At some stage in the future there will be major political scandal about the West’s long-term funding and arming of a dictatorial regime that embezzles aid and oil money and kills its own people. There will be inquiries, there will be outrage, there will be recriminations. And we’ll wonder how we got there.
We choose sides. Of course we do. The world may not be black and white, but we often like to think it is. It’s easier that way. It’s the way things work. It’s realpolitik.
Which is why we find ourselves on the same side as a nasty, Wahhabi-influenced theocracy because they too want to get rid of Bashar al-Assad. And why, through the 1980s, we backed an Iraqi dictator that killed his own people – often with weapons we had sold him – because he was the enemy of Iran. And it’s why we’ve chosen to throw in our lot with South Sudan, the world’s newest state, and one with far too many ingredients that, when combined, have spelled disaster before.
South Sudan today marks one year as an independent nation. The two-decade long civil war with the north cost some two million lives. During that war, the south had the support of the West. Somewhat incongruously, this half-forgotten civil war in East Africa, gained the attention of conservative evangelical Christians in the United States for whom there appeared to be a simple narrative – Christians in the south were being killed by Arab Muslims from the north.
A peace deal was signed in 2005, a referendum on independence was held in January 2011, a new nation was born six months later. The war may have been over, but the West continued to throw its support behind the south. Billions of dollars of aid has been spent. Juba, the capital, looks vastly different today compared to the tiny dusty town it resembled at the end of the war.
But while there may be some celebrations today, few southern Sudanese will be able to point to major improvements in their lives. They will be able to point to corruption – $4bn has been stolen by government officials, it’s claimed. They will be able to point to fresh fighting – thousands have been killed across the country. They will also be able to point to silence from the West – crimes that would have brought outrage if committed by Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, go strangely uncriticised when carried out by the South’s rulers.
Few liberation movements tend to turn into democratic political parties. Few oil states tend to be free of corruption. Few countries with the toxic mix of an endless supply of Kalashnikovs, the recent history of civil war and the underlying rumblings of tribal divisions tend to be peaceful.
We know this, but we won’t do much about it. We’ve chosen our side. And sometime in the future, we’ll all sit around and talk about how awful it is that our leaders backed such a corrupt, despotic regime.