black market.

A black market which has funded perhaps Africa’s most horrible war for more than a generation. Hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – have been killed and raped, and more than 20,000 children conscripted into brutal wars, funded by purchases of Coltan and other precious metals by Intel, Sony and Apple.

It certainly wasn’t just this little legislative move. The U.N. peace-keeping force, fabulous diplomatic initiatives by Uganda and a real diplomatic vigilance by the U.S. all were instrumental. But the year ended with the least violence in the region in more than two decades.

I may be jumping the gun on this one, because the referendum to create a new country, the South Sudan, is not scheduled to occur before next month. But the runup to the referendum, including the registration process, while labored looks like it’s working.

Allied loosely with the Congo Wars, the civil war between the North and South Sudan had gone on for generations until a brokered peace deal five years ago included the ultimate end to the story: succession of the South into a new country.

The concept is rife with problems, most notably that the division line straddles important oil-producing areas. But in spite of all of this, and many other ups and downs along the way, it looks to me like there will be a South Sudan, and soon. And this year’s new U.N. presence in Juba, donor-construction of roads and airports, all points to the main global players in the controversy also thinking the same.

The creation of a new state out of a near failed one is not the be-all or end-all of the many problems of this massive and powerfully oil-rich area. But it is a giant leap forward.

Last night NBC news aired a segment on the Serengeti Highway controversy, elevating an East African story into American prime time. Good.

But like so many reports of this controversy, the simplification ran amok. NBC’s reporter Engels claimed the motivation for the road was to facilitate rare earth metals like Coltan (see above) getting into Chinese hands more quickly.

While there may be something to this, it’s definitely not the main reason, which is much more general and harder therefore to fight. As I’ve often written, the highway as planned will be a real boon to the Maasai currently living to the east of the Serengeti, as much if not more than to the Chinese.

And as far as I know, Maasai don’t use Coltan.

Roads bring commerce and may be the single quickest way to develop a region. This region is sorely in need of development and recent Tanzania politics has aligned to the need for this regional development.

The highway is just one of many such issues which came to the fore throughout 2010 in Kenya and Tanzania. Concern that the west is just interested in East Africa as a vacation destination with no regards for the struggle for development, has governed quite a few local elections this year.

The whole concept of tourism may be changing as the debate progresses. I believe very deeply that the Serengeti highway as proposed would hinder rather than help development. But as I’ve pointed out, alternatives are in the works.

And the real story of which the highway story is only a part, is how dramatically different East Africans have begun to view tourists in 2010.

For years I and other African experts have referred to East Africa as “resource-poor.” Kenya, in particular, had nothing but potash. Boy, did that change this year!

Although only one proven reserve has been announced in Kenya, several have begun production in Uganda and we know many more are to come.

China has announced plans for a pipeline and oil port in northern Kenya at a cost of nearly $16 billion dollars, that’s more than twice the entire annual budget for the Kenya government! Deep earth techniques have matured, and China knows how to use them.

More gold has been found in Tanzania, new coal deposits in Uganda, more precious metals in Rwanda… East Africa is turning into the world’s rare earth commodities market.

A lot of these new discoveries are a result of technology improving: going deeper into the earth. But 2010 freed East Africa from the shackle of being “resource-poor” and that’s a very big deal.

African societies have never embraced gay rights but as they rapidly develop, until now there was none of the gay bashing of the sort the rightest backlash produces in the U.S.

U.S. Righties manipulating East Africa.

That changed this year, and in large part because of the meddling of U.S. rightest groups.

In what appears to now have been a concerted many year effort, support from U.S. righties is leading to a vote in Uganda’s parliament that would make homosexuality a capital offense, and would jail for long terms those who failed to out known gays.

This extreme is not African, it is American. Mostly an insidious attempt by those unable to evince such insanity in their own society to go to some more manipulative place. The story isn’t over as the vote has yet to occur, but it emerged and reached a crescendo this year.

Poaching is a constant problem in wildlife reserves worldwide and Africa in particular. Rhino are particularly vulnerable, and efforts to ensure safe, wild habitats have been decades in the making.

Dagger from rhino horn.

This year, they seemed to come apart. It’s not clear if the economic downturn has something to do with this, but the poaching seems to have morphed this year from individual crimes to corporate business plans.

This leap in criminal sophistication must be explained by wealth opportunities that haven’t existed previously. And whether that was the depressing of financial goals caused by the economic downturn, increased wealth in the Horn of Africa where so much of the rhino horn is destined, or reduced law enforcement, we don’t yet know. But 2010 was the sad year that this poaching exploded.

Hot air ballooning in Africa’s two great wildernesses of the Maasai Mara (Kenya) and the Serengeti (Tanzania) has been a staple of exciting options to visiting tourists for nearly 30 years. That might be changing.

Is it Safe?

A terrible accident in the Serengeti in early October that killed two passengers and injured others opened a hornet’s nest of new questions.

After working on this story for some time I’ve personally concluded 2010 was the year I learned I should not step into a hot air balloon in East Africa, at least for the time being!

There were not quite as many spectacular discoveries or announcements about early man this year as in years previously, but one really did stand out as outstanding and you might wonder what it has to do with East Africa!

Representation by Tomislan Maricic.

DNA testing of Neanderthal proved that early man from Africa didn’t wipe them out after all, but absorbed them into the ever-evolving homin species.

And that absorption, and not massacre, happened outside Africa to be sure. But it finally helps smooth out the story that began in Africa: It’s likely that Neanderthal were earlier migrants from Africa, and absorption was therefore easier, physiologically and biologically.

It’s a wonderful story, and fresh and exciting, unlike the only other major African early man announcement about Ardi which was really a much older story, anyway.

HAPPY NEW YEAR to all my loyal readers, with a giant thank you from me for your attention but especially your wonderful comments throughout the year. See you next year!

Does Clooney Help or Hurt?

Does Clooney Help or Hurt?

The Obama Administration has been balancing American interests in The Sudan deftly and with amazing success. “Winds of War”, George Clooney and Ann Curry might have jeopardized these efforts.

“Winds of War”’s principal success is the message that genocide is likely following next month’s referendum for the south to secede from the north. But the horrible conclusion taken from this is the simplistic and incorrect notion that violence can be prevented.

Entertainment comes in many forms but at the core of most entertainment is the reduction of ideas or situations to attract an audience. Well-prepared bait creates happiness or sadness, fear or comfort, other deep emotions like feeling enlightened, so that you’ll come back to the entertainer and buy more, later.

This is not how the history of The Sudan should be spread among the world. It’s just much more complicated than a 1-hour television special.

At the best, in pure reductio infinitum, we can say “at least it’s increased interest.” Clooney seems like a wonderful person. At least Ann Curry thinks so, as much of the special was about Clooney, not The Sudan.

Both Curry and Clooney expend a lot of effort explaining why so much of this story is about Clooney, rather than The Sudan. He is “using his celebrity” to help. I’m not sure he hasn’t. But I’m worried.

The danger of mobilizing the world to an issue like the upcoming Sudanese election by entertainers is that the results will be misunderstood. If trouble occurs, we’ll believe we understand exactly why. In this case: because it was preventable and we didn’t prevent it. That was the single message Clooney and Curry conveyed, again and again.

Preventing violence following the January 11 referendum for the south to secede from the north is virtually impossible in my opinion. But this does not mean that a new country, South Sudan, won’t be established, or that a better peace and situation that now exists won’t occur.

Violence after the referendum can’t be stopped, for the same reasons that terrorism can’t be stopped. In The Sudan as in the subways of London and airports of Seattle, mass destruction waits only for the actions of a single possibly random idiot or ideologue, take your pick.

Throughout “Winds of War” constant comparisons were made to the Rwandan genocide. This is simply straight out wrong. Effective foreign military force was already in Rwanda and could have been quickly and easily augmented, and specific policies in the U.S., France and the UN decided against doing so. It was a single wrong decision.

Sudan 2011 is not Rwanda 1994. The Sudan has genocide going on right now in Darfur. The world has come for better or worse to accept this genocide so long as it stays below a certain threshold.

The UN has (as of October) 9451 military personnel from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and a variety of African countries, spread out over a country that is 100 times bigger than Rwanda, which is basically validating the level of existing genocide.

(Important FootNote: No UN presence is near the town of Abyei where the violence after the January 11 referendum will likely begin. That – I believe – is intentional. Take it from there. If that dried out prairie brush fire can be contained, perhaps the suburbs around San Diego can be saved from the inferno.)

The Rwandan UN Force was heavily European, commanded by a Canadian general over a country that until the genocide began was at peace. He tried – unsuccessfully – to convince a world black-eyed from BlackHawk Down that genocide was imminent and could be prevented. He was right, and the “world” was wrong.

That metric cannot be applied today to The Sudan.

Instead, what I believe the Obama Administration and EU is working towards in southern Sudan is an acceptable threshold of genocide as exists right now in Darfur.

Not an entincing trailer to a film, is it?

Of course it isn’t! It’s a hard pill to swallow. And what’s worse, except through WikiLeaks we can’t admit it. But it may be the only way to incrementally ratchet down Sudan’s century of genocide. Rwanda’s ethnic hatred can be pretty simply explained: two different competing tribes whose animosities were accentuated by a racist colonial era. All we had – and have to do there is keep the genie in the bottle until sanity matures.

Sudan’s 30 or 40 tribes have been massacring one another for two millennia. Fueled by incompetent colonial powers, by enormous resources of oil, and by the visceral global ideological powerhouses of Christianity and Islam. We can’t even get the world to agree there shouldn’t be genocide! Every nation from China to the U.S. wants the oil, wants the religious allegiances and should we begin talking about the continent’s water source known as the Nile?

The Sudan is so important, so fundamental to the peace and stability of all of Africa, that a one-page synopsis or one-hour TV special has the enormous potential of screwing up everything.

The proposed border areas between the north and the new South Sudan will have violence, I just don’t see any other prospect. It will begin in Abyei. This is where so much oil is found. But we’d like to keep the violence in this oil-rich area at levels contained, just as the violence currently in the oil-rich Niger Delta of Nigeria seems contained. If this can be managed, then a society in South Sudan can emerge as it’s emerging in Nigeria.

“Winds of War” stokes the fire. If Clooney’s message achieves ultimate success, when the gunfire begins later next month in Abyei, America will send troops to stop it, and will become as deeply mired in conflict there as we are in Afghanistan.

It’s not working in Afghanistan. It won’t work in The Sudan.


Click here for Frank Lagiftt’s excellent NPR report.

Below for as usual an unbiased report from Al Jazeera.

They Will Divorce

They Will Divorce

Guess what? After a generation of war the peace of a richly endowed part of Africa the size of Texas all comes down to … who gets .. That’s it! .. The what? OIL!

I’ve been writing for several years, now, that I believed – almost counterintuitively and certainly contrary to many observers — that southern Sudan would become a peaceful nation next year. Well, I might have been wrong. But not by much. It might be just slightly delayed as everyone works out who gets rich and who stays poor.

This week we watched some confused hand gesturing by Sudan’s current president, some rational talk by its senior foreign minister, some hand slapping by Hillary Clinton, and some sabre rattling by those expected to become the new South Sudan government. It wasn’t exactly getting ready for a ribbon cutting ceremony.

Other than the Balkans where the combined power of world force shellacked peace to death by imposing the breakup of existing states, or before that the implosion of the Soviet Union by capitalist viruses, there have been no breakups in existing countries in the world.

According to my calendar of state breakups, this was the next one. January, 2011.

The planned breakup of Africa’s largest country, The Sudan, into larger but poorer north and smaller and richer south, was the embodiment of a truly historic peace agreement in 2005.

Extreme, dictatorial and xenophobic Sudan agreed to a referendum. (That meant that individual southern herdsmen who were shot ten years ago if they looked a northern soldier in the eye were supposed to find a ballot box while keeping their eyes on the ground.)

The outcome was obvious from the beginning. The South would become a separate nation. Referendums on a separation are never scheduled because of uncertainty. When there’s uncertainty, unity rules.

The South and the soon to be “North” were never meant to be, anyway. The culture, religion, even geography is considerably different. Like so much that’s wrong with Africa, this was Britain’s fault for believing that contiguous deserts and swamps belonged together because there weren’t any cities in them (at the time).

Only needed one governor, then.

The point in scheduling a referendum is to give the divorcing parties time for counseling. You need to work out visitation rights, alimony, and the thorniest problem of all, oil.

Well, everything’s been worked out right on schedule except … oil.

I just don’t understand why this surprises everyone. Today’s headlines are running around the world proclaiming war.

War won’t happen. Peace is coming, but it might be delayed, so just breathe slowly. And who gets the oil will be decided in The Sudan long before Sunis, Shiites and Kurds decide who gets it in Iraq.

That is not to say that, like in Iraq, the uncertainty or poor agreement does not set the stage for civil war a decade hence. But my prediction stands. Sudan will become two within a few years at most without anymore fighting.

Our Arthritic Fingers are Still Crossed

Our Arthritic Fingers are Still Crossed

Salva Kiir practicing for an election he has waited for for 27 years.
The years and years of violence, genocide, child soldiers and poverty in the midst of the world’s greatest riches may be coming to an end in The Sudan, even as new obstacles presented themselves this week.

Against all odds and every expert’s prediction, the beleaguered and troubled Sudan, Africa’s largest country and guardian of its greatest length of Nile, agreed nearly five years ago to begin a peace process that should end in a few months.

That final of hundreds of steps and missteps is a national referendum that will allow the non-Arab south of the country to secede. And with it goes 80% of Sudan’s enormous and mostly untapped oil reserves.

Who on earth would have thought that the recalcitrant government of Khartoum, the one which is headed by the only sitting world leader indicted by The Hague for war crimes against humanity, the man who cannot travel anywhere without being arrested, has agreed to excise four-fifths of his nation’s wealth?

The answer is not simple, but the simplest way to convey its myriad of complications is that believe it or not, Gen. Omar al-Bashir finally concluded (as half of his life passed before him) that not to do so would cost him greater than trying to keep it.

Patient world diplomacy, patient sanctions changed this dictator’s mind.

At least until last week.

As we race towards a finish line on this generational marathon, Bashir’s government is stalling. That doesn’t strike me as very odd. Imagine having agreed to settle a class action suit against your drug company by giving 80% of it away. It’s a rather tough decision to come to, and once made, there’s going to be a number of second thoughts.

No one’s taking any chances, though. Next week at the UN one of the few meetings that President Obama will hold, with the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, are two high ranking Sudanese officials. (They can’t meet with Bashir, because if he stepped foot in the U.S. he would be arrested with an international court warrant.)

Headlines around the world are calling this “Obama’s rescue” and in a sense, I can understand the headline but I think it’s mostly opprobrium.

Patience is the key, patience even as the marathon comes to an end. And when it does, is there a possibility we could apply this masterful patience to places like, oh say, Afghanistan?