South Sudan’s flag was raised at the African Union for the first time on Monday. But the new country’s reception at the continental institution raises questions about just how new states can be created in Africa. The answers aren’t comforting. By SIMON ALLISON
South Sudan officially became Africa’s 54th country on Monday as the African Union welcomed the new state at a flag-raising ceremony at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa. Although enjoying the pomp and ceremony of being a proper country, South Sudan’s still got plenty of problems with which to deal starting with its still-undefined borders and ending … well, we can’t see an end to South Sudan’s problems any time soon.
But the entry of the nascent state into the AU’s corridors of power is going to cause a few headaches for the AU too, especially from those African territories and regions which haven’t made the cut as fully-fledged nations yet.
Article Four of the African Union Charter states pretty bluntly that the union shall function in accordance with the principle of “respect of borders existing on achievement of independence”. It was a controversial clause at the time, in effect ratifying colonial-era boundaries, but deemed necessary to protect the integrity of borders and keep countries from fragmenting.
And now they’ve gone and violated this principle by recognising South Sudan, which was at no stage before or since independence its own entity, having always been a part of the greater Sudan. This has already spurred on the claims of Somaliland, the breakaway region of Somalia which has run itself as a functioning democracy very efficiently for the last 20 years, but can’t understand why no one will give it the recognition it deserves.
Moreover, Somaliland actually was an independent entity at the time of its independence from Britain, choosing to unify with Somalia proper and then choosing to opt-out when it all went wrong.
Somaliland’s achieved its de facto independence through the steady build up of institutions, infrastructure and stability. South Sudan got theirs through civil war. By recognising South Sudan (and Eritrea before that), the AU has implicitly said the path to statehood is through violence – a lesson secessionist movements across the continent will not take long to learn.
Not that you can blame the AU. Both Eritrea and South Sudan deserved recognition after long struggles against oppression. But the institution needs to find a way to reward non-violent, peaceful means of state formation, or its policies will only serve to encourage civil war, something the continent’s had quite enough of already. DM
Photo: South Sudanese citizens wave their flags as they attend the Independence Day celebrations in the capital Juba, July 9, 2011. Tens of thousands of South Sudanese danced and cheered as their new country formally declared its independence on Saturday, a hard-won separation from the north that also plunged the fractured region into a new period of uncertainty. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya.
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