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Failed State Watch
Ethnic Violence Kills Hundreds in South Sudan

South Sudan is getting much, much bloodier as the army and rebels fight over the oil-rich town of Bentuito near the border with Sudan. There are reports that when rebels seized the city last week they slaughtered hundreds of ethnic Dinkas, as well as Nuer civilians who failed to cheer the rebels on. (The Dinka generally support the President and the army, while the Nuer are generally supporters of rebel leader Riek Machar.) The BBC reports:

Some 200 civilians were reportedly killed at the Kali-Ballee mosque where they had sought shelter.

At the hospital, Nuer men, women and children, who hid rather than cheer the rebel forces as they entered the town, were also killed, it said.

Non-Nuer South Sudanese and foreign nationals were singled out and killed, the UN Mission in South Sudan (Unmiss) said.

Africa’s problems are more serious than many think. South Sudan split off from the north after decades of religious and ethnic conflict. But now the same forces are ripping South Sudan to shreds.

The mix of tribalism, nationalism, and religious conflict found throughout Africa is one of history’s harbingers of conflict and slaughter. These are the same forces caused the deaths of tens of millions of people in Europe between 1850 and 1950. They are still at work in the Middle East today, and the slaughter is not yet done.

We like to think that progress and development banish war and ethnic hatreds. Actually something more like the opposite takes place on shorter timescales. Peoples who have lived side-by-side for centuries and millennia with only minor conflicts can become bitter enemies when the forces of development and modernization begin to take hold.

Economic growth may not be a simple solution to Africa’s problems. It may be part of a process that makes its conflicts hotter than ever.

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  • Jim__L

    “We will not be ruled by those whose ways are strange to us”.

    Freedom and liberty were supposed to ameliorate this universal human sentiment. These days we’re seeing that freedom and liberty, taken to the extremes of libertinism, causes so much strain that the “freedom and liberty” approach itself can start to fail.

    (Of course, winner-takes-all politics at the national level probably cause most of this strain.)

  • Andrew Allison

    Ah, for the relatively peaceful days of Colonialism! I’ve commented before that democracy isn’t for everybody. History, and current events in Africa and elsewhere suggest that extreme tribalism, nationalism, and religious conflict can only be contained by iron rule.

    • Jim__L

      The savage wars of peace, then?

      “We will not be ruled by those whose ways are strange to us” echoes down through the years…

      • Andrew Allison

        . . . unless the rule be iron.
        FWIW, the full title of Boot’s history of American interventionism is “The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power”

        • Jim__L

          Kipling was prescient. I wonder what he would make of our current situation?

          • Andrew Allison

            As a died-in-the-wool Jingoist, he’s no doubt rotating in his grave at close to the speed of light!

          • Jim__L

            I’m curious — does your original comment about “iron rule” cast the Jingoist epithet in something other than its usual pejorative sense?

          • Andrew Allison

            I was suggesting that if one looks at the results, recent and and historical, of overthrowing iron rules, the sobriquet should not necessarily be pejorative.

  • rheddles

    Ethnic violence?

  • free_agent

    One way to look at it is that South Sudan isn’t really developing economically. Instead, it’s an incredibly poor and backward country that happens to have a lot of oil in it. Whoever runs the place gets the money from the oil. The people of the country are economically worthless; all of the oil extraction will be done by contracted foreigners. A truly kleptocratic ruler would simply sweep the entire population out of the way. A more primitive and tribal ruler will redistribute the wealth to people in his tribe and sweep the entire population of every other tribe out of the way.

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