South Sudan: The Symbolism of Africa’s First Truly Independent Nation

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The recent independence referendum in South Sudan should be applauded by all who appreciate freedom and democracy, and by all who toil and struggle against the yoke of internal colonialism and its devastating consequences in much of Africa and beyond for its symbolism and precedent. For more than 400 years, Europeans besieged and plundered the African continent, carting away millions of African slaves to unknown lands where they were treated as domestic animals, toiling until they literarily withered to death.

With the commencement of the industrial age, the need for African slaves declined and was replaced by the need for raw materials and other natural resources to power the industrial growth. The focus of Europeans was subsequently redirected to exploiting and pillaging the abundant natural resources in Africa, and so was born the era of colonialism.  Thus on the 15th of November 1884 Europeans gathered in a conference in Berlin under the leadership of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck where without any consultation or representation of any of the fiercely independent African ethnic nations partitioned the continent like a piece of cake and created “spheres of influence” amongst the Europeans solely for the purpose of exploiting the abundant natural resources in the continent.

The legacy of this arbitrary partitioning of Africa by Europeans  have  to date shackled  the continent in chains of endless conflicts, marginalisation, distrust, lack of development  and a proliferation of failed states.  Ironically, the chequered history of Europe which for centuries was littered with conflicts of identity and self determination culminating just 66 years ago in the bloodiest world war in human history, put Europeans in a better situation through their own experience to appreciate and anticipate the inherent dangers in arbitrarily merging disparate African ethnic nations into artificial colonial boundaries.

It was therefore an absolute act of bad faith by the Europeans to forcefully create artificial nations destined to fail. Some suggest that it was a deliberate design by the Europeans to guarantee unlimited access to the natural resources. Thus if as some suggest, the  plan and intent  by merging disparate ethnic nationalities was to create a situation of pervasive hatred, instability, civil strife and poverty in order to sustain access to the vital natural resources they have largely succeeded. Much of the history of post-colonial Africa has reflected this reality.  By the late 40’s and  50’s when the   de-colonisation era began, the colonialists made sure the artificial boundaries  could not be reversed thereby bequeathing  to most African nations a terrible burden of ethno-religious  contradictions and  strife for  which a huge cost continue to be paid.   It is thus against this backdrop that we must view and celebrate the symbolic independence of South Sudan which incidentally is the first African nation to draw its own boundaries and gain independence on those terms.

Just like the  decolonisation era which commenced in the  40’s and 50’s and subsequently swept through the rest of Africa, most  like Nigeria without any conflict, it is certain that this symbolic beginning in South Sudan will eventually lead to a wave of truly independent nations emerging from a deeply traumatised  continent. Like every pioneering sacrifice in history, South Sudan had to fight a long and bloody conflict to gain its independence, but now that the logic has been established with the support and consent of the international community, such conflicts will no longer be necessary for the nations that are sure to come after South Sudan in the journey to freedom.

The moral logic is clear enough. It makes no sense and perhaps qualifies as one of the most stupid acts of mankind to fight wars and kill in order to keep a people in a nation against their will. It ultimately defeats the very idea of democracy. If colonialism was wrong whose realisation led to the waves of decolonisation from the middle of the 20th century, how different is internal colonialism that has arrested the development and condemned various ethnic nations to brutal oppression and apartheid in imposed colonial boundaries?  Nations must and can only be built through persuasion- consent and the democratisation of self determination through referendums is the only legitimate route to that end.

It is in the interest of all to have a world free from conflicts, poverty and failed states which usually become a sanctuary for terrorists from whence they can launch deadly attacks including the increasing possibility of a nuclear strike. The Southern Sudanese solution which has begun the process of reversing the mistake of 1884 has presented the world a new model for attaining global peace; I hope the world will take it in a hurry.

Lawrence  Chinedu  Nwobu


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