In the 2 Sudans: where separation breeds conflict - By Charlie Warren
January 17, 2012
When southern Sudanese voted to separate from Sudan almost one year ago, the
relative calm of the polling belied its historic outcome: the actual
secession of an African state. Following its long military and political
struggle with Khartoum, South South's statehood also meant the need for new
citizenship criteria on both sides of the nascent border. In the last six
months, many southern Sudanese have begun to gather their
> official documents.
However, a staggering 700,000 people living in the Republic of Sudan have
not been as fortunate. Their situation, and Karthoum's official response,
may have overlooked implications for regional security. More broadly,
citizenship in the Sudans also challenges recent theoretical commentary
about the likelihood, merits, and unintended effects of re-drawing Africa's
Following the birth of a new country, citizenship policies may appear to be
an exercise in bureaucratese-more to do with passports, obscure laws, and
government agencies than political instability, violence, and enduring
theoretical debates about the continent's political arrangements. Yet for
some postcolonial African countries, the latter may be more true to form.
Citizenship laws have proven to be a clever tool at the disposal of African
governments lacking capacity but searching for more. Delineated along ethnic
lines, official policies can also institutionalise the same ethnic cleavages
that nations-at least on some level-may smooth over.
First and foremost, the current situation in the Republic of Sudan
demonstrates the potential security and humanitarian issues of citizenship
policies all too well. UNHCR estimates suggest that 700,000 people in Sudan
still do not have official citizenship six months since the independence
celebrations in Juba. Legislatures on both sides of the nascent border have
enacted new laws over the past year to address the lingering nationality
questions. On the one hand, the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly has
taken a more cautious angle, calling for residency qualifications as well as
descent-based criteria to determine citizenship. On the other hand, the
Republic of Sudan has taken a different approach. Last summer, Khartoum's
National Assembly <http://allafrica.com/stories/201107160029.html
its 1994 Sudan Nationality Act to make clear that any person who takes on
southern citizenship will lose his legal affiliation with the northern
state. Worse still, the Republic of Sudan has imposed a vague April 9
deadline stating that any southerners in its midst must "regularize" by that
time or head south. That decree shortens the timeline and compounds the
problems facing both countries.
Earlier this month Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees,
Aw&usg=AFQjCNG3w7i9t0fml0o4mM> called on both countries to resolve the
thorny citizenship issue. The spectre of large flows of people southward
and/or related violence to expel them should raise concerns among even the
most ardent Afro-optimists. After all, in a region with an ethnic complexity
rivaling that of Nigeria, Cameroon, or DRC, making the decision to return
'home' also leads to practical and existential questions.
eds-conflict-by-charlie-warren/#_ftn1>  Khartoum is also known for its
While citizenship issues may present real regional concerns, they have been
curiously absent from the lively theoretical debate between G. Pascal
Zachary, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and Adam Hyde, a researcher
at LSE. Zachary's
the-case-to-keep-dividing-africa/241705/> Atlantic piece last July railed
against the "cult of colonial borders" that has stymied state breakups
across the continent. South Sudan is merely the start according to Zachary,
and it's time that Africans have the right to live within boundaries that
they find appropriate. Though hardly unfounded, specific elements of
Zachary's argument are still untenable. Adam Hyde provided a fair and
> critique, which Zachary
> rebutted earlier this year. If the best
knowledge on a topic comes from sustained argument, then readers are
indebted to Hyde and Zachary's exchange.
Both commentators also rely on the seminal work of scholar Jeffery Herbst.
eds-conflict-by-charlie-warren/#_ftn2>  However, neither acknowledges the
academic's prescience regarding citizenship and the Sudans. Writing more
than ten years ago, Herbst not only recounts the significance of citizenship
during Africa's immediate post-colonial period but also suggests its role in
more "tactical" decision-making among African politicians. Exclusionary
citizenship laws and/or policies may be to the advantage of Africa regimes,
though probably not the states themselves. Under certain geographic
circumstances, Herbst argues that specific laws may in fact hinder state
Yet even Herbst is not clairvoyant, and his scholarship cannot predict what
Khartoum will do following the April 9 deadline to "regularize" or expel the
southerners in its midst. In fact, it's increasingly clear that the Republic
of Sudan, which faces negative economic forecasts and declining influence
following southern secession, has reverted to the relative power of
eds-conflict-by-charlie-warren/#_ftn3>  The question then becomes: in the
future, should we expect a similar response in the unlikely event of
secession or the slightly more probable re-ordering of certain African
The debate between Hyde and Zachary neglects what may be important
consequences of any future state breakups on the continent. The real or
imagined perception of being cheated in the drawing of new boundaries may
cause some states to look inward in order to exercise their waning
influence. Violence and persecutions are not improbable in the case of a
breakup of two warring regions or perhaps the misguided creation of the
"ethnically-coherent nations" that Zachary espouses. In fact, in one of the
only other states to secede successfully in sub-Saharan
Africa-Eritrea-'foreigners' living in the former state did face eventual
expulsions, though both sides share blame for similar policies.
eds-conflict-by-charlie-warren/#_ftn4>  With Ethiopia as a recent
example, however, Khartoum's policies may become even more hardline in the
eds-conflict-by-charlie-warren/#_ftn5>  Hence, even if we assume some
African borders may change in the coming decades, citizenship issues need to
become a higher strategic and diplomatic concern.
If the "redrawing [of] Africa's map is a living project" as Zachary so
boldly claims, it would be unwise to ignore the many possible consequences
of that project-in states new, old, small, or large.
Charlie Warren works at an international affairs think tank headquartered
New York City and specializes in African politics.
eds-conflict-by-charlie-warren/#_ftnref1>  Pastoralists provide even
further logistical difficulties. See Bronwen Manby's excellent, "
nship%20Options%20Sudan.pdf> International Law and the Right to Nationality
eds-conflict-by-charlie-warren/#_ftnref2>  The dangers of invoking select
scholarly research also appear in this debate. For instance, why mention
Engelbert and Jeffrey Herbst without also discussing seminal works by Daniel
Posner or more recent research by Stelios Michalopoulos and Elias
Papaioannou? It's hard to tell where to draw the line. However, as Herbst's
work is already in play in the debate, I have included it in my analysis.
eds-conflict-by-charlie-warren/#_ftnref3>  While Herbst's States and
Power in Africa discusses boundaries, he is mostly concerned with existing
states and their power deficiencies, including space and demographic
Rights Watch found that Ethiopians were expelled from Eritrea.
eds-conflict-by-charlie-warren/#_ftnref5>  It's fair to note that Eritrea
and South Sudan fought for their independence for decades, making their
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Received on Tue Jan 17 2012 - 13:51:04 EST