The recognition of the world’s newest country, South Sudan, seems to have been greeted with dismay by many in the Arab speaking world. Yet the recognition of South Sudan is the result of some 60 years of conflict and the loss of countless lives and great suffering. Surely that is more than welcome news. I was a regular visitor to Sudan and I am more than aware of the suffering of the people of south Sudan.
Sudan, like many other countries in Africa and the Middle East, was demarcated by lines drawn on a map by colonial powers a century or more ago. British and other European army surveyors and politicians decided where borders should go and in many cases a straight line was drawn between two points on a map to the satisfaction of those in power and with little thought to the indigenous people and ethnic groups who lived there. The borders of the countries in the region that we know today are not necessarily the borders that existed in ancient times and all too often these straight line demarcations have caused friction between neighbouring states and even within towns and villages.
I was in Hargeisa some twenty years ago when the people of northern Somalia declared themselves as being Somaliland but the UN and Arab League has never recognised Somaliland although Somalia was recognised. Somalia joined the Arab League during the oil boom of 1974 although like Somaliland it does not have an ethnic arab population. Somaliland (British Somaliland) was independent in 1960 and they chose to join with the south (Italian Somalia) voluntarily and now they wish to separate again from the south however the Arabs and the UN do not agree with or recognise this although they, the Arab nations, have little to do with that part of Africa.
It is perhaps time for the region to do as other parts of the world have done and recognise that errors have been made in the past and that the straight lines on the map are not necessarily sacrosanct. The Soviet Union determined its borders which have now been replaced by others as the onetime soviet states gained their independence.
Yet pause for a minute to reflect on the Kurdish people who found their homelands divided by the stroke of a pen between three nations, namely the Arabs, Turks and Persians, each of which had their own strong nationalistic views. The Kurdish population in Syria must, more or less, be equal in numbers to the Alawites who fully dominate the government. I worked in Libya throughout the mid 1970s and mid 1980s and I had many good friends and colleagues who were Libyan Berbers (Amazigh) yet Gaddafi’s regime did not recognise the existence of the Berbers, yet now there are many gaining prominence as Gaddafi’s regime is coming to its end.