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The African-American Divide over Sudan

William Reed | 7/12/2012, 2:44 p.m.

Hodari Abdul-Ali, an African-American Orthodox Muslim called it "a disaster for Africa, for the African Diaspora and for Sudan." The separation of Sudan is perhaps the most contentious foreign policy issue among Black Americans. Some African Americans support dismemberment of Africa's largest country, and some, like the late Mr. Abdul-Ali believed it to be "a disaster."

When the people of South Sudan split from Africa's largest country, they formed the world's 193rd and youngest country. South Sudan, officially the Republic of South Sudan, marks its first anniversary on July 9, 2012. A landlocked country in east-central Africa, South Sudan experienced a challenging first year and several issues remain unresolved. The two countries, formerly one, are locked in delicate negotiations after the failure to agree on the amount the South should pay Sudan to use its oil pipelines.

When Southern Sudan's voters broke away, it was one of the least developed countries in the world. Revenue from oil provides 98 percent of South Sudan's budget. The new nation's economy is heavily reliant on oil. It's not surprising therefore that its decision to shut down production has left the economy in a precarious state. After South Sudan became independent, southern and northern negotiators were not immediately able to reach an agreement on how to split Southern oil field revenue. Around 80 percent of the oil deposits are in South Sudan, while the pipelines flow north.

Many in government in South Sudan are imploring the U.S. to help the new nation obtain its "economic independence." Black newspaper columnist and former NAACP Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., said "African Americans should be paying attention, reaching out to South Sudan for humanitarian and economic reasons and see that there are significant and immediate economic and growth opportunities. At a time of very high unemployment among African Americans, this is a great moment to develop new business relationships with Africa, and with nations like South Sudan."

The stories you've been hearing about "helping the poor Africans" should be discounted as a lot of hype. Whether you are of the Christian or Muslim persuasion, Southern Sudan is a resource-rich land many want to rule. It is ripe for agricultural development, but less than 5 per cent of the land is currently cultivated. In terms of overall income generation; South Sudan does quite well compared to its East African neighbors. The 2010 GDP per capita was estimated at U.S. $1,546 compared to U.S. $769 in Kenya. South Sudan is bordered by Ethiopia to the east, Kenya to the southeast, Uganda to the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the southwest, the Central African Republic to the west, and Sudan to the north.

Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan has fought for decades against the Americans' designs on breaking up Sudan, but Washington, D.C.-based businessman Malcolm Beech agrees with Chavis in that African Americans should get a piece of the South Sudan action saying, "U.S. Agency for International Development and State Department funds will be flowing to that part of the world and we need to be in the deal."

South Sudan has a population of around 8 million and a predominantly rural, subsistence economy. This region has been negatively affected by war for all but 10 years of the independence period, resulting in serious neglect, lack of infrastructure development, and major destruction and displacement. More than 2 million people have died, and more than 4 million are internally displaced persons or have become refugees as a result of the civil war.

The capital of South Sudan is located at Juba. However, due to Juba's poor infrastructure and lack of centrality, the South Sudanese government adopted a resolution to study the creation of a new planned city to act as its capital seat. This proposed project is functionally similar to those which resulted in the construction of Abuja, Nigeria; Brasilia, Brazil; and Canberra, Australia. This will be just a part of the building from the ground up that will be occurring in South Sudan.

(William Reed is available for speaking/seminar projects via the Bailey Group.org