South Sudan joins the Comity of Nations
8 July 2011
It isn’t every day that a new nation-state emerges from the background noise of history, but this has happened today as South Sudan, with its capital in Juba, takes its place among the formal political entities of the world. And, in this case, the background noise of history was the civil war in Sudan, eventually ended by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, that resulted in the referendum that resulted in the now separate and equal station of South Sudan.
I have quoted Braudel several times to the effect that, “Events are the ephemera of history; they pass across its stage like fireflies, hardly glimpsed before they settle back into darkness and as often as not into oblivion.” The “background noise” of chronic civil war constitutes just such ephemera, and while nation-states are not themselves exempt from eventual oblivion, they do have a longer life than fireflies. And so we have an independent South Sudan — at least for a while. And while the handy CIA World Factbook still has but a single entry on Sudan, Wikipedia already has an article on South Sudan.
Since all the planet’s surface area is more or less spoken for, one way or another, the only way that new nation-states can be founded is through the division of existing nation-states — sort of like the political equivalent of cell division, or fission. When, in the past, larger nation-states broke up into smaller nation-states this was once referred to as “Balkanization,” to which a very bad connotation was attached. I haven’t yet read any commentators expressing their displeasure over the Balkanization of Africa, though I can imagine there are those who hold such views. However, as has been pointed out many times, the nation-states of Africa are mostly descended from colonial constructs, so that any nation-state formed now, after the colonial period, has intrinsically greater legitimacy.
In my Political Economy of Globalization I devoted some space to the fact that the nation-state is explicitly identified as a national entity, i.e., it is formally identified in terms of an ethnic identity, but is in fact a territorial construction based upon the territorial principle in law. Of course, a nation-state, as the default political paradigm of our time — like city-states of the ancient world or medieval kingdoms — is no one, single thing. As a given institution becomes universal, it is forced to take on an internal diversity that reflects the actual diversity of the human condition.
I hope that you will join me in welcoming South Sudan to nationhood and statehood.
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