Wednesday, January 12, 2011

South Sudan referendum update

Reuters reports that turnout has already passed the 60 percent threshold required for the referendum to be binding.  Voting will continue until this Saturday (I think - it says it's a week-long voting period) and preliminary results won't be available until February.  This is a reminder that infrastructure in a lot of Africa isn't great, and in South Sudan it's particularly bad.  It's about 25,000 square miles in size (about the size of West Virginia) and has only 40 miles of paved roads, that's a road density (road miles per 100 square miles) of about 0.2.  Sudan as a whole has the lowest road density in Africa (0.5), and most of the roads are in the north.   For comparison, West Virginia has a road density of 7 road miles per 100 square miles.

This being Sudan, Reuters also reports 46 deaths in clashes between Northern nomads and southerners.

Jonathan Chait at is one of my favorite bloggers, and I was glad to see that someone (Martin Peretz) at TNR did a short blog on Sudan. Africa isn't  his specialty and he was mostly good about qualifying his statements (Perhaps... possibly...).  For example, he says "The nightmare that faces almost all of the African states is that very few of them consist of one integral people. In fact, I don’t recall one of them." Well, I can recall one, and it's Somalia.  It didn't help much, did it?  Not only is Somalia a total mess, it didn't even manage to stay unified. The only reason South Sudan is looking to become a sovereign state before Somaliland is because the international community isn't recognizing Somaliland's sovereignty.  (UPDATE: Maybe Peretz meant, when he said one integral people, a country where that one people is undivided.  If that is the case, Somalia isn't an exception - there are Somali-populated regions in Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya, and Somalia wasted a lot of its resources at independence trying to unite Greater Somalia through force of arms).

So Peretz quotes Ramberg who says that states should break up if they can't get along.  But there are reasons they don't usually break up.  One is that the land held by the opposition often has something the central government wants, such as oil (as in the case of Sudan).  Another is that the international community doesn't like to recognize new sovereign states, at least not in Africa (as shown in the case of Somaliland).  If the international community is unlikely to recognize you, this deters potential secessionists from seeking secession, and if the international community gives you aid based in part on the level of suffering, governments won't want to give up regions that are suffering.  The best thinker I know on this stuff is Pierre Englebert, I wish Peretz had quoted him instead.  In fact, I'll put that in a comment to Martin's post now.

I asked Pierre what he thinks of the South Sudan referendum.  He is happy for them, but is uncertain about their future success.  He notes that they have been fighting for recognition more than they have been working on state construction.  This brings me back to the roads situation.  Herbst talks about how African states are states in name, and are recognized by the international community, but many of them aren't really states in the sense that the central government has full control over its territory. Herbst measures state capacity using paved road density.  As noted above, South Sudan will have significantly lower road density than anywhere else in Africa, so it seems unlikely that it will be one of Africa's big success stories anytime soon.

Although it depends how you measure success. As would be the case for an independent South Sudan, Chad and Angola have oil but not roads, and they were two of the biggest economic success in the world. But Chad is spending a lot of its oil revenues on arms to fight its civil war rather than on development.  Angola ended its civil war almost 10 years ago, but life there still isn't great for most.  According to the human development index (HDI, based on health and education as well as income), Angola still ranks near the bottom - number 146 out of 169 countries, just below Haiti.

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