2011 was a memorable year for the citizens of South Sudan. In a January 2011 referendum, the population of the region voted to secede from Sudan, and independence was formally declared in July.
South Sudan, located along the banks of the Nile, consists of grassland, swamps, tropical rainforests and untapped oil deposits. South Sudan is Africa’s first new country since 1993.
An Abridged History of South Sudan & Sudan
Throughout Sudan’s history, the region has been home to many migrating tribes forming an ethnically and linguistically diverse populace.
Egypt conquered and unified the northern portion of the country in the 19th century, although the southern region remained under the control of fragmented tribes. Due to geographic barriers, Islam did not spread to southern Sudan, where tribes practiced traditional religions and Christianity. Britain and Egypt jointly administered the Sudanese state until the 1950s, when they concluded an agreement providing for Sudanese self-government.
The new capital of Khartoum immediately fell under control of the dominant population in the north: Arab Muslims. Southern leaders accused the new Khartoum government of trying to impose Islamic and Arabic identity on the state. For the next 22 years, Sudan endured a brutal civil war that led to the deaths of 1.5 million people and the displacement of 4 million more.
In 2005, north and south reached a Comprehensive Peace Agreement, granting the south regional autonomy and the option for a referendum for southern independence in 2011. The agreement provided for a ceasefire, withdrawal of troops from southern Sudan, and wealth and power-sharing arrangements between the two sides.
Although significant progress has been made since 2005, the region continues to be plagued by issues of citizenship, security, oil management and border disputes.
In the border region of Abyei, the referendum was stalled, so residents have yet to decide whether to join south or north. The area contains two distinct groups — South Sudan Dinka people and cattle-herding Arab tribesmen.
Violence also continues in the marginalized Darfur region of the country. Agrarian farmers who are mostly black African Muslims are clashing with Arab government-supported militias called the Janjaweed. The Janjaweed has attracted considerable international criticism for engaging in relentless attacks on civilians.
In 2009, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for crimes against humanity and war crimes related to the Janjaweed attacks. Following the ICC’s issuance of an arrest warrant, the Government of Sudan expelled 13 international humanitarian aid organizations that provided sanitation, water and health care to displaced persons. Afterward, the UN facilitated the return of some humanitarian organizations to the area, but humanitarian assistance continues to be hindered due to bureaucratic impediments.
Adding to the complications is the issue of how to handle Sudan’s oil reserves and refining industry, which straddle new borders. Seventy-five percent of Sudan’s oil reserves are located in South Sudan, but the refineries and pipeline to ship the oil abroad are located in the north. The 2005 peace accord allocated 50 percent of Sudan’s oil proceeds to South Sudan, but the agreement was to expire with the independence referendum in 2011.
South Sudan Key Facts
- Full name: Republic of South Sudan
- Population: About 8 million
- Capital: Juba
- Major languages: English, Arabic, Juba Arabic, Dinka
- Major religions: Traditional religions, Christianity
- Main exports: Oil