South Sudan


Labeled as the world’s newest country, South Sudan became a sovereign nation in 2011 by splitting from a larger Sudan due to political unrest. Critical issues of the signed Comprehensive Peace Agreement were however not upheld. Militias continued to proliferate and inter-communal violence heightened as these continued to threaten the general public. However, the new government did not uphold the peace treaty signed, and rift emerged between the president and vice-president, causing the civil war to resume.

Cultural and political differences are attributed to be the primary causations of unrest in the region. The country is comprised of people of different race, religion, and financial capabilities. Coupled with the element of colonialism, the crisis has heightened from a political conflict to a full blown civil war (Madut, 2015, p. 5). The paper will discuss the political and social history of the country’s civil war, and explain elements are contributing to the same.

Environment and Natural History

South Sudan, also known as Southern Sudan is a landlocked country in East Africa. It borders Ethiopia to the east, Sudan from the North, Central African Republic on the west, and from the eastern Uganda, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was until 9th July 2011, a part of Sudan, which was then the largest country in Africa (Gorsevski, et al., 2012, p. 15). The country is divided into 28 states, with a total land area of 619,745 square kilometers. The

South Sudan is heavily endowed with natural resources (Justin & Leeuwen, 2016). The country is the only fully oil dependent country in Africa. The government derives a majority of its revenues from oil, which is exported through pipelines to refineries and shipping facilities at the Port of Sudan on the Red Sea. However, its production has been significantly reduced due to the war, leaving the country on the verge of an economic crisis. For the past five years, the country has accumulated a debt of at least 5 billion US dollars from the World Bank in the form of aid. Increased military spending has also increased government spending, and consequently the debt burden.

Two third of its population is comprised of young people of age below 30 years. Human development concerns are thus many as most of the population is illiterate due to lack of lack of qualified professionals and disruptions associated with the war. Infant and mortality rates are also high, and only 17 percent of the children born are fully immunized. Food insecurity is becoming a challenge in the newly born nation, and only a few people have access to drinking water.

The Pre-Colonial Era

Africans are the dominant people in South Sudan, who practice Christianity or traditional African religions. Dinka is the largest ethnic group constituting two-thirds of the population, followed by Nuer making up one-fifth of the population. Other significant groups in the country are the Shilluk, the Zande, the Anwak (Anywa), and the Bari (Berhanu, 2014, p. 54). A small Arab population is present in the country. Dinka is predominantly cattle herders and is found throughout the country, and Shilluk is farmers located in the east together with Anywa. Nuer are located in the northeast, while Bari is found in the south, bordering Uganda.

The earliest South Sudan inhabitants were the Dinka, having migrated from the west. Shilluk, Dinka and Nuer are cattle keepers, who mostly relied on a cattle economy (Rolandsen & Daly, 2016, p. 8). Hunting, grain gathering and fishing on the Nile were the other economic activities associated with the early people. Interactions of the people during the precolonial era was nonviolent as each community had a separate way of governance which suited the governed communities.

The Colonial Era

The first foreign invasion by colonial masters was in 1986 by Belgians. Later in 1896, an agreement was signed with the British transferring the Lado Enclave transferred to Britain. Different zones were set, northern and southern Sudan, and passports required to pass from one territory to another. Dinka, English, Nuer, Shilluk, Bari and Azande, were the official languages of the south, while Arabic and English were used as the official language in the North (Zink, 2014, p. 578). In 1943, with the powers of Sayyid Ali al-Mirghani and Sayyid Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi promoted, the British prepared the north region for self-governance. Arabic became the official language of the new government, with the south of the country not incorporated into the state.

Independence and After

The South Sudan tribes combined against the government of Khartoum, by shared ethnicity (non-Arabic Nilotes) and religious similarities (Christians and animist). The Khartoum government was filled with Arabs which also contributed to the push for independence. South Sudan gained independence to become the only African nation to obtain freedom without previous European colonial heritage.

In 1953 Egypt and United Kingdomsigned an agreement providing for self-governance and self-determination of Sudan, and the first parliament inaugurated in 1954. Consequently, the Parliament of Sudan unilaterally and unanimously declared the independence of Sudan.

The new Khartoum government reneged on promises made to the southerners of creating a federal system, a factor that sparked a mutiny and after that seventeen years of civil war. The first government was dominated by The National Unionist Party led by Prime Minister Ismail and was later replaced by a coalition which faced extensive political maneuvering and economic difficulties, which paralyzed essential public administration (Breidlid, et al., 2014, p. 342). Later, this regime was overthrown by Major General Ibrahim Abboud in a coup d’etat.

A second coup culminated in May 1969, led by Colonel Gaafar Nimeiry, who became the prime minister. The new government abolished all the parliament and political parties. Disputes continued between non-Marxists, and Marxist elements resulted in another coup in 1971 led by Sudanese Communist Party. An Addis Ababa Agreement resulted in hiatus of the civil war and self-rule. The introduction of the Islamic law by the government led to reignition of the civil war. A military government came into power through a coup, and its leader, Omar al-Bashir, declared himself the president.

Early 2003 brought unity of Justice and Equality Movement group and Sudan Liberation Army, who accused the government of neglecting the region of Darfur. A war erupted especially between Arab militia associated with the government, and the rebels, who wanted for improved state of Darfur. Various efforts by the international community of bringing peace between these two have barely borne any fruits. Various conflicts between other neighboring ethnic groups caused more rifts, especially due to land and livestock theft. A referendum in January 2011 voted for seceding and independence for South Sudan, as the Republic of South Sudan, with Juba the capital and Kiir Mayardit as the president.

An Anthropological Perspective

Access to resources has been a major factor in fuelling the conflict. Nile River is the only major source of water for the people in the region. Competition over oil and gas resources largely contribute to a heightened conflict. Though the major conflict started way before oil and gas reserves were discovered, fight over its control, ownership, and economical use have remained a source of political conflict (Johnson, 2014, p. 307). Rebels and government forces have been engaged in a fight over control of the oil reserves in the country.

The existence of different ethnic groups in the country greatly fuels the conflict. South Sudan President and his vice president are from the various ethnic groups. President Salva Kiir is Dinka, while Riek Machar is Nuer. Consequently, firing of Machar by Kiir in the summer of 2013, escalated the ethnic tension between the two largest ethniccommunities in the country. Further racial tension erupted between Dinka and Nuer communities when Dinka guards tried to disarm Nuer guards accusing them of planning a coup. These ethnic conflicts have caused significantly fuelled the civil war in South Sudan.


To attain peace, South Sudan broke away from the larger country of Sudan that had been torn by warring communities. However, the new nation became entangled into a war within its borders. Different ethnic groups harboring different life perspectives were united by boundaries, but their differences caused ethnic and political tension, resulting in a civil war. Weak institutions and a conflicting government worsened the situation, especially when the president, Salva Kiir, fired vice president Riek Machar. A battle over control of natural resources, oil, and water, has also fuelled the crisis with many groups fighting to control the precious commodities.

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  1. Berhanu, K., 2014. Implications of Southern Sudan’s independence for the Horn of Africa and beyond. Post-Referendum Sudan, 08 June.pp. 52-56.
  2. Breidlid, A., Said, A. A. & Breidlid, A. K., 2014. A Concise History of South Sudan. Kampala, Uganda: Fountain Publishers.
  3. Gorsevski, V. et al., 2012. Analysis of the impacts of armed conflict on the Eastern Afromontane forest region on the South Sudan – Uganda border using multitemporal Landsat imagery. Remote Sensing of Environment, 15 March, Volume 118, pp. 10-20.
  4. Johnson, D. H., 2014. Briefing: The crisis in South Sudan. African Affairs, 16 April, 113(451), pp. 300-309.
  5. Justin, P. H. & Leeuwen, M. V., 2016. The politics of displacement-related land conflict in Yei River County, South Sudan. Journal of Modern African Studies, 28 July, 54(3), pp. 419-442.
  6. Madut, J., 2015. Negotiating an End to the Current Civil War in South Sudan. Berlin: International Development Research Centre.
  7. Rolandsen, O. H. & Daly, M., 2016. A History of South Sudan: From Slavery to Independence. S.l.: Cambridge University Press.
  8. Zink, J., 2014. Canadian Journal of African Studies, 23 May, 47(3), pp. 575-577.
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