After independence from Britain on January 1, 1956, the southern Sudan region mostly black remained united with the North of the Sudan which is Arab and Muslim. The religious presence was mixed with two large majorities, Animist and Christian and a minority 7-8% of Muslims –The gradual imposition of the Sharia law by the North resulted in two long wars – one of the longest in the world (1955-2005, with a short and fragile “peace” from 1973 to 1983) – which ended with agreements signed in Nairobi in 2005. The result of these 38 years of war were more than 2.5 million people dead and the region of the South completely devastated, empoverished and without services and infrastructures.
The resulting embryonic process of democratization peaked four years later in 2011. In that year, there was the January 9-15 plebiscite referendum in favour of secession – 98.83 % of the citizens voted for independence! South Sudan got its independence on July 9, 2011, and became the 54th country in Africa and 193rd in the world. These epochal events, aiming to unite the people have been completely undermined by the 2013 outbreak of a bloody inter-ethnic war that is still ongoing. The two major protagonists are the largest ethnic communities: the Dinka, the largest in numbers and the Nuer. Tribal fractures and difficulties have increased in the last two years, and today there are at least nine other major ethnic rebel groups in the country.
In a last attempt to bring more stability and create space for dialogue, just before Christmas 2017, the government of South Sudan and nine rebel factions, with the mediation of Intergovenmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the African Union (AU) and Troika, signed a new agreement for cessation of hostilities. This makes more than a dozen agreements signed between them after the starting of this bloody civil war. But a few days after Christmas, the date of starting of this cessation of hostilities, the agreement had already been broken more than a dozen times in several locations of the country by different rebel armed groups and the government. While there has been no more fighting in the capital Juba since July 2016 – the month of madness and violence – the rebellion has slowly spread throughout the country. Millions of people have fled to neighboring Uganda, Sudan and Ethiopia, fearing more bloodshed. Still a long way to go for peace in South Sudan!
The political struggle for power between President Salva Kiir (Dinka) and his rival, former vice President Riek Machar (Nuer), is at the root of the civil conflict that began in December 2013. After four years of belligerence, Machar agreed to return to Juba in April 2016 to cement a shaky peace agreement, signed in August 2015, which included his opposition group’s participation in the Government of national unity. The deal was broken in July 2016, after five days of fierce combat between two military factions in the capital Juba. Opposition troops by Machar were defeated due to imbalance of forces and weapons in the field. However, there have been huge losses of soldiers on both sides, not counting the number of civilians (more than 1000, although the official figure reported by the Government is 300 dead). At the end of September 2016, from Khartoum – where he had found shelter after several vicissitudes – Machar urged all South Sudanese citizens to arm themselves to fight the Government of President Salva Kiir. The veteran dissident politician Lam Akol started a new rebel group called the National Democratic Movement in opposition to the current Government, and not necessarily in support of Riek Machar.
South Sudan is considered by some political analysts a country hostage to the gun class – that is, an elite group of men, as Kiir and Machar, who used violence, channelled through appeals in favor of ethnic nationalism, diverting resources and finances to their personal advantage. In 2016, an exclusive and important research titled “The Sentry Report” was published by the US based investigative organization Sentry, founded by actor George Clooney and human rights activist John Prendergast. The report is on corruption in South Sudan. It contains photos and documents how some prominent South Sudanese political and military figures have enriched themselves considerably by the civil conflict and their posts in the Government. The investigation focused on properties, bank accounts and foreign investment of Kiir and Riek Machar, some ministers and generals, as well as leaders of the various rebel groups. Read the full report here