10 Things We Learned This Week!

What did you learn this week? We learned … … you can print your own portable universe—for free! How do cartographers usually depict the universe?   … how to navigate the languages of New York. Editor’s pick of the week! What other areas of the world rank highly in the language diversity index?   … why earworm songs are earworm songs. What songs are your … Continue reading 10 Things We Learned This Week!

What is the Refugee Olympic Team?

SPORTS This month, competitors representing the nations participating in the 2016 Rio Olympics will be joined by a small group walking without a national flag—refugee athletes set to make history on the global sporting stage. (Geographical) Use our resources to learn more about refugees. Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit, including a link to today’s MapMaker Interactive … Continue reading What is the Refugee Olympic Team?

‘Lost Boy’ Pleads for Peace in South Sudan

WORLD Human rights activist John Bul Dau says wounds from the Second Sudanese Civil War in the 1980s have been reopened. South Sudan is now teetering on the edge of its own civil war following several weeks of violence that have claimed the lives of at least a thousand people and forced another 200,000 to flee their homes. (National Geographic News) Use our resources to … Continue reading ‘Lost Boy’ Pleads for Peace in South Sudan

Five Geographic Challenges for South Sudan

Billboard on the road to South Sudan’s capital, Juba. According to the photographer, James Turitto, this billboard was put up some time before March 2011, and later taken down. That is, this photo predates the country’s official independence day.
At just one week old, the Republic of South Sudan is the world’s youngest country. It made history as the first successful separatist movement in Africa, and the first African country to redraw the colonial borders established under European control. At its independence celebration on July 9th, the South Sudanese celebrated not only their new country, but also the formal end of war with (northern) Sudan. For background on the conflict’s history, see this timeline and this piece on colonial borders. With hope in their hearts, the Southern Sudanese are looking forward to increased prosperity, security, and cultural freedom. 
My most optimistic outlook is this: South Sudan’s (approximately) 8 million people will work together to tap their vast oil reserves under a democratic system that will raise the living standards of the poor, while resisting the interests of the local elite and the manipulating tentacles of foreign powers. The more I think about it, however, the more I worry about this nascent nation’s future. It faces challenges far greater even than its independence (which didn’t come easily or quickly). 
Many of those challenges (poverty; lack of electricity, education, food security) have historical and political roots. In this post, however, I will outline five challenges to security and development rooted squarely in the geography of the country.   
1. Oil, and the Resource Curse: South Sudan’s greatest financial asset¬–oil wealth–may also prove to be its most malevolent antagonist. On one hand, as political scientist Michael Lewin Ross has successfully argued over the past decade, oil wealth tends to sabotage both democracy and economic development. Essentially, he claims, this type of wealth concentrates into an oligarchy, and suppresses economic growth through unnecessary state government functions, massive armies, and dependency-generating subsidies. His theory rang true to me during the Arab Spring, in which non-petro states (Tunisia, Egypt, Syria) had the most successful uprisings, while protests in places like Bahrain were promptly squashed or placated with gifts and subsidies. 

Continue reading “Five Geographic Challenges for South Sudan”