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Land and People
The main geographical feature of the landlocked country is the White Nile and its tributaries, including the Bahr el Ghazal, the Yei, and the Sabat. The plains and hills in the northern and central parts of the country are characterized by swampland (the enormous Sudd, which constitutes one sixth of the country), savanna, and forests. The terrain rises to mountains in the extreme south; the highest point is Kinyeti (10,456 ft/3,187 m) on the border with Uganda. The tropical climate is marked by seasonal rainfall; the plains are drier than the southern highlands.
The largest ethnic groups in the ethnically diverse nation are the Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk, and Bari, all of whom speak Nilotic languages, and the Azande, who are Bantu speakers. Most South Sudanese follow traditional African religious beliefs, but about 18% are Christian and some are Muslim. English is the country's official working language, but Arabic is the lingua franca; all indigenous languages are constitutionally recognized as national languages.
South Sudan, which was the southern part of Sudan until 2011, has a history of friction with the regions to its north; the conflict in large part has been a result of religious differences with the Muslim-dominated north. Egypt, which had conquered Sudan earlier in the 1800s, began to colonize South Sudan in the 1860s. In the 1880s the region fell to the Mahdist uprising (see Madhi), but in both cases actual control over South Sudan was limited. The British established control after finally defeating the Mahdists in 1898, and the area became part of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. In 1924 the British separated the administration of N and S Sudan. The Juba Conference (1947) led to the rejoining of the two regions.
With the advent of independence in the mid-1950s, southerners, fearing domination by the Muslim north, started a revolt that lasted 17 years; the civil war left some 1.5 million southern Sudanese dead as a result of fighting, starvation, and disease. The rebellion was ended by an agreement between the government and the Southern-Sudan Liberation Front (whose military arm was known as Anya Nya) signed in 1972 at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; under the accord the S Sudan received considerable autonomy.
A second civil war was begun in 1983 by the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), led by John Garang, when the Sudanese government revoked the 1972 agreement and then imposed Islamic law. In the 1990s the Sudanese army mounted offensives against the SPLA in S Sudan; several cease-fires were announced to allow the distribution of food to famine victims, but they did not hold. The Sudanese government and Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM, the SPLA's political arm) agreed in July, 2002, to a framework for peace that called for autonomy for the south and a referendum on independence after six years; a truce was signed in October, and talks led to a peace agreement in 2005. Some 2 million people died during the second conflict, mostly from disease and starvation.
When S Sudan became autonomous in 2005, Garang became president of S Sudan and first vice president of Sudan; oil revenues from southern wells were split between the north and south. Garang died in July, 2005, and was succeeded in both his posts by the SPLM's Salva Kiir. Tensions continued between south and north, with occasional outbreaks of violence (especially in the disputed oil-rich border region of Abyei). There also was fighting between the SPLA and other southern militia groups, which in some cases continued after independence. Kiir was overwhelmingly reelected in Apr., 2010, but the election was marked by significant problems. In Jan., 2011, a referendum on the future of S Sudan resulted more than 98% of the population of the region voting for independence. The country was declared a separate republic on July 9, 2011, and Kiir became South Sudan's first president.
Abyei, inhabited mainly by Dinkas and Arabs, remains disputed between South Sudan and Sudan; it did not participate in the 2011 referendum, and in May, 2011, Sudanese government forces seized control of the region. Another significant disputed area, Kafia Kingi, a mineral-rich region bordering the Central African Republic that has a mixed but relatively small population, is also occupied by the Sudan. Relations with Sudan have been difficult. There have been a number of disputes concerning the shipment of South Sudanese oil through Sudanese pipeline and port facilities; as a result, South Sudan shut down oil production in early 2012, which drastically reduced the nation's revenues.
Fighting between the Sudanese government and former allies of the SPLA has led to cross-border attacks at times by Sudanese and South Sudanese forces, with more significant border clashes in March and April of 2012 that also involved territory in Abyei disputed between the two nations. The March–April fighting led to an AU-UN ultimatum that demanded an end to fighting and a resolution of the border issues. An agreement on restoring oil production and shipment and other issues was signed in September, but border issues and the status of disputed areas remained unresolved and delayed implementation of the agreement. Despite the fitful progress toward implementation, South Sudan resumed oil production in Apr., 2013. Both South Sudan and Sudan have been accused of arming each other's rebels. In 2011–13 there were significant ethnically based cattle raids and deadly revenge attacks in E South Sudan. Also in 2012, South Sudanese troops were included in a planned four-nation African Union force led by Uganda to capture Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony.
Kiir dismissed (July, 2013) Vice President Riek Machar and the cabinet in a shakeup designed to remove his political rivals from the government. In Dec., 2013, following fighting between Dinka and Nuer in the presidential guard, Kiir accused Machar of an attempted coup, and the situation quickly deteriorated into a murderous civil war, largely along ethnic lines, with Dinka supporting Kiir and Nuer backing Machar. Rebel forces captured an number of state capitals, but government forces, with support at times from Uganda, regained control of those cities in Jan., 2014. A cease-fire agreement in January did not end the fighting, and rebel forces subsequently focused on attacking oil-production centers, and oil production suffered. New cease-fires in May and November also proved shaky; there was heavy fighting in July, and attacks continued to occur into 2015.
Negotiations led the two sides to agree (June, 2014) in principle to establish a transitional government and to pledge (Feb., 2015) to establish a power-sharing government, but actual progress toward a settlement was limited. In Mar., 2015, President Kiir's term was extended for three years. Under international pressure, a peace deal was signed in August; both sides soon accused the other of violating it. In October, Kiir announced the creation of 28 states from the current 10, in contravention of the deal (the number of states was further increased to 32 in 2017). A number of the states established Dinka control over oil fields, and the move threatened the peace deal.
A tentative agreement on power-sharing cabinet was reached in Jan., 2016, even as fighting continued in parts of the country. Machar subsequently was named first vice president, and in April the transitional government was established. In July, however, clashes between the two sides erupted in the capital for several days, causing hundreds of deaths, and Machar and forces loyal to him withdrew from the capital. Machar, who along with his allies was replaced in the government, subsequently fled South Sudan, and fighting resumed between his forces and the government. A cease-fire was signed in Dec., 2017, but fighting continued. In July, 2018, the parliament extended the president's term until 2021; the move was denounced by opposition groups as illegal.
A new attempt at peace negotiations occurred in mid-2018, which led to the signing of interim peace agreements and then, in September, a final agreement, though a number of opposition groups refused to sign the agreement. The power-sharing accord, which called for Kiir to remain as president and Machar to become first vice president, largely stopped the fighting, but progress toward formation of a unity government was slow and at times obstructed. In May, 2019, the deadline for Machar to return was extended by six months, but in November formation of a unity government was postponed to Feb., 2020.
In February the transitional legislative assembly restored the nation's former 10 ten states, and Kiir and Machar finally formed a government. Despite the new government, intercommunal violence remained a problem in subsequent months, and attempts to disarm civilians at times led to clashes. Further implementation of the unity government agreement, including reconstituting the legislative assembly and forming state governments, proceeded slowly.
Both sides in the post-independence civil war have been accused of brutality and human rights violations, and pro-Kiir forces have been accused of ethnic cleansing. Some 190,000 people are believed to have been killed, and roughly the same number believed to have died as a result of the broader effects of the fighting. More than 2 million are refugees in Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, and other countries, and more than 2 million additional people have been displaced within South Sudan. Corruption has been a significant problem in the young nation's government.