Monday, July 11, 2011

South Sudan

South Sudan is a new country of 8 million people in central Africa that declared its independence on Sunday. It has seceded from Sudan after a civil war that lasted over 50 years. What was behind this break? Mostly religion, since Sudan is an Islamic country that regards itself as "Arab" even though its inhabitants are Black Africans. The South Sudanese follow predominantly traditional local religions or are Christian. They also speak English (perhaps from the time Britain occupied the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan) while the Sudanese speak Arabic. These differences, as well as cultural and ethnic differences, have finally resulted in the split after the loss of more than 2 million lives!

Since the South Sudanese were fighting a nominally Arab Muslim country, it is not surprising that Israel was secretly supporting them, with supplies of weapons and diplomatic help. On a personal note, many years ago when I was living near Washington DC, and was known as a pro-Israeli activist, I was approached by someone who asked me if I would be willing to escort a South Sudanese leader (or general) around the Capitol to meet with various US politicians. This is what I had been doing with Soviet Jewish refuseniks and I had some useful contacts. After some discussion the matter was dropped. I did not think that it would be appropriate for a member of the Jewish Community Council of Washington to be taking around a Black rebel, a bit too noticeable. But, no doubt the person in question was helped and is now in a high position in the new South Sudan State.

While South Sudan may be independent and recognized by the UN, its troubles are far from over. The border town of Abeye is still in dispute with the north and the Sudanese President Bashir has sent the Army south to take control of the town. Also, although South Sudan has the oil, it has to be transported to the north in order to be refined and reach markets, and although there was an agreement to split the income, that is no longer valid and must be re-negotiated. Also, inside South Sudan there are at least 5 rebel groups that fought for independence but have not so far reconciled themselves to the current situation. A lot can happen yet.

Israel does not have too many friendly countries in Africa. Kenya has always been friendly to Israel, but many others are either Muslim or pro-Palestinian, such as South Africa. South Sudan is a very poor and backward country after this terrible civil war. Now hundreds of thousands of exiles are flocking back after living for years in Sudan and surrounding countries. South Sudan also has most of the oil in the region. So it would be an appropriate move for Israel to support South Sudan with training, expertise and investment as it builds up. It would be mutually beneficial to both countries.


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