South Sudan: The Struggle of a Young Nation

By Samruddhi Mahapatra

Edited by Nidhi Singh, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist

The freedom struggle of South Sudan is a long and taxing journey of almost two hundred years. It all began in 1821, when Mohammad Ali, the Ottoman Sultan’s viceroy in Egypt sent an expedition to invade Sudan for slaves and ivory. The Sennar Sultanate succumbed in the face of the attack. After establishing their control in northern Sudan, the Egyptians headed south, reaching as far as present-day Juba. An Islamic uprising, known as the Mahdist revolution, revolted against the Egyptian rule. The British troops defeated the invaders and took over Sudan in 1898. British and Egyptian governed the state of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan in conjunction until 1953, when the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was granted self-governance. However, the state was unable to handle its affairs. In 1955, army officers in the south mutinied, which sparked off a civil war between the north and south Sudan. South Sudan, accused the government, established in the north, of trying to enforce Islamic and Arab culture in the South. The civil war continued until the Addis Ababa Agreement was signed in 1972. The agreement founded the Southern Sudan Autonomous Region. However, this was not the end of the people’s freedom struggle.

In 1983, Gaafar Nimeiry declared all of Sudan to be an Islamic state under the Shari’a Law. This included South Sudan, which was a non-Islamic state. Southern Sudan Autonomous Region was obliterated and the Addis Ababa Agreement was declared void on 5th June, 1983.

In retaliation, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) was formed under the leadership of John Garang. This led to the onslaught of the Second civil war in Sudan. Soon, there was conflict within the SPLA, which divided it into factions. The most notable faction was the SPLA-Nasir. As a result of internal strife, more southerners were killed by each other than by the northerners. In the Bor massacre of 1991, about 2000 civilians were killed by the SPLA-Nasir. Further devastation ensued as an estimated 25,000 died from the subsequent famine in the years that followed. This civil war is one of the most gruesome wars in the history of Africa, and possibly the world. It lasted for twenty-two years (until 2005), making it the longest civil war of Africa.

In 2005, mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in Nairobi. An autonomous Government of Southern Sudan was formed. This agreement lasted till 2011. From 9-11th January, 2011, a referendum was held, and the people of South Sudan voted on whether they should become a separate nation. The results declared on the 30th January 2011 showed that 98.83% of the population had voted for South Sudan to be an independent state.

On 9th July, 2011, South Sudan became an independent state. On July 14th, 2011, it became the 193rd member of the United Nations and on the 28th July, it joined African Union as its 54th member.

The country’s independence was celebrated with much fervour, as people hoped for better governance and a brighter future. However, as the third anniversary of independence went by, people do not have much reasons to celebrate.

Though S. Sudan is a country rich in oil resources, it has been able to utilise it due to its ongoing conflicts. Apart from oil issues, South Sudan also has to deal with border conflicts. The major conflict being Abyei, where a referendum will be held for residents to decide whether to join North or South Sudan. The young nation, divided by ethnicity, is again on the brink of a civil war. South Sudan has been wracked by war since December, as a result of clash between President Kiir and Vice-president Riek Machar.

The humanitarian crisis, due to the conflict, has reached shocking and distressing levels. There is rampant poverty, food crisis, diseases, malnutrition, etc.

Ban Ki-Moon, UN secretary general, predicts that by the year end, half of South Sudan’s 12 million people could be “displaced internally, refugees abroad, starving or dead”. Unicef surveys say that almost 50,000 children could die of malnutrition and warns of the loss of an entire generation.

The International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) has delivered more than 40 tons of emergency food supply. These airdrops are the first in almost two decades.

The UN has appealed for $1.8 billion to fund the humanitarian cause in South Sudan, but only 40% has been received.

With South Sudan now so fragmented by poverty and conflict, the lack of funding for development projects, negligence of the government, with the economic spiralling downward, means that more civilians are taking up arms.

Amidst all this, the government of South Sudan has made up ambitious plans for developing cities, and has decided a winner of a competition to compose the national anthem.

Many believe that South Sudan is not fit to be fully independent. It is not able to provide basic necessities to its citizens. Life in the youngest country is not as rosy as the people hoped. The country is not able to rise above its ethnic differences. To try and solve the ongoing problems, the government should plan and adopt an inclusive policy, which involves giving representation to all the ethnic groups.

China has been providing military support to South Sudan. This will prove to be a serious hindrance to the peace building efforts. It is looking to earn money through arms deals and also to have monopoly control over South Sudan’s economy. The Chinese self-interest will claim many more innocent lives.

US, on the other hand, has been urging South Sudan to settle the differences and end the war. It has pleaded the warring sides to make peace as the aid that the UN and the international community has been providing, is not unlimited.

As the number of refugees fleeing from South Sudan has been rising severely, Machar and Kiir need to resolve these issues with great urgency. Though they have signed several peace treaties, they have failed to uphold any of them. If they are not able to reach to a settlement, they should ask international organisations to mediate. But for the sake of the people, who have witnessed suffering beyond imagination, there is dire urgency for the war to end.

Samruddhi is a student, pursuing English Hons. in Kirori Mal College. She is an avid reader and loves learning new things. An aspiring writer, she believes that everything around us has a story to tell. With big dreams, she strives forward to achieve them. She wants her writings to be read by everyone and appreciates constructive criticism.