So, the world has a new nation in South Sudan and the welcome has been extraordinary.
Acres of newsprint and broadcast coverage have been devoted in recent days to the arrival of independence to a trouble-torn part of Africa.
Yesterday, South Sudan raised its national flag and people took to the streets to celebrate, surrounded by dignitaries from around the world.
Barack Obama, the US President, issued a statement as did Hilary Clinton and the US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, headed up the American delegation at the celebrations. China also sent a delegation and the UN Secretary-General attended. The United Nations is expected to agree South Sudan’s application to become the 193rd member next week.
Even the UK has joined the party. The UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, found time from his travails over his News International connections to send some warm words and the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, was there in person. I have heard several broadcast radio and TV features on South Sudan’s move to full statehood, including, bizarrely, being woken by Radio 5 Live playing the country’s rather jolly anthem.
It’s not every day that the world gains a new member but still, the response has been remarkable. Why has a small slice of Africa, with only a small population, war-torn, impoverished, lacking infrastructure and basic services, attracted so much attention? I’d like to think that all these global powers see it as their civic and moral duty to support any nation’s right to self-determination, but we all know that is not true. It would be lovely to think they all see some responsibility to invest and support this nascent state’s efforts to gear up for statehood, to move from being one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world and ensure its population and society thrives, but history does not support such a view.
So why? Call me a cynic but the answer lies in oil.
South Sudan is oil-rich but is in a complicated situation. The south has the resources but none of the refining or processing infrastructure in place. It is believed that South Sudan holds more than 75% of the whole of Sudan’s oil but currently the oil can only reach market through North Sudan’s pipelines. There is a potential here for further fall-out that the big nations are alert to.
But, as an increasingly resource-hungry world devours the remaining pockets of natural resources, it is clear why everyone wants to be South Sudan’s friend. The oil. The vultures are circling it would appear, trying to ensure that they get their hands on this country’s riches. Or at least, they get the opportunity to share in the spoils, not only from the oil itself but the development opportunities that arise from the possibility of exploiting the oil wealth.
This suspicion taints what should be a joyful occasion indeed. South Sudan has a right to exist, its people voted overwhelmingly for nationhood, and the nascent country deserves our support and good wishes.
Just as Scotland will, if it decides to vote for independence in a few years’ hence. Can an independent Scotland expect an effusive embrace from the world if it determines to go it alone? We’ll see.
In the meantime, I might just be one of the little people, but I wish South Sudan well as it begins its long journey to a just, equal and fair society. Welcome to the world!