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Identity Politics
South Sudan Coming Unglued

The situation in South Sudan seems to be going from bad to worse as a proper civil war seems to be in the offing in the world’s newest country. The FT:

Humanitarians have reported mass graves, ethnic killings and war crimes since Mr Kiir, a member of the Dinka ethnic group, accused his sacked vice-president and long-time adversary Riek Machar, a Nuer, of plotting a coup against him. While Mr Machar denies attempting a coup he has since become the de facto head of a loose and fractured rebellion that has rapidly brought the country to the brink of civil war, reducing oil output and threatening regional spillover.

General James Hoth Mai, chief of the general staff, told the Financial Times his army had retaken Bor town, capital of Jonglei state, at 5pm on Tuesday following a prolonged fight. He said he was not yet able to give casualty figures.

These problems of ethnic identity are not unique to South Sudan. Significant chunks of Africa and the Middle East today are being ripped apart by identity wars—sometimes religious, sometimes ethnic, sometimes a mix. While international peacekeepers can sometimes play a constructive role in stabilizing the situation, the so-called ‘international community’ lacks both the will and the capacity to intervene effectively in the dozens of such conflicts capable of flaring up at any time.

We rightly venerate leaders like Nelson Mandela (and George Washington for that matter) who are able not only to win independence but to build states that don’t rest on identity politics. Statesmen of this caliber are, however, rare, and societies with the social capital to transcend such differences are even rarer. The 21st century looks set to see its share of identity wars and mass killings.

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  • Vadim Pashkov

    Take up the White Man’s burden, The savage wars of peace–

    Fill full the mouth of Famine And bid the sickness cease;

    And when your goal is nearest The end for others sought,

    Watch sloth and heathen Folly Bring all your hopes to nought.

    • Anthony

      Fine Ditty but in America resembles “dog whistle politics”. And for record, I in no way endorse or support contretemps in South Sudan (just not qualified to offer informed comment).

      • TommyTwo

        1. For those who are not aware, this “ditty” is by Kipling. Dreadfully politically incorrect, but…

        2. A major selling point for an Iraqi Kurdistan is how the Kurds managed to put an end to their civil strife and prioritize the establishment of a unified autonomous entity.

        3. The hagiographical encomiums for Mandela were over the top, but he does indeed deserve full credit for his role in South Africa’s all-too-rare relatively peaceful transition.

        4. “A proper civil war.” A war that is not just civil, but also proper! I loves the English language. 🙂

        • Anthony

          Thanks for four points and aware of Kipling’s authorship just wanted to know if writer was (no attribution).

        • Jim__L

          I’ve always thought that if you drained away the racial overtones, that poem would be a pretty good anthem for the Peace Corps.

          At least one social service organization in India is likely to take up the motto, “Fill the mouth of famine and bid the sickness cease”, once enough time has past to make British dominance seem quaint rather than threatening. (That might even happen in my lifetime, considering Britain’s trajectory in the last 50 years.)

      • Corlyss

        Are you referring to my favorite quip by the Saudi King?

        “I summon my blue-eyed slaves anytime it pleases me. I command the Americans to send me their bravest soldiers to die for me. Anytime I clap my hands a stupid genie called the American ambassador appears to do my bidding. When the Americans die in my service their bodies are frozen in metal boxes by the US Embassy and American airplanes carry them away, as if they never existed. Truly, America is my favorite slave.” Saudi King Fahd Bin Abdul-Aziz, Jeddeh 1993

        • Anthony

          Perdu (in this remarkably complex chain of circumstances, we can identify, at certain turning points, a single ancestor from whom we humans have evolved – the first cells, simple animals, mammals, then primates). “Because we think well of ourselves….” On this thread, I am done.

    • Corlyss

      Since we’re in a poetical frame of mind, I quote from that wise foreign policy analyst, Hilaire Belloc. I wish we still had his grasp of how to deal with semi-savage primitives:

      Blood understood the Native mind.
      He said : ” We must be firm but kind.”

      A Mutiny resulted.
      I never shall forget the way
      That Blood upon this awful day
      Preserved us all from death.
      He stood upon a little mound,
      Cast his lethargic eyes around,
      And said beneath his breath :

      Whatever happens we have got
      The Maxim Gun, and they have not.”

      He marked them in their rude advance,
      He hushed their rebel cheers ;
      With one extremely vulgar glance
      He broke the Mutineers.
      (I have a picture in my book
      Of how he quelled them with a look.)
      We shot and hanged a few, and then
      The rest became devoted men.

  • Andrew Allison

    Just another ethnic conflict ( What was that about a triumph of American diplomacy?

  • Corlyss

    Was it ever glued?
    I’ve been expecting this since the “independence” because the North was not going to quietly let go of that oil wealth.

  • Jim__L

    George Washington built a state that didn’t rest on the shared identity of struggle against the British Crown for a government that respected inalienable rights? When did this happen?

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