South Sudan Brief History

By | May 19, 2024

South Sudan: Country Facts

South Sudan, located in East-Central Africa, gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after years of civil war. The capital, Juba, sits on the White Nile River and serves as the political and economic center. With a diverse population comprising numerous ethnic groups, South Sudan faces challenges such as ethnic tensions, political instability, and underdevelopment. The nation is rich in natural resources, including oil, but continues to grapple with poverty and conflict. Despite these challenges, South Sudan holds potential for growth and development with ongoing efforts towards peace and stability.

History of South Sudan

Pre-Colonial Period

Diverse Tribal Kingdoms and Chiefdoms

South Sudan’s history predates colonialism, characterized by the presence of various tribal kingdoms and chiefdoms across the region.

Key Figures:

  • Shilluk Kingdom: One of the oldest and most powerful kingdoms in South Sudan, located along the White Nile River.
  • Dinka Tribe: Largest ethnic group in South Sudan, known for their pastoral lifestyle and cattle-keeping traditions.
  • Nuer Tribe: Second-largest ethnic group, primarily found in the Greater Upper Nile region, known for their cattle-raiding culture and warrior traditions.

Key Events:

  • Prehistoric era: Settlements by hunter-gatherer communities in the region, leaving behind rock art and archaeological sites.
  • Emergence of tribal kingdoms and chiefdoms, with societies organized around kinship ties, cattle ownership, and seasonal migration patterns.
  • Interaction and occasional conflicts between different ethnic groups over land, resources, and trade routes.

Cultural Achievements:

  • Development of rich oral traditions, storytelling, and folklore passed down through generations.
  • Creation of intricate artistic expressions such as pottery, beadwork, and body scarification as symbols of cultural identity and social status.

Colonial Era

British and Egyptian Rule (19th – 20th Century)

South Sudan’s fate was influenced by the colonial ambitions of European powers, particularly Britain and Egypt, who sought to control the Nile River and its surrounding territories.

Key Figures:

  • Charles Gordon: British administrator and governor-general of Sudan, who established administrative posts and treaties with local chiefs in South Sudan.
  • John Garang: Founding father of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), a key figure in the fight for South Sudanese independence.

Key Events:

  • 19th century: Turco-Egyptian rule over Sudan, marked by attempts to extend control over the southern regions inhabited by diverse ethnic groups.
  • 1899: Anglo-Egyptian Condominium established, dividing Sudan into separate regions administered by Britain and Egypt.
  • 20th century: British colonial administration in southern Sudan, characterized by the imposition of indirect rule through local chiefs and the promotion of Christianity through missionary activities.

Cultural Achievements:

  • Adoption of Western education, Christianity, and modern infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, and roads, albeit with limited access in remote areas.
  • Resistance to colonial authority and cultural assimilation, with some communities maintaining traditional practices and resisting external influence.

Struggle for Independence

Civil War and Liberation Movements (1956 – 2011)

South Sudan’s quest for self-determination was marked by decades of armed conflict, political marginalization, and human rights abuses under Sudanese rule.

Key Figures:

  • John Garang: Founding father of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), a key figure in the fight for South Sudanese independence.
  • Salva Kiir: Current President of South Sudan and former rebel commander who played a crucial role in the peace negotiations leading to independence.
  • Riek Machar: Former Vice President of South Sudan and leader of the SPLM/A faction, who has been both ally and adversary to Salva Kiir in the country’s tumultuous history.

Key Events:

  • 1956: Independence of Sudan from Anglo-Egyptian rule, marking the beginning of a troubled relationship between the north and south.
  • 1955-1972: First Sudanese Civil War, sparked by southern grievances over political and economic marginalization by the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum.
  • 1983-2005: Second Sudanese Civil War, the longest-running conflict in Africa, fueled by ethnic, religious, and political tensions between the north and south.
  • 2005: Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed, ending the second civil war and paving the way for a referendum on South Sudanese independence.
  • 2011: South Sudanese independence referendum held, with an overwhelming majority voting for secession from Sudan, leading to the establishment of the Republic of South Sudan on July 9, 2011.

Cultural Achievements:

  • Endurance of South Sudanese cultural identity and resilience despite decades of conflict, displacement, and humanitarian crises.
  • Preservation of indigenous languages, traditions, and customary laws, serving as pillars of community cohesion and identity amidst adversity.

Post-Independence Challenges

Nation-Building and Internal Struggles (2011 – Present)

South Sudan’s journey as an independent nation has been marred by internal conflicts, political instability, and economic challenges, hindering the prospects of peace and development.

Key Figures:

  • Salva Kiir: First President of South Sudan and leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), whose presidency has been marked by allegations of corruption, authoritarianism, and human rights abuses.
  • Riek Machar: Former Vice President and leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO), whose rivalry with Salva Kiir has fueled political tensions and armed conflict.
  • Taban Deng Gai: Former Vice President and current First Vice President of South Sudan, who defected from Riek Machar’s faction to join the government in Juba, further complicating the country’s political landscape.

Key Events:

  • 2013: Political power struggle between President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar escalates into armed conflict, leading to a devastating civil war marked by ethnic violence, atrocities, and humanitarian crises.
  • 2015: Peace agreement signed between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, followed by Machar’s return to Juba as Vice President, but the fragile peace quickly unravels into renewed violence.
  • 2018: Peace talks brokered by regional mediators result in the signing of a revitalized peace agreement, leading to a ceasefire and the formation of a unity government with Salva Kiir as President and Riek Machar as First Vice President.
  • Present: Ongoing challenges of implementing the peace agreement, addressing deep-rooted grievances, and rebuilding the country’s shattered economy and infrastructure amidst continued political instability and sporadic violence.

Cultural Achievements:

  • Despite the hardships of war and displacement, South Sudanese cultural traditions, including music, dance, and oral storytelling, remain integral to community life and identity.
  • Efforts to promote reconciliation, inter-communal dialogue, and cultural exchange as pathways to healing and rebuilding trust among diverse ethnic groups in South Sudan.

Major Turning Points in South Sudan’s History

  • 1956: Independence of Sudan from Anglo-Egyptian rule, marking the beginning of South Sudan’s struggle for self-determination.
  • 1972: Signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement, ending the first Sudanese Civil War and granting autonomy to southern Sudan, albeit temporarily.
  • 1983: Resumption of conflict between the north and south following the abrogation of the Addis Ababa Agreement by the Sudanese government, leading to the outbreak of the second Sudanese Civil War.
  • 2005: Signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), laying the groundwork for the eventual independence of South Sudan.
  • 2011: Referendum on South Sudanese independence, resulting in an overwhelming vote for secession from Sudan and the establishment of the Republic of South Sudan.
  • 2013: Outbreak of civil war in South Sudan, stemming from political power struggles between President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, leading to widespread violence and humanitarian crises.
  • 2018: Signing of a revitalized peace agreement between warring factions in South Sudan, offering hope for an end to the protracted conflict and the beginning of a path towards reconciliation and stability.

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