In the midst of an economic recession, there are still certain businesses able to buck the trend and make a profit. Discount retailers, fast food restaurants, debt collectors - but let me add one more: map-makers.
Why? Because this June, international borders are going to be re-drawn yet again as Africa's largest country, Sudan, splits in two.
Now, African politics is probably not the first thing you expected to come across on this site, but this particular issue is a brilliant example of the confused thinking that cripples mainstream politics whenever race-based issues are brought into focus.
The phrase "a black and white issue", in this case, applies all too literally.
If you've never run across Sudan before, let me give you a (very) potted history.
The conflict essentially has two major fault-lines: religion and wealth, and the way these affect the distribution of power. Northern Sudan is overwhelmingly Arab and Muslim, containing the national capital, Khartoum and is much more highly-developed. The South is black African, with Christianity and indigenous religions dominating, and as for economic development, even calling it "Third World" is something of a stretch. The Muslim north (and therefore, the Muslim-dominated government) imposed Sharia law, and governed Sudan as though it was an Islamic state with an Islamic world-view (such as expressing support for Islamist movements in neighbouring countries, and ultimately being accused of links with September 11th). For the South, it was effectively an alien culture that they didn't want, but had no option to refuse...unless they fought against it. In effect, they had nothing to lose, as they were, at best, ignored, marginalised and discriminated against, and at worst, enslaved or killed.
Secondly, the "curse of oil" - the majority of which was discovered in the south, but the infrastructure to export it was in the north (such as Sudan's only sea access). You can probably guess which part of Sudan saw all the oil revenues (and the tension that this caused). Even now, some of the oilfields (e.g. in Abyei province) are right in the centre of the country, so wrangling continues as to which side of the border they will eventually be on (and of course, who ultimately gets the money).
The result of this was a civil war lasting over 25 years, which culminated in a deal struck in 2009 to hold an independence referendum, which itself only took place in January 2011. The referendum is likely to go down in history as the only election in which 99.9% of the population all voted one way (for independence) and the vote WASN'T rigged, compared to notorious cases like Saddam Hussein's re-election in Iraq with 100% support - which at least proved "Vote For Me, Or Die" is among the world's most effective campaign slogans.
What was the reaction of the international community to the vote?
By and large, they were ecstatic, whether that goodwill came from foreign observers, the United Nations, or the ultimate endorsers of fashionable political causes, Hollywood celebrities. The fact that Southern Sudan is one of the most under-developed regions in the world, and therefore will need masses of financial aid tends not to be mentioned - although I think I know just who and what will be paying for this, namely the taxes of ordinary working people given to the government, which will then proceed to dole out a huge chunk of foreign aid that it can't really afford.
I highly doubt the celebrities are going to be lining up to give generously, unless Madonna wants to build a new Kabbalah Centre, of course. I'm also wondering how long it will take St. Bono, patron saint of tax evasion, to start berating people for not giving all their money to the poor, starving Sudanese, while he stores his own in the hands of the considerably less starving Dutch.
But there's a deeper issue here that shows just why I decided to describe this as a "lesson in hypocrisy", and the issue is ridiculously simple:
Think about what the Sudanese demands have been, and how they've been received - now consider what happens when a White population tries to make the same demands.
Imagine if a White community wished to split away from a majority non-White country. Would the world be so quick to offer its support? Or would the new country be tarred as being populated entirely by backward, idiotic racists?
Part of the South's major grievance is in having to comply with Sharia law, and the removal of this was one of the major demands pushed for in the peace deal, which they'll now achieve with independence.
Meanwhile, in the West, underground and unregulated Sharia courts dispense "justice" that is heavily skewed. Even in the Middle East, there are cases of it - a common stunt in Egypt, for example, involves custody battles between Christian parents who choose to divorce. The husband converts to Islam, takes his case to a Sharia court and almost always gets custody of the children, purely based on religion. Yet if anybody speaks up, they are inevitably "intolerant", "racist" or "infidel". Western countries have their own laws - if you prefer the ones practiced in Muslim countries, then GO AND LIVE IN ONE. We are constantly told how we should have "respect" for different systems - but where is the respect for us?
Regarding industry and the revenue it generates - some of that money will invariably go on various kinds of welfare and support projects, either directly through the government, or private donations. But again, think about what the Sudanese situation entails. There is huge potential for gold, cotton and oil exports, and many commentators are focusing purely on economics, rather than the other very obvious fact that this wealth will be in the hands of an overwhelmingly black population. What if they choose to freeze out the Arabs from economic, political and cultural life - will there be any reaction at all from the wider world?
Yet, switch the wording around, and you'll hear howls of rage as to how anybody could be so "racist". When was the last time the United White College Fund helped a student? When was the last time you saw a programme on White Entertainment Television? When did you last tune into a radio station dedicated to "white music"? When was the last time you ran across mainstream media catering to the White community?
So, when you turn on the news and see the inevitable dancing in the streets, messages of congratulations and the general feeling of goodwill that will last a while before reality bites, think for a moment about the role ethnicity seems to be playing in all this, and why it should be one reaction for them, another one for us.