Prompted by frequent references to South Sudan in the reading I did for The Nile’s Annual Flood, I started to look more closely at Sudan itself, and this slowly fragmenting country is a monument to ethnoreligious divides and imperial meddling.
This fine map of colonial activities in Africa begins in 1885, straddling the Ottoman Empire’s 1878 loss to Russia and 1897 loss to Greece, and it ends in 1914, just before the Armenian Genocide. Their African holdings were carved up by Britain, France, and Italy.
And these are the two biggest geographic oddities ever. The first, the Hala’ib Triangle is a Massachusetts sized area on the coast of the Red Sea, was left in bureaucratic limbo in 1902 by the British, who once administered a strip of territory that included Egypt, Sudan, and Kenya. The second, Bir Tawil, is a related bit of Terra nullius. This 795 square mile patch is administered by Egypt, appears to be part of Sudan based on most maps, but is claimed by neither nation, as doing so would invalidate their claim on the much larger Hala’ib.
Even with the exit of the south there is more trouble brewing for the government, as one might guess from this map of ethnic groups.
I butchered a much larger map to make this one. The residents of the Blue Nile and South Kordofan states had fought along side the south and troubles have flared in both areas since the independence of South Sudan.
Physical territory can be deceptive – the northwest quarter is all Sahara desert and very thinly populated.
And here is the big conflict drivers: oil in the Christian/animist south, pipelines in the Muslim Arab north. You can get three AK-47 assault rifles or a single RPG-7 rocket propelled grenade launcher for the price of a barrel of oil.
This recent Reuters article provides some sense of China’s involvement in the region. We’ll be coming back to this topic periodically, exploring the effects of the oil finds on the geopolitics of the region.