Keeping in line with the recent focus on Los Angeles, what with essays on the Los Angeles library system and an interview with Reed Doucette on basketball in Los Angeles, we continue our shenanigans with this episode of The Historical Gadfly with an interview with Britanny Morreale, an M.Phil. student at the University of Oxford who’s presently studying Social Anthropology, with a focus on the newest country in the world, South Sudan. Although her interests have taken her from Japan to Oxford to, starting in August, Juba, the new capital of the country, Brittany hails from more or less where your humble narrator is from: the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the part of LA where I grew up in, and where Brittany went to high school.
I was delighted, if a bit anxious, to get Brittany on the show, if only because South Sudan has been a topic in the news recently since it became independent on July 9, and because I personally know almost nothing about it. But as we discuss on this episode, the country has a fascinating history that’s all too closely tied up with European (and arguably Egyptian) imperialism. In modern history, Sudan was long jointly administered (although basically a British colony) by the British Empire and Egypt. The area was of strategic interest as a major source of the headwaters for the Nile, which of course represents a lifeblood for Egypt. From the point of view of the Egyptians, who had been a colony of the Ottoman Empire until 1805, having Sudan and an anchor in East Africa was a nice hedge against a still-relevant Ottoman Empire in the Middle East, a way for Egypt to claim more prestige as a leader of Muslims compared to the Ottomans.
But throughout this period, colonial administrators sought to concentrate power in Khartoum, now the capital of (North) Sudan, and played up differences between the Christian and animist tribes, like the Dinka, of South Sudan from the Arabic-speaking Muslim groups of the north. The result in part was fifty years of internecine warfare both between the north and the south, but also (in part) between the Darfur Region of Western Sudan and the rest of the north. Arab militas from Darfur, the Janjaweed, were recruited and encouraged by Khartoum as militias against the south. They were also bolstered by militas coming into Sudan from Chad, where they had been defending themselves from someone who’s been in the news all too much recently. Too many broken promises to these militias was one of several factors that precipitated the Darfur Conflict we have heard so much about in the last decade. Needless to say, in the face of all of this, the medical, educational, and economic challenges the region faces are tremendous.
Sound complicated? It is, but it makes a lot more sense after talking with Britanny, who lays out some of the history of this region, some of the developmental challenges going ahead (read: all of them), and what her dissertation research will focus on as she does her field work in South Sudan this summer and autumn. After the rainy season, that is, when the roads actually work.
Download our conversation here.