About South Sudan

The history of South Sudan is vast and our summary here is intended as only a brief review of this complex and beautiful nation. Since even before its 1956 independence from Great Britain, Sudan’s North and South have been deeply conflicted.

South Sudanese Huts War predates the Colonial Period and can be traced back to ancient civilizations. However, the years 1955-1972 encompassed Sudan’s first North-South civil war. The period from 1972 to 1983 saw a moratorium on clashing brought about by the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement which largely allowed for southern autonomy. However, war recommenced in 1983 when then-president Gaafar Nimeiri reneged on the Addis peace agreement and imposed Islamic law throughout the entire country. Sudan’s South and its Nilotic people resisted, vowing to protect rights to their land, identity, culture and religion. Then in 1989, North-South war intensified following Omar al Bashir and his National Islamic Front (NIF) mounting a bloodless coup and installing a new regime in Khartoum wherein Bashir became president of Sudan.

From 1983 to 2005, more than 2.5 million south Sudanese were killed via northern government- sponsored atrocities; between four and five million civilians were internally displaced. Although far too complex to oversimplify, this war included clashes related to identity, ideology, culture, religion and quests for vast southern-held natural resources. Southern Sudanese, like the people of Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile are black African. They practice primarily animist and Christian religions; the north is Arab and Muslim. This second civil war ended with the signing of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The CPA provided for a shared North-South government of national unity.  It also called for wealth and power sharing and a referendum that allowed south Sudanese to determine in 2010 whether they would remain connected to Sudan or vote for secession to form their own nation. From the years 2005-2010 the NIF, now renamed the National Congress Party (NCP), could work to make ‘staying together,’ or unity, attractive to Sudan’s marginalized and war-torn South.  If peace with justice could be etched out and sustained, the South might vote to remain a unified Sudan.

Unfortunately, the CPA was repeatedly breached, and such NCP violations were noted and verified by the international community, world and local governments, international humanitarian aid groups and local non-governmental organizations. In January 2011, following northern-stalled efforts to prevent a referendum vote that could reflect southern intent to secede, southern Sudanese opted for succession in an historic vote that reflected more than 98% in favor of forming a new country. On 9 July 2011, the Republic of South Sudan became Africa’s 54th country and the world’s newest nation.

The work of statebuilding has far to go for this country to become strong and prosperous. Besides ongoing NCP-sponsored violence in other areas throughout Sudan, and some yet unresolved North-South issues related to natural resources and determining a final North-South geographical border, years of war and fighting have left South Sudan with almost no infrastructure. Half of South Sudan does not have access to potable water, the country has the highest maternal mortality rate and among the highest female illiteracy rates in the world. The majority of the civilian population lives on less than a dollar a day. There is minimal access to health care, few paved roads, almost no electricity and running water. Access to education is nascent. With women and girls being the primary duty bearers of community labor, days are frequently spent fetching water sources and firewood. This means if educational opportunities are available, many girls don’t attend school due to fulfilling familial responsibilities.

Furthermore, on 15 December 2013, tensions within South Sudan’s government gave way to clashings and violence that quickly spread throughout the new nation. Thought to be fueled by ethnic tensions and deteriorating economic conditions, followed by a perceived coup within the government, such civil strife continued until late January 2014 when a ceasefire agreement was signed. This agreement has slowed but not stopped the ongoing violence that has continued to spread, in particular, between the nation’s two major tribes. Casualties have occurred and nearly one million civilians have been displaced, many being sheltered by U.N. presence in the country. It’s our heartfelt prayer that a holistic solution and formal steps toward a more comprehensive peace will soon make a lasting end to the conflict. Meanwhile, we grieve with and for those impacted by this situation.

It’s important to add here that gender inequality is an enormous challenge in this new nation.  Although women and girls do the vast majority of community and familial labor, they are often viewed as property owned by men in exchange for a dowry, typically of cattle or livestock.  Women in South Sudan realize very few human rights and gender-based violence is accepted as a way of life.  Men may marry multiple wives and since these wives live in very close proximity, tensions rise and perpetual conflict and abuse frequently occur.   In most cases, female children have less worth than a male child, and a couple’s inability to conceive children is considered the woman’s fault.  If a woman cannot bear children, her husband will often divorce her and marry another woman.  The divorced woman is considered unmarriageable; she is left alone and vulnerable.

Agriculture, largely subsistence farming, and the oil sector account for South Sudan’s livelihood and economy, which is one of the most underdeveloped in the world. A vast array of natural resources including petroleum and minerals exist in the South, and between 80 and 90% of land is deemed arable.

Besides comprehensive peacemaking and peacebuilding processes that begin at local, grassroots levels, present and near-future need throughout rural South Sudan will include the necessity for securing safe water sources, facilitating education, increasing access to health care and providing sustainable economic opportunities.  Strengthening local and national law enforcement, justice systems and peacebuilding efforts will also be key to South Sudan’s progress and long-term peace and security.  Finally, addressing the injustice of gender inequality and making strides toward equal esteem and treatment of women and girls will also help this country heal and prosper.