Media doesn’t talk much about the conflict in South Sudan. We may have a reason to forgive them because the nesting of this conflict is rather complicated, but I will try to explain it my way. However, be aware that this is the point of view of a young European, staying at home with a cup of tea. The bibliography or the footnotes are not there but I invite you to ask for those essential data because you sure know I did not invent all of that, but I have just regrouped in a text some elements I have found on the subject.

To start we can say that South Sudan is not a very well known country, especially because it has been created in 2011 as the 54th African country. It is a federal Republic composed of ten states, located in East Africa and whose capital city is Juba. It belongs to multiregional organizations, such as the United Nations and UNESCO. It also joined the IFM, the World Bank, the African Union and the International Authority on Development. A multi-donor fund over four years has been established to strengthen such macroeconomic institutions as the central bank, the exchange rate policy, the public financial management, and the tax and customs administrations.


But a civil war is currently challenging the internal stability of this country at all levels: economic, political, development and social situation.

To explain the current situation, it is important to go back in history and to sum up the situation in 1956. Sudan was then ethnically and religiously diverse with a majority of Muslims in the North and both Christians and animists in the South. Tensions appeared before the independence, because the Southern part of the country was afraid to be subdued to the political power of the North. Thus from 1956, confrontations between the government from Karthoum and the Southern authorities occurred. The conflict escalated in 1964, when the government tried to arabize and islamize the whole country, and particularly the Southern part. The opposition guerrilla movement named « Anyanya » organized insurrectional actions. This first Civil War ended with the Addis Ababa peace agreement signed in Ethiopia in 1972, which granted to the South the statute of autonomous region with a higher level of competences. However, new tensions appeared in the 80’s when oil resources were discovered. The oilfields are located in the southern part but as only the North owned oil-refining plants, it got all the benefits without redistributing it to the South. Furthermore in 1983, the Karthoum government planned to divide the South into three regions and impose Sharia law to the whole country. The intention was clearly to increase its power.

 In reaction, the Southern part organized a rebellion by creating the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) headed by John Garang (a member of the Dinka ethnic group). Its main goal was to extend the autonomy of the South rather than to fight for independence. From that moment started a mass killing war, opposing the Karthoum government to the SPLM and especially its military fraction, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. It is important to note that the SPLM was supported by Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda and also the United States. The Darfur crisis drew attention from the international community, which put pressure on the Sudan in order to fix the situation.

 After 22 years of conflict, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was finally signed in Naivasha (Kenya) on January 9th 2005. This second Civil War killed up to 1.5 millions people and caused the displacement of about 4 millions of them. Those refugees fled during the conflict in the Northern part of Sudan or in neighboring countries. The CPA granted a regional autonomy to South Sudan with a representation in the national government. On that point, John Garang became vice president of the Sudan Republic. Furthermore, an auto-determination referendum was planned in order to decide whether the Southern part remains united to Sudan or not. It was also decided that the North Sudan would share half of the earnings provided by the exploitation of oil.

A referendum was held from the 9th to the 15th of January 2011. Almost 3 millions South Sudanese were registered on voters lists and an overwhelming majority of 98.83 voted in favor of independence. Thus in July, South Sudan became officially independent with a temporary Constitution that established a federal republic.


The ballot paper for the 2011 referendum on auto-determination. Due to the high level of analphabetism (about 73%) and to avoid any cheating the voters were invited to express their choice by putting their fingerprint.

The ballot paper for the 2011 referendum on auto-determination. Due to the high level of analphabetism (about 73%) and to avoid any cheating the voters were invited to express their choice by putting their fingerprint.

The post-independence situation

Even if South Sudan is now independent from Sudan, tensions between those two countries have not disappeared yet, mainly because the CPA is not entirely implemented.  Concerning the border issues, the Technical Border Committee (TBC) created in 2005 to draw the new line that would separate the two states, did not solve everything. According to the International Crisis Group, fives areas remain disputed. But the most problematic remains the Abyei area because of its oil resources and water access. Communities issues are also involved as Dinka people, who support South Sudan, are affronting Misseriya Arab tribesmen. Considering the post independence situation as a threat for regional peace and security, the Security Council instituted in its 1996 Resolution of the 8th of July 2011, the United Nation Mission In South Sudan (UNMISS).

Indeed, the new sovereign state of South Sudan has already faced a lot of new crises and experienced a lot of difficulties ensuring functioning institutions and national unity.

 After independence the former President of the autonomous Region of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit (a Dinka) became the President of the Republic of South Sudan and the former vice president, Riek Machar (a Nuer) became the vice-president of the country. New confrontations arose between those political leaders and the different ethnic groups, particularly between the Dinka and the Nuer. This situation was mainly the result of the past fight for independence.

 The fact that Riek Machar signed an agreement in 1997 with the Sudanese President Omar el-Béchir, who fought against the SPLM and the SPLA, provoked anger and tensions directed against Nuer people. Moreover a lot of Nuer militias fought as allies with the North during the Second Civil War. In July 2013, President Salva Kiir dismissed Riek Machar who had expressed his will to run for the next presidential elections in 2015. As a consequence, an outbreak of violence opposing pro Riel Machar and pro Salva Kir occurred onthe 15th of December. This clash between communities affected Juba on the 16th of December and then spread all over the country as for example in the eastern state of Jonglei.

 Because they were accused by the President of planning a «coup d’Etat», ten Nuer political figures were arrested, among them 8 members of Machar’s former government. According to the US, no evidence was found to prove these allegations were true. Interviewed in December 2013, Riek Machar called for the destitution of Salva Kiir. According to him the SPLM and the SPLA should revolt against Salva Kiir in order to avoid an aggravation of violence.

 From this point other rebel forces have appeared as the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA) in order to counter the SPLM and the SPLA. Accusations have been thrown against Sudan, which is suspected to have generated those movements. All the country is now affected by this civil war which have caused thousands of death and 400 000 refugees. A ceasefire was signed on the 23rd of January of 2014 in Addis Ababa but attacks from both sides still occur on the ground.


Stakes in South Sudan

Economic stakes – oil and water

Since the independence in July 2011, most of the Sudanese oil is produced in South Sudan. From the beginning, South Sudan decided to build its growth and development on oil production. Therefore, 98% of South Sudanese GNP was based on oil production in 2012, which is not surprising for a country, which produces up to 350.000 barrels a day.

However, even if oil is the main asset for the State and its development, it could also be the trigger that sparks a conflict. Since South Sudan won its independence, oil has become an object of desire. First of all, the country remains dependent of Khartoum because it needs to use pipelines and refineries located in the North to make profits.  So of course, Sudanese authorities try to take advantage of this situation. Besides, the internal situation is critical and repercussions on petroleum industry are significant.

For neighbouring countries like Kenya and Uganda, the dramatic situation in South Sudan could be an opportunity to talk South Sudan into selling them oil instead of Sudan. Kenyan authorities have already planned a southern oil pipeline to transport crude oil from South Sudan to a Kenyan port named Lamu, generating large profits for Kenya. Uganda, which provided military support to help South Sudan’s government fighting rebellion, peers at oil resources and fears that the instability of South Sudan drives investors away from the whole region like the Chinese oil company named China National Petroleum Corp did in December 2013.

To put it in a nutshell, the future of the country depends on oil production and its ability to get the right infrastructures to make large fees. South Sudan needs to solve its internal situation and has to cement relations with neighbouring countries together with the USA and China, also interested by South Sudanese oil if it wants to be viable. Otherwise, a bloody oil war could discourage investors in the oil industry for decades and tip the South Sudan economy into recession.

Apart from the oil, water issues greatly impact South Sudan’s future. Indeed, South Sudan’s territory is crossed by the White Nile, a tributary of the Nile. This river is vital for the region because it is used for agriculture, but above all the White Nile represents 28% of Nile waters’ flow. The Nile River represents an important economic stake. Countries crossed by the Nile decided to gather in order to establish rules to regulate equally Nile waters’ use.

Stakes around the Nile’s management are crucial. In 25 years, population living in the area will double, increasing food needs and pollution, in countries which are among the poorest in the world and where infrastructure is inadequate to fight against these issues.

Two agreements were signed by the Nile Basin Group, which comprises nine countries. One in 1929 between Egypt and the British Colonial Empire and another one in 1959 after Sudan’s Independence. In spite of these agreements, those countries faced economic, demographic, and energetic crisis. In response, the Nile Basin Initiative was launched in 1999 and aimed “a social and economic development through an equal sharing of resources”. When the South Sudan state was born, it promised to respect these agreements without forgetting that it has a political leverage that could weigh in negotiations concerning the Nile’s share.

The Jonglei Canal is another issue, which symbolises the new South Sudan’s political leverage. Built in 1980 in order to increase Egypt’s Nile flow by 10%, it was damaged by SPLM/A attacks. Reopening the canal as Juba’s authorities wish would be a humanitarian disaster for the region and the threat to do it would enable South Sudan to obtain guarantees when it will be time to renegotiate sharing of the Nile flow.

Thus, troubles happened in South Sudan have direct consequences on the other states crossed by the Nile. Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan are worried about this situation, which can directly interfere in their economy. On the whole, the Nile represents enormous development opportunities for South Sudan, in which the major part of the population works in the agriculture sector.

Humanitarian stakes – agriculture, lack of food and displacement of population

First of all, agriculture is one of the most harmed sectors. By destruction of fields, propagation of insecurity in rural areas, distrust between ethnic groups, agriculture plans for future are compromised. Yet agriculture is the backbone of South Sudan, a country where 80% of its population live in rural areas. 25 years ago, South Sudan was a net exporter of agricultural product whereas today, because of war-related destruction, poor infrastructure and lack of investment in the agriculture sector, it became a net importer of food for almost $300 million a year. In South Sudan, arable lands represent 50% of the territory but today, only a small part is dedicated to cultivation, which is not enough for a country in which almost 250.000 children are underfed.

All these unsolved issues in agriculture could soon have terrible repercussions on the South Sudan population. On April 4th 2014, the World Food Program of the UN alerted the international community on the humanitarian situation in the youngest state of the world. Indeed, the international organization fears that South Sudan “faces the worst starvation in Africa since the 1980s” in the coming months.

Furthermore, according to the World Health Organisation, 4.2 million of people in South Sudan need health services and due to recent clashes in the country, 908.000 people were displaced. Among them, 202.500 refugees fled to neighbouring countries, especially Uganda.

This humanitarian crisis weakens South Sudan authorities, which seem to be completely overtaken.

Cultural stakes – religions and education

While the main religion in Sudan is Islam, South Sudan is mainly composed of Catholics (60%), Animists (24%) and Muslims (6%). Although South Sudan is torn by civil war, religion has nothing to do with violence perpetrated in South Sudan. Nevertheless, places of worship are not protected by rebel troops. In March 2014, after Riek Machar’s partisans took control of Malakal, several lootings of churches in the City were recorded.

So, conflict in South Sudan is not a religious issue but it faces an ethnic stake. Indeed, rivalry between Salva Kiir Mayardit, South Sudan president, and Riek Machar, former vice-president, is no longer a political quarrel. Salva Kiir belongs to the Dinka ethnic group whereas Riek Machar belongs to the Nuer ethnic group.

Nevertheless, the conflict in Sudan, is a bit more complicated. Nuer and Dinka are not enemies: these are two communities divided in several clans which come from the same background, have the same daily life and speak almost the same language. It is Riek Machar’s dismissal, which triggered off an upsurge of violence between the two ethnic groups. Lately, the number of tribal killings is increasing but rivalry is more about clans looking for territory control than skin colour or religion.

At this stage, it appears that neither of these two ethnic groups can dominate the country without the other. But it seems that the transformation of the political conflict into an ethnic conflict has already began and international authorities fear that South Sudan knows the same situation as Rwanda in 1994, thatat would leave the country in a shambles.

Civil war impacts the daily life, especially for children. Indeed, because of the violence schools are deserted. South Sudan’s education indicator remains among the worst in the world. According to UNICEF, adult literacy rate in South Sudan does not exceed 30% and almost 70% of children aged 6-17 years have never attended school. Gender equality is another stake while only 33% of schoolchildren are girls. Thus, education is the main priority for people of South Sudan. This being so, the future of South Sudan depends in large part on its education policy, meaning its ability to keep children away from conflicts and to give them the chance to work their way out of poverty.


To conclude, there is a desire to restore peace initiated by the United Nations Interventions, other African countries, NGOs, and the EU. But as we saw previously, the conflicts taking place in South Sudan are far from over: the two clans don’t stop breaking the cease-fires, the population is running away and starving, the economical situation is disastrous, the oil business has to be organized…

According to “Médecins Sans Frontières”, the crisis could go on until the 2015 elections. These elections are crucial for the future of the State and it is imperative that both parties accept the outcome. Otherwise the fight would be endless.

Foreign interventions would not be desirable after the forces are withdrawn. Then it would be require that both parties negotiate a lasting political situation, which would include a real representation of different groups. The leaders should also encourage ethnic groups to reconcile. The country could take a lesson from the success of the Truth Commissions and Reconciliation that took place in South Africa at the end of Apartheid. However, the establishment of those commissions should be a government initiative, and the results of this process often appear after several years. After peace is achieved, the completely legitimate government could finally handle the economical, social, development and oil issues.