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Aidan Fishman

 
AIDAN FISHMAN IN THE JERUSALEM POST: FROM JUBA TO JERUSALEM

by Aidan Fishman, July 23, 2011

 [This article first appeared in the Jerusalem Post on July 23] 

As most already know, the international community welcomed a new member into the club of nations on July 9th, as South Sudan officially gained independence from its former Northern overlords. On July 14th, another milestone was reached as the United Nations accepted South Sudan as its 193rd member state. Behind the jubilation that erupted throughout South Sudan and amongst South Sudanese exiles worldwide lurk feelings of doubt and even despair.

Their newborn state is one of the poorest in the world, with economic and public health shortcomings that dwarf other international “causes for concern” such as Gaza’s so-called “humanitarian crisis”. More than one in ten children in South Sudan die before the age of five due to easily preventable diseases, while 90% of the population lives on less than $1 US per day.

Although there is abundant cause for concern, there are also reasons to be hopeful, even grateful, for the opportunity that now lies before the people of South Sudan and the international community. South Sudan will serve as a critical test case for Western nations as they seek to learn the lessons of previous failures in Africa and throughout the Third World. The State of Israel can play a unique role in transforming South Sudan into a shining beacon of positive and peaceful development for the region.

As the Second World War ground to a halt in 1945, the two new superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, made it known that the era of colonialism was over. Although their ideological and pragmatic disputes would soon lead to the Cold War, both victors agreed that European nations such as France and Britain needed to grant self-determination and independence to their erstwhile African and Asian colonies. The era of decolonization had begun.

The European colonizers struggled with various degrees of desperation to hold on to their subject nations. The British let India go almost immediately via the bloody partition of 1947, at the same time jettisoning all of its Middle Eastern territories, including what is now Israel. After Britain and France's humiliation in the Suez Crisis of 1956, African colonies were gradually granted independence as well. France took longer to adjust, fighting costly and futile colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria before transitioning to a model of indirect imperialism that saw repeated French “interventions” in former African dependencies. Portugal didn’t even begin the process of decolonization until 1974, when a socialist revolution toppled its pseudo-fascist regime.

But one common thread unites all of these disparate tales of the European retreat from empire. Colonialist nations left their former possessions in shambles, hobbled by poor infrastructure, ethnic disputes, arbitrary borders and economic systems designed for the benefit of the colonial power, and not the denizens of the colony. Nations like Senegal, Nigeria and Angola were abruptly cast off by their masters, left to fend for themselves like the infant boys Romulus and Remus in Roman mythology.

And like Romulus and Remus, these countries were then raised by wolves. Demagogues like Nasser and Castro molded the newly independent states into the Non-Aligned Movement, and set them firmly on the path of left-wing kleptocracy, authoritarian paranoia, and hatred for the United States and its allies, notably Israel. This bloc became the “automatic majority” in the UN General Assembly - nations that, in the immortal words of Abba Eban, would pass a resolution “declaring that the Earth was flat and that Israel had flattened it… by a vote of 164 to 13 with 26 abstentions”.

It didn’t have to be this way. If the former colonizers or the United States had been more involved with newly decolonized countries and not left them as wards of the UN, anti-Americanism might not be a reflex reaction in the Third World. With South Sudan, the West has a unique opportunity to start over, to show that it has learned the lessons of over-hasty and badly managed decolonization.

At a time of debt crisis in the EU and wrangling over the debt ceiling in the US, it will not be easy to dedicate millions of dollars in aid to feed the starving children of South Sudan. But if the developed world is serious about helping the less fortunate and bridging the massive equality gaps that plague our world, now is the time to do so.

Israel has a critical role to play in this process. Both Israel and South Sudan earned their sovereignty only after traumatizing and close-run wars of independence. Both nations regained control of their own future after centuries of cruelty and oppression by their Arab neighbours. And both nations are saddled with question marks hanging over their borders, as South Sudan prepares for a drawn-out struggle with its former Northern overlord over the disputed provinces of Abyei and South Kordofan.

South Sudan will need a modern, professional military to defend itself against the bloodthirsty dictator and war criminal in Khartoum, and Israel can certainly help in that regard. But more importantly, the Jewish State can also nurture democracy and sustainable development in South Sudan.

In recent years, Israel has become home to approximately 15,000 refugees from East Africa, although exact figures are difficult to determine. About 2,000 are said to be from South Sudan. As Israeli politicians from across the spectrum hailed South Sudanese independence, Interior Minister Eli Yishai of Shas was quick to propose the repatriation of these migrants, who are seen in some quarters as an economic and demographic boondoggle.

Yishai’s approach is foolish and wrong-headed,  especially since most of the refugees have no desire to return immediately. Rather than shipping the South Sudanese asylum seekers back to their newly sovereign homeland, Israel and international Jewish organizations should team up to provide them with the best education that Israel has to offer. After a few years of specialization at Israeli universities in fields such as agriculture, politics, medicine and communications, these former refugees can then return to South Sudan and use their new-found skills to build their country.

Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East, can help breed the political class that will make South Sudan the only true democracy in East Africa. Innovative farming techniques that help grow fish in the Hula Marshes in Israel’s North can help raise fish in the Sudd, the giant marsh that dominates the geography of South Sudan. Israel’s extremely advanced solar panel technology can be easily transplanted to South Sudan, one of the sunniest nations on Earth.

The massive benefits of this program to South Sudan are clear. The world’s newest nation will receive tangible and desperately needed help from Israel in the form of cash, technology and even human capital. Who better to help the South Sudanese “start up” their nation than the Middle Eastern state famously dubbed “Start-up Nation”?

In its own small way, South Sudan can also begin to reward Israel’s massive investment in its future. At some point in September, the UN will hold its much anticipated vote on a unilateral Palestinian bid for independence and UN membership, in direct violation of the milestone 1996 Oslo Acc

 
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