Russia’s justification for military intervention in the Syrian Civil War is, in part, to prevent the conflict from degrading into the same situation seen in Libya. After five years of fighting among rival factions, over half of the population displaced, and the country’s civil infrastructure decimated, Syria has probably been in a far worse condition than Libya for some time. That said, the unfortunate reality is that both Syria and Libya face a steep uphill battle to stabilize and rebuild their countries. Talk of dividing Syria to ease the conflict between the Assad regime and rebel factions has merits, but South Sudan offers some lessons that must be learned no matter what solutions are tried.
After decades of brutal oppression and civil war, the independence of South Sudan offered hope to a never-ending conflict. Sadly, South Sudan and its armed forces have followed in the African traditions of mass rape, murder, and corruption that have caught the world’s attention since the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Where the purge of Saddam Hussein’s Ba'ath Party members from all government and military positions sowed the seeds for an armed insurgency in Iraq, efforts to integrate armed opposition forces into the South Sudan military created the same problems. It appears dividing Sudan, unlike the Dayton Accords following the Bosnian War, did very little to resolve the underlying conflicts.
The political, economic, security, and social troubles that have plagued many of Africa’s nations for decades are the legacy of oppressive European Colonialism that taught African leaders to use brutality to establish one’s dominance, pursue one’s interests by suppressing others, and prevent dissent by breaking social, cultural bonds that might unify insurgents. Instead of overcoming this vicious cycle of abusive governance as the Peoples of the US and Europe more or less did, African leaders have trained their successors and would-be successors to seek dominance through violence and other forms of brutality.
Unlike Colonial rulers, who used brutality to suppress insurrection, crime, terrorism, and instability under the direction of European governments in order to make the colonies profitable and manageable, the abuse of current African rulers is chaotic with no objective other than to expand and maintain their own power at all costs. Not only does this foster an environment where “might-makes-right” and a culture of impunity that undermines the social boundaries that protect people from rape and acts of violence, the need to conform to the whims of the powerful creates uncertainty, which is manifested in massive instability that inhibits viable development.
Like much of the Middle East and Africa, South Sudan is divided along deeply entrenched sectarian and tribal lines. Just as many other former colonial territories were arbitrarily divided into nations, both Syria and Sudan were engineered to be artificial countries, even though the traditional communities have little or no common cultural identity. Coupled with the natural tendency to demonize one’s enemies, the impulse of domineering, abusive individuals to dehumanize outsiders and those too weak to be equals pushes leaders to seek dominance over rival factions.
(This is similar to how the Islamic State views slavery while it can be better understood by looking at the legitimization of rape by abusive individuals coming to Europe from the Middle East or attitudes toward rape in India.)
South Sudan’s split helped alleviant power struggles between revival factions by limiting the size of the territory they were fighting over. In other words, the creation of South Sudan made it unnecessary for factions within South Sudan to fight for control over the entirety of Sudan and the power to dominate rivals across Sudan. It was not, however, enough to end the power struggles between rival factions within the South Sudan territory. Even if Sudan had been properly divided, the lack of cultural boundaries, social prohibitions, and legal boundaries against violence continue to enable armed forces to abuse their own Peoples for their own gain and seek the dominance of rival factions.
Consequently, the warring factions within South Sudan likely needed to be further isolated from each other, but they also needed a higher authority, which was not commanded by any one or one group of the revival political factions, to police them.
The armed forces and police in countries like South Sudan are supposed to be there to protect the Peoples, but there is a clear need for someone to protect the Peoples from the armed forces and the police. Instead of stead of being empowered to fight criminals and provide for public safety, abusive individuals are freed to commit crimes against anyone who they feel compelled to dominate. Proper governance requires loyalty and commitment to all the Peoples of a nation. Regrettable, the leaders of countries like South Sudan are often committed to their own personal interests and their own tribes.
African Union forces and UN Peace Keepers have helped provide security and stability across Africa, but the continent would have probably benefited from weaker national governments designed to coordinate the economic and foreign policy interests of strong autonomous communities as well as strong continental governance designed to keep local forces in check. Going forward, there does need to be greater continental and international capacity to police armed forces on the local level in troubled places like Africa.
The Syria Civil War and the threat of terrorist groups like the Islamic State will not be resolved by the division or unification of Syria. Unification could help unite armed forces to combat the threat of terrorism. Division could help prevent future war from breaking out between the Assad regime and rebels while offering the Peoples of Syria the chance to rebuild their lives; however, the failure to properly divide Syria will perpetuate violence and instability. Assad may be able to suppress a larger territory than opposition forces, but it will also perpetuate the underlying conflict. A failure to resolve differences between rebels groups, even if they agree to share power, will also likely ensure violence.
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