south sudan

Developments in South Sudan

Updated: 5 October 2015

In July 2011, South Sudan became independent and is today the world's newest state. Since independence a brutal civil war flared up that has forced thousands of people to flee.

South Sudan has between eight and nine million inhabitants, but the figures are uncertain and the margin of error is great. A majority of the population consists of pastoralist Nilotic peoples. Most of the residents of South Sudan are Christian, or adhere to traditional faiths with elements of spirituality and ancestor worship. In the 1980s, the central government in the North made several attempts to introduce Islam in the South.

Fight for Independence

The extraction of oil in Sudan resulted in an escalation of the war between the Khartoum government and the guerrilla groups in southern Sudan. The government in Khartoum used the new oil revenues to buy arms. The guerrillas retaliated by sabotaging oil pipelines and other installations. To make room for foreign oil companies, the regime in Khartoum forcibly displaced the local population from the area close to the oil wells. One of the companies’ accused of having contributed to having civilians expelled was the Swedish firm Lundin Oil/Lundin Petroleum.

In 2005, a peace agreement was signed, and in 2011 South Sudan gained its independence after twenty years of civil war. This was one of the greatest political events in Africa since decolonization in the 1960’s. Despite increased tension between North and South Sudan prior to the independence, the actual split took place in a peaceful way.

Business and Economy

The White Nile with its many tributaries is South Sudan's lifeline. The Nile waters would give the country the opportunity to develop large farms in the future, but today the country is dominated by subsistence farming. 

South Sudan's economy is entirely based on oil and foreign aid. About 75 per cent of the former Sudan's oil reserves are in South Sudan, but the pipelines go north, to the port city of Port Sudan, where the refineries are located.

Social conditions

The sanitary conditions are generally poor across South Sudan. Not even half of the population has access to clean water and many serious diseases occur. There is an acute shortage of medical staff and hospital beds.

Arranged marriages are common. Most women have undergone genital mutilation. One in seven pregnant women die of obstetric complications, the highest percentage in the world.

Political power

South Sudan is since independence 2011 a republic with a strong presidential rule. The Liberation Movement SPLM has been transformed into a state-bearing party and its armed wing the SPLA has become the official army. The SPLM leader, Salva Kiir, became the country's first president and SPLM won practically all seats in Parliament.

Human rights

South Sudan's transitional constitution formally guarantees freedom of expression and press freedom, but in recent years the media situation has worsened with journalists being arrested and threatened by the army.

The courts are heavily congested due to the lack of trained lawyers. Modern criminal law and customary laws are often used interchangeably, which leads to a high level of uncertainty for the individual.

Civil War

At the end of 2013, civil war broke out between the government and rebels, led by the former vice president Riek Machar. The conflict has deep roots in the conflicts between the country's two dominant ethnic groups, Dinka and Nuer, it is also related to the control of key areas for oil extraction. On several occasions, peace agreements have been signed, only to be subsequently broken. A report by the African Union suggested recently that South Sudan should be put under international administration with a UN mandate, and that both Kiir and Machar should be banned from politics. However, this has not happened.

More than 10 000 people have died since the civil war broke out in December 2013 and in total an estimated two million persons have been displaced. The United Nations has accuses both sides of mass killings, extrajudicial executions and systematic rape. Meanwhile, the humanitarian needs are enormous. More than half of the country's 12 million inhabitants are in need some kind of help for their survival, according to UN estimations.

Page owner: Department for Africa

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