South Sudan is a country located in the region of Eastern Africa. South Sudan’s outbreak of Sudan on July 9, 2011 is one of the biggest political events in Africa since the decolonization in the 1960s. Despite increased tension between northern and southern Sudan before independence, the division was peaceful. But South Sudan’s first year as a sovereign state has been marked by political power struggle and civil war. The result is one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters. Around a third of the population is in flight and over half the population is in need of some kind of help for their survival. Despite peace agreements from 2015 and 2018, there are still disputes.
When independence was proclaimed, the South Sudanese could allow themselves to forget all the problems for a few days. The worn-out capital of Juba had been refurbished to accommodate all the visiting top politicians and diplomats from a number of countries. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir was present at the honorary ceremony during the ceremonies, whose government was among the first to recognize South Sudan.
- Countryaah: Country facts and history of South Sudan, including state flag, location map, demographics, GDP data, currency code, and business statistics.
In the elections for southern Sudan held in 2010 during the transition regime (see Modern History) , the old guerrilla triumphed over the Sudanese people’s liberation movement (SPLM), which has now been transformed into a political party. SPLM leader Salva Kiir Mayardit was elected president and SPLM won almost every seat in parliament. From the outset, the government was criticized for being too dominated by the country’s two largest groups of people: Dinka, to which President Kiir belongs, and Nuer. After independence, Kiir therefore replaced several ministers to involve other people groups in government work. One of the new government’s first decisions was to have a new capital built in Ramciel in central South Sudan – a project that will take many years to complete.
Many conflict issues with Sudan
In order for the division to be realized in general, the governments of northern and southern Sudan decided to put a series of unresolved conflicts on ice and continue the negotiations after the creation of South Sudan. Very soon thereafter, strife flared up in several border areas. Sudan accused South Sudan of supporting the SPLM’s northern branch, the SPLM-North, which makes an armed uprising against the Khartoum government in the Sudanese border states of South Kurdufan and the Blue Nile (see Sudan: Current Policy). South Sudan, for its part, accused Sudan of an attack against a refugee camp south of the border at the end of 2011.
The battle over the lucrative oil in the border regions was far from settled. Already during the first months of independence, the government of Juba claimed that the Sudanese authorities were hampering South Sudanese oil exports, which must go via pipelines in Sudan to the port city of Port Sudan on the Red Sea, where the oil is being shipped further. South Sudan accused Sudan of stealing South Sudanese oil on the road and the countries had failed to agree on how much South Sudan would pay to transport its oil through Sudan.
In February 2012, the government in Juba stopped all oil production due to disagreement with Sudan about transport costs. The decision meant a huge loss of income for South Sudan, which froze all development projects in the country for 30 months to save money. In October of the same year, oil production resumed after the two countries’ presidents signed an agreement on oil management and security issues.
The right to the oil-rich border area Abyei was another stumbling block. In September 2011, following mediation by the African Union (AU), Sudan and South Sudan agreed to remove all soldiers from the area that had been occupied by the North Side forces prior to the Sudan’s division. In October, the countries decided to appoint several commissions to resolve remaining problems between the countries. The parties further agreed to establish ten border crossings to facilitate travel between the countries and in early 2012 they signed a non-aggression pact pending the resolution of the dispute issues.
Civil war erupts
The disputes with the neighboring country in the north were overshadowed from 2013 by an even worse conflict as power struggles within the government and old rivalry between the Dinka and Nuer developed into a real civil war at the end of the year. The war had catastrophic consequences for the civilian population when millions were displaced and as many were at risk of starvation. All economic and social development in the already impoverished country stopped.
Already in August 2012 reports of hundreds of dead in fighting in the state of Jonglei in the east. The riots stemmed from traditional livestock raids that became depleted because of the large numbers of weapons in circulation following the war against the Khartoum regime. The fighting continued during the fall and by the New Year, warriors from the Lou Nuer People’s Group were reported to have driven about 100,000 members of the murals on the run from the area around the city of Pibor near the Kenyan border. With the help of UN unions, the government army was able to stop the ravages and take control of the situation, but after this came reports of revenge attacks from murals. The government announced disaster states throughout Jonglei and appealed to the outside world for help.
In July 2013, Kiir dismissed a number of senior politicians and police officers without explanation. Among them was Vice President Riek Machar. When a new government was introduced later that month, Machar was not included in it. In December, the power struggle within the SPLM became apparent when several prominent politicians in a call accused Kiir of being a dictator. In the same month, fierce fighting broke out in Juba between the government army and a rebel faction led by Machar. Tens of thousands of Juba residents fled the city and sought shelter in UN camps. Soon the war had spread to much of the country. The number of soldiers in the UN force in South Sudan (Unmiss) almost doubled to around 12,000 men.
The war began as a power struggle between leaders who had been rivals for decades, but over time the fighting became increasingly marked by ethnic conflict. Centuries of suspicion and rivalry between Dinka and Nuer were exploited for mass displacement of people and led to great brutality against civilians. The thing is that Kiir is Dinka and Machar is Nuer.
Peace agreement after two years of negotiations
In January 2014, peace talks between the warring parties in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia began. The mediator was the regional cooperation organization Igad. But despite the fact that close to ten ceasefires were negotiated, the fighting continued. The abuses against the civilian population became more and more common. These were mass killings, rapes, extrajudicial executions and destruction of property and looting. In addition, around 16,000 children were forced to become soldiers. Both sides were charged with such crimes.
In the summer of 2014, the UN said that nearly four million South Sudanese were not getting enough food and warned of “the worst food shortage in the world”. Although the world’s largest humanitarian effort was now underway in the country, the measures were insufficient to alleviate human suffering.
In February 2015, the government decided to postpone the general election that would have been held during the year. The following month, Parliament voted to extend the mandate of its own members and the president for three years. The reason was that the prevailing situation in the country made it impossible to make a free and fair choice.
An increasingly united world lost patience with the South Sudanese leaders. Faced with threats of UN sanctions, the government and the rebels were pressured in August of that year to sign a peace treaty that established power sharing and new elections within two and a half years. A Truth Commission would be appointed to investigate war crimes and a war criminal court would investigate the worst abuses in collaboration with the African Union (AU).
Facts of war – humanitarian disaster
Once the peace treaty had been signed, South Sudan was a desolate country, almost entirely in the absence of functioning infrastructure, healthcare and school systems. Large sections of the population were on the run and most were in need of relief. In addition, many observers expressed strong doubts that the peace agreement could be implemented. President Kiir’s government had made a number of reservations, calling the agreement a “humiliation” and a “reward for the rebels.” When in December 2015, Kiir, through a decree, changed the very basic conditions for the agreement by increasing the number of states from ten to 28, the rebel side said that the peace agreement was dead.
Machar got his post as vice president back in February 2016, but he announced that he would not return to Juba as long as the government army remained in the capital. He also demanded that Kiir uphold his decision to create 28 states. The old SPLM government continued to rule until the end of April when, after several delays, Machar returned to Juba and was installed as vice president. Shortly thereafter, Kiir presented a transitional government, which was an important part of the realization of the peace agreement.
At the same time, the fighting continued in several directions and deep divisions on the rebel side became increasingly clear. Some groups did not generally accept the peace agreement, and it was doubtful whether they would obey Machar’s command any longer. UN Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović said in February 2016 that the entire country was about to split up and that the conflict threatened the entire region. He also testified that serious abuses on civilians, such as rape, abduction and displacement, were still ongoing.
As if that were not enough, relief organizations warned that long-term drought in northeastern Africa could lead to the worst famine disaster in decades in the region.
Outbreak of violence in Juba
For the first time since Machar’s return to the capital erupted in July 2016, fighting in Juba between government forces and Machar’s rebels. The death toll rose rapidly to several hundred. Among the dead were civilians as well as UN soldiers and UN employees. The United States, neighboring countries and the UN called on the parties to return to the peace treaty, and the UN appealed to the member states for reinforcements and for severe sanctions and an immediate arms embargo. Tens of thousands of residents fled the city.
After a few days, the situation in the capital was calmer since Kiir and Machar ordered a cease-fire. Outside the country, however, the fighting continued and foreign governments began to evacuate their citizens. In August, Kiir dismissed his vice president Machar.
In November 2016, UNMIS supreme commander, Kenyan Johnson Mogoa Kimani Ondieki, was dismissed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The reason was that a UN investigation into the efforts of the peacekeeping force during the outbreak of violence in Juba earlier this year received stinging criticism. According to the investigation, a lack of leadership led to the force acting “chaotic and ineffective” and that Unmiss failed to protect civilians. The report describes, among other things, how the UN soldiers surrendered their posts and did not respond to appeals for assistance from aid workers who tried in vain to escape from attackers at a hotel in the capital (see Calendar).
New peace agreement – and new battles
After a couple of meetings under the auspices of the regional cooperation organization Igad, President Kiir and the rebel leader Machar signed a document in June 2018, called the Khartoum Declaration. It provides for a “permanent” cease-fire to be introduced within 72 hours, to withdraw troops, to open corridors for the civilian population and to release both prisoners of war and political prisoners. In addition, a transitional government will take office within 120 days and rule the country for three years. During this period, general elections must be prepared. According to the declaration, South Sudan and Sudan will jointly equip a number of oil wells in the state of Unity to increase oil production. The mediators of the talks were Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and the document was signed in the Sudanese capital Khartoum. Assessors were at best cautiously optimistic about the declaration, when a number of similar agreements have been broken in the past. The ceasefire should be monitored by AU and Igad.
In July 2018, Parliament extended President Kiir’s term of office by another three years, to 2021. The reason was that the country was unable to organize elections. The 2015 election was also postponed, after which Kiir’s mandate was extended to 2018. The opposition criticized the new extension which they believe violates the spirit of the new peace agreement. At the same time, reports of new battles came out in the country.
President Kiir and rebel leader Machar signed a power-sharing agreement in August 2018 in Sudan’s capital Khartoum. The agreement means that Machar will once again take office in the government, this time as the first of five vice presidents. A month later, the parties signed a new peace agreement. Thereafter, the parties have three months to form a unifying government. It will hold government power for three years and consist of 20 ministers from the Kiir camp, nine supporting Machar and a handful of ministers from other resistance groups. Parliament will have 550 members, including 332 Kiir supporters and 128 from Machar’s faction.
In September 2018, a new British study was published showing that more than 382,000 people had been killed as a result of the civil war since 2013. That was a significantly higher figure than the one previously stated in a few tens of thousands. The figure included deaths for direct fighting, and for indirect consequences of the war such as epidemics and famine. Despite the latest peace agreement, the fighting continued in several places in the country, and just over six million South Sudanese went hungry every day. The study was done at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Unity government is formed
As the deadline for the formation of a transitional government approached its end in May 2019, the parties decided to postpone the formation of government for six months for security reasons. Few of the commitments made by the parties in the latest peace agreement had been realized by that time.
As the second deadline approached, on November 12, it was clear that the parties would also miss this one. At a meeting in Entebbe in Uganda on November 7, President Kiir and rebel leader Machar were given another hundred days to form a unifying government. The meeting was held under the auspices of regional leaders such as Ugandan President Museveni, the leader of Sudan’s governing council al-Burhan and a special envoy from Kenya. One of the main reasons for the delays was that Machar, who lives in exile in Sudan, did not consider that security in Juba was sufficient for him to dare to return there permanently. The US expressed strong disappointment over the delay and warned the parties that relations between the US and South Sudan may be “reviewed”. The United States is a major donor to South Sudan.
On February 22, 2020, when the third deadline for government formation expired, Kiir and Machar agreed to co-govern. In order to reach the agreement, Kiir was forced to tear up his state reform and return from 32 states to the ten original ones. This had long been a demand from the opposition and an important reason for the contradictions that hinder real peace. The administrative division is important as it forms the basis for the division of power between the two parties. In connection with the change, Kiir dismissed 32 governors. Machar’s remission was to return to Juba without his private security force. When the agreement was signed, Kiir dissolved his government, dismissed First Vice President Taban Deng Gai and replaced him with Machar. The agreement was signed following strong pressure from the outside world, including the United States.
In the new unifying government, SPLM received 20 out of 35 ministerial posts, while SPLM-IO received nine posts, including the important posts as oil minister and defense minister. The remaining six ministerial posts went to representatives of small parties.
Read more about the events in the Calendar.
READING TIPS – read more about South Sudan in UI’s journal World Policy Day Issues:
South Sudan – Is Peace Possible? (2017-12-01)
FACTS – POLITICS
Republic of South Sudan / Republic of South Sudan
Head of State
President Salva Kiir Mayardit (2011–)
Head of government
President Salva Kiir Mayardit (2011–)
Most important parties with mandates in the last election
Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement / SPLM (251), Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement-Democratic Change / SPLM-DC (8), National Congress Party / NCP (3), Independent (6) (2010)
presidential and parliamentary elections 2021