On Saturday, South Sudan achieved formal independence from the central Sudanese government in Khartoum. The event was cause for considerable celebration as well as several rounds of expressions of concern from observers in Africa and the West. While the status quo was untenable, the prospects for South Sudan look far from bright. It lacks both a well-defined border with its hostile mother-state and control over much of its own territory, and appears to have minimal administrative, military or normative capacity. In other words, it's a disaster waiting to happen.
The bleak scenario facing Juba raises the question: What have we learned in 40 years of post-colonial history to give South Sudan a better chance?
In "Dancing in the Glory of Monsters," a history of the two Congo wars of the 1990s, Jason Stearns details the failures of post-colonial governance in Zaire that led to the collapse of state institutions, and chronicles the subsequent continued failure of Congo's leaders to build a viable state. Although the book is outstanding, the truth is that it's easy to identify in retrospect what the leadership of any particular developing country did wrong. The post-colonial history of Africa is littered with examples of mistakes, some forced and others unforced. South Sudan's leaders now face a different, more complicated question: Knowing now what the post-colonial African leaders did not know then, what can they do better? Have 40 years of social science and development experience offered the new leaders of developing countries any tools for achieving success?