Today, I came across an interesting feature on The Washington Post's site on the two-dozen odd countries formed since the 1990s. These include the CIS states formed after the break up of the Soviet Union, states of the erstwhile Yugoslavia, Eritrea, East Timor, Namibia, etc.
It was odd not to see the new Pacific republics of Palau, Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia finding a mention in the Washington Post feature, since these remnants of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands gained independence from the United States in the last 20-25 years.
The feature assumed relevance as South Sudan was going to vote in a referendum to secede from Sudan. The South Sudanese had a grouse of lack of development, marginalisation and religious persecution at the hands of the Islamic, Arab dominated north Sudanese, wh
o held a vice-like political grip on the country.
The opportunities for a country like South Sudan are immense. Foreign aid will flow in, with conditionalities on democracy. Rich in natural resources, oil, gas and other minerals, the fledgling region would get an opportunity to control their destiny, that would be if the Chinese let them.
But that's exactly what one would have hoped when Rhodesia gave way to Zimbabwe in 1981. Till the mid-1980s, all was well, with Zimbabwe being the bread basket of southern Africa. But then Robert Mugabe wreaked havoc on the economy by forcibly possessing farms held by white farmers under the pretext of land reform. (I am now told Zambia seized this opportunity, got in the displaced white farmers, gave them land and now Zambia is moving towards becoming an exporter of food.)
Keeping tribal conflicts under check will be a daunting task for the leadership in the new nation. But those fault lines show up on the slightest pretext, as had happened in the supposedly stable Kenya, following the elections in 2007.
The biggest positive of the secession would be the containment of Islamic fundamentalism which had been devouring the north east of Africa. For now, South Sudan would be rid of that scourge.
The next few years will be interesting - will South Sudan define its destiny or would it decay the Zimbabwe way?
I will be watching that!