What You May Not Know About South Sudan
Recently I was talking with a friend about how the world map has changed, and we got into a bitter discussion about South Sudan, which she was certain is not a country but some sort of state. Beer bottles flew, burly men burst into tears, and I screamed “You’ll be hearing about this on the blog!!!”
Okay, it was more like one friend and I looked at a globe in the bookstore; she saw South Sudan and said, “Oh, I didn’t realize there was a South Sudan now.”
Until recently, South Sudan hasn’t received a lot of press other than the short-lived and sappy “aw look a new, free country isn’t it cute just like a little kitten” reports. Then recent tribal infighting gave it more of a spotlight, but in the form of “aw look another African nation causing displacement I forget is South Sudan the same as Somalia?” reports.
So here’s a quick rundown on the country that, for good and bad reasons, has made world news lately:
When was South Sudan formed?
South Sudan (or Republic of South Sudan / RoSS) officially became a country on July 9, 2011. The Government of South Sudan, an autonomous group that oversaw the region, had authority in that area since 2005 as a condition of the peace treaty signed in order to end the Sudanese Civil War.
Why was South Sudan formed?
Sudan has essentially been in a state of civil war since 1955 (with an 11-year ceasefire). These wars generally took place between the Northern and Southern regions, which are quite distinct: In the last 1940’s and early 1950’s, Great Britain and Egypt ended their joint rule over the area. After governing/colonizing the North and South very differently, they left behind two large areas with different levels of education and unbalanced representation in government. Perhaps even more importantly, the South had (and continues to have) more of the natural resources.
The conflicts that ensued for political dominance, use of natural resources, and southern autonomy killed millions and displaced millions more.
In January of 2011, southern Sudanese people (including those scattered around the world) voted on whether or not the South should be independent. Nearly 99% of voters said yes.
I heard the conflict in Sudan was about Muslims vs. Christians. Is that true?
Yes and mostly no. To call the wars there religious would oversimplify the conflicts, but religion did play a part. Because of colonization, northern Sudan is predominantly Muslim with a Christian minority and South Sudan is predominantly Christian and animist with a Muslim minority. The wars did include repression of and extreme violence against Christians in the South, but other specific people groups became targets as well. Natural resources, cultural differences like language and education, and 200 years of political tensions also played a big part in the conflicts.
So is South Sudan a Christian nation, then?
Nope. Conflicting reports place both animists and Christians as the majority. President Salva KIIR Mayardit, who is Catholic, has stated that South Sudan will be a country that respects freedom of religion, and the South Sudan Transitional Constitution includes this guarantee as well, although the reality may be different.
There have continued to be serious human rights abuses and infighting even after South Sudan declared independence. Here are two to know about:
- The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) was one of the main rebel groups of the Sudanese Civil War. The SPLA has been condemned for human rights atrocities including mass rape, torture, and the use of child soldiers. But now SPLA has become the South Sudan Armed Forces and the main military arm of South Sudan. In fact, South Sudan’s flag is the same flag that the SPLA army used during the civil war.
- In South Sudan’s Jonglei state, members of the Murle group are said to have attacked and raided cattle from the majority Lou Nuer tribe. Resulting clashes have killed as many as 3000 people in 2011 and left thousands displaced or hiding in the bush. In the last month or so, the Nuer White Army (of the Lou Nuer tribe) has attacked Murle villages in retaliation for starting the cattle raids. Activists now warn that the Lou Nuer / Murle conflict may result in attempted genocide in the next 5 years.
What about all those “Save Darfur” campaigns. Isn’t that related?
Yes, the conflict in Darfur is related to South Sudan. The genocide began in 2003 while the North and South had already entered bitter peace negotiations. Learn more about the crisis in the Darfur region and how you can help.
I know this is an incredibly simplified version of the events in RoSS. I’m just now learning about this region, so I admit ignorance. If you have conflicting information or think there’s important stuff I’ve left out, I do hope you’ll say so in the comments!