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South Sudan Joins the Community of “Nations”

South Sudan Joins the Community of “Nations”

States, Counties, Nations, and Nation-states

Though the term “nation” is being bandied about liberally, the point is not really that South Sudan is a nation now but that it’s a sovereign State distinct from the Republic of Sudan. There are of course few places where a unified ethnic, religious, or linguistic (etc.) entity is enclosed by a single border, so it’s more a matter of degree in a post-Westphalian world. South Sudan (composed largely of black Christians vs Sudan’s Arab Muslim population) is, for instance, closer to the “nation” end of that spectrum than Afghanistan–to be rudimentary, this at least partly motivated the 21 years of Sudan’s *last* civil war. There are of course always fractal strata of nuance that cause the definition to drift the deeper you go.

It’s useful to reserve the term especially when we consider the presence or absence of “nationalism” as a threat or obstacle to a unified State (rather prominent in the case of Afghanistan, for instance).

Nation Branding

Despite this railing against what may seem a mere semantic (in the pejorative sense) issue, I do find some of the “Nation Branding” material engaging (the term is cute too). This article on the naming of what became the Republic of South Sudan is interesting:

In fact, another suggestion most Southern Sudaneses don’t like either is ‘Southern Sudan’. They discard it because the name raises fears that this name would also confuse people, as many people would think that ‘Southern Sudan’ is the Southern region within Sudan, and not a different country.

But while there are ones who oppose the ‘Sudan’ word, there are others who don’t want to lose it. The latter consider their region to be the real ‘Sudan’, while the Northern part, which has become arabized and islamized, is not. They unpolish semantics to substantiate it. ‘Sudan’, they say, etymologically means in Arabic ‘land of the black people’, which is how fairer-skinned Arabs called the lands of conquered black tribes under their power. So this would justify that the name ‘Sudan’ makes more sense in the blacks-populated South than in the Arab-occupied North.

Nationalism and the “Arab Spring”

The “nation” question has has some import when we consider the “Arab Spring”: national unity is one reason the stability of an emerging Egyptian state may have some legs–there’s more of an underlying nation there (not to mention infrastructure and institutions which don’t rely on the regime for their legitimacy) than, say, Libya. Though the site of an ancient civilization like Egypt, Libya lacks a unifying nationalism. Another example: Belgium is not a nation, though of course it is a State. Though ethnic/linguistic cohesion is not the only source of nationalism, it is interesting that Iran, for instance, is only 51% Persian.

Wilson’s promise of “self determination” has, indeed, had some tragic results.


At the time of writing, the Republic of South Sudan has been recognized by 53 UN member states, Ban Ki-Moon’s written his op-ed and South Sudan is on the verge of being the 193rd member state. UPDATE: clearly the “time of writing” has past, there was the UNSC resolution, a General Assembly vote, and now South Sudan is the 193rd member of the United Nations.

While the country may not yet have an official capitol building, the world has another geopolitical metonym–Juba–akin to “Washington” or “Brussels”. E.g., “This week Juba decided to…”

While South Sudan’s may not yet have an official national stadium, they have already contested their first national soccer match.


Omar al-Bashir’s complicity in the secession and recognition of South Sudan was critical, and his presence at the independence ceremonies had some value. On the other hand, his complicity in civil war and atrocity is a bit of a problem: he’s been indicted for war crimes by the ICC, and there are plenty of other attendees who’d supported that indictment, or would simply rather not be photographed next to him or–even worse–shaking his hand. But his proximity to the new heads of state at these ceremonies is useful to both local parties, though for different reasons (perhaps “guilt by association” for one, the opposite for the other”)

South Sudanese officials are sensitive to these largely Western concerns and are choreographing a delicate diplomatic dance to avoid awkward encounters. (The Washington Times)

REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya


The World’s Seating Chart
While there is some question regarding how and when they get their (physical) General Assembly seat–the hall is full (with 192 UN member States, another sovereign non-member observer–the Holy See–and a non-sovereign observer–Palestine); for a country that’s now independent after extremely significant tribulations, this is hyper-trivial.

A game of diplomatic musical chairs will be required because the hall of the General Assembly is full. The UN is looking at squeezing in another desk, but it could also mean moving the non-state entities The Holy See and the Palestinian observer group out of the hall. (CBC)

Incidentally, the seating arrangement is alphabetical by State name (they select their denomination–in this case they’ll choose between Republic of South Sudan and South Sudan), but the starting seat is chosen through an annual drawing. Currently Turkmenistan occupies the starting seat and Turkey the last.

From Civil War to International Armed Conflict
Out of 620,000 square kilometers area South Sudan has less than 100km of paved roads. Sudan has only 15% literacy, and its average life expectancy is 55 years. Public health and infrastructure are two sources of legitimacy–improving either by substantial degrees will take time to say the least.

Security is another source of legitimacy. Establishing formal borders between the two countries is going to be fraught, particularly over Abyei, the Blue Nile state and how to split South Kordofan. Sudan’s acknowledgement of South Sudan’s sovereignty came with the caveat as being “within the 1956 borders”: this tees off the Abyei and South Kordofan disputes as part and parcel of that acknowledgement, almost as fait accompli.

And South Kordofan is rich in oil–like Kirkuk in Iraq, the loss of which in a referendum (an this case, though, just part thereof rather than the subject itself). Instead of eliminating bloodshed, one subject of civil war becomes an issue of international dispute and combat. Like Sudan’s President Bashir, the recently “elected” governor of South Kordofan is wanted by the International Criminal Court.

USAID (2001)

Ironically, the state of Unity is not, for the most part, disputed, though its oil fields are.

Challenges Ahead
The UNSC has voted to send 7,000 peacekeepers to South Sudan to “support” the establishment of the border; thus the UNMISS replaces the outgoing UNMIS. On top of the 4,200 Abyei-bound. Ethiopian peacekeepers. In a sense, in gaining independence these border disputes graduate from civil war to Internationally Armed Conflict.

FP has a good summary of the challenges ahead.

Despite all these troubles, it’ll be interesting to watch the formation of a new country (there are plenty of new countries–but not with this level of recognition). Along with two civil wars, and millions dead, this formal secession is the result of a vote. The sound of newly-minted South Sudanese watching their flag being raised is compelling.


National Logos
By the way, also via nation-branding.info we have this rather literal chart of various countries’ “logos”:

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