Sudan’s struggles: Efforts to heal the divisions have not succeeded

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The people of Sudan, Africa’s largest country by area until South Sudan became independent in 2011, have not benefited from U.S. and other international involvement in recent years.

Early in the George W. Bush administration, Darfur, a western province of Sudan, was one of the foreign affairs issues of the day for politicians, media and celebrities. The people of Darfur were certainly suffering. Independent ethnic militias and government-supported forces, notably the infamous janjaweed, tormented the people of Darfur, driving many of them into camps where they became dependents of the United Nations and humanitarian organizations.

Darfur eventually quieted down, although none of its fundamental problems were solved. Now, with an estimated 1.4 million Darfuris still in camps in Sudan and Chad, competing groups have resumed fighting among themselves.

The other part of the former Sudan that is in trouble is independent South Sudan. It was long believed that the basic problem was the South, with a population mostly Christian or animist by faith, could not live successfully linked to Sudan’s Muslim north. The South Sudanese believed this and voted overwhelmingly for independence in 2011.

Shortly after independence was achieved, South Sudan’s tribal factions, primarily the larger groups, the Dinka and the Nuer, began fighting each other. The United States had been active in providing military training to what were, in principle, national South Sudanese forces who then fought among themselves. Leaders of the two groups, at the urging of Secretary of State John Kerry, are trying to negotiate a settlement among the South Sudanese in Geneva, but no one gives the talks great odds of succeeding.

One message the United States might draw from its experience in both Darfur and South Sudan is that it has little constructive role to play in Sudanese affairs. Leaving them to their own devices would save taxpayer dollars, too.


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