South Sudan: A State Built On War

Sometimes, wars are not fought between sovereign states. In many cases throughout global history, wars have been fought amongst different groups within a state. Oftentimes, these groups clash due to differences in interests, ideology, ethnicity, etc. It is often understood to be the case that a country that experiences civil war  becomes weak and unstable. While this may be true in most cases, in some civil wars assist in the building of a stable state. What is difficult to understand about civil wars is why they begin and who the key actors are. In South Sudan’s case, it is a country that has experienced war before the nation-state was created. The ongoing civil war is an attempt to resolve issues from previous wars. Most importantly, it is an attempt to achieve peace and stability, which is something that every nation-state struggles to achieve and maintain.


South Sudan was once apart of Sudan,  a state jointly ruled by the British and Egyptians. Sudan gained independence from the joint colonial rule in 1956, but a year prior to independence, leaders in the South Sudan accused the new authorities in Khartoum of backing out of promises to create a federal system and of trying to impose an Islamic-Arab identity on the new state. Later on in 1955, southern military officers initiated a civil war between the south, led by the Anya Nya guerrilla movement, and the Sudanese government. This Civil War lasted until 1973 (South Sudan profile).

Though a ceasefire was implemented, civil war broke out again in 1983 which consisted of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which was from South Sudan and its military wing: the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). The second civil war was initiated because the Sudanese government cancelled autonomy arrangements for Southern Sudan. An estimated 1.5 million people were killed and more than four million were displaced during the twenty-two years of guerrilla warfare that ensued. A significant number of South Sudanese escaped the fighting by either fleeing to the north or to neighboring countries (South Sudan profile).

The conflict between North and South Sudan ended with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement which permitted the South regional autonomy as well as guaranteed representation at a national level. This also ended Africa’s longest civil war. Additionally, the agreement provided a referendum for the south to become independent. Independence for South Sudan was obtained in January 2011, when 99% of the southern Sudanese voted to split from Sudan. Thus, South Sudan became one of the newest countries in the world and the newest country in Africa since Eritrea split from Ethiopia in 1993 (South Sudan profile). After independence, Juba became the center of South Sudan with its own peripheral areas inhabited by diverse communities demanding constitutional accommodation in one state (Maru).

The new nation-state created a federal presidential republic, Salva Kiir Mayardit became the first president, and the SPLM became the majority ruling party. South Sudan is considered highly diverse both ethnically and linguistically. Among the largest ethnic groups are the Dinka, Nuer and Shilluk. Unlike the predominantly Muslim population of Sudan, the South Sudanese follow traditional religions while a minority are Christians (South Sudan profile).

Although South Sudan is Africa’s newest nation-state, it is one of the least developed. Most South Sudanese sustain themselves through agriculture. The country’s economy is highly dependent on oil. With an estimated 75% of all the former Sudan’s oil reserves located in South Sudan, the refineries and the pipeline to the Red Sea are in Sudan. Within the 2005 accord, South Sudan received 50% of the former United Sudan’s oil proceeds, which provides a majority of the country’s budget. However, that arrangement expired once South Sudan became independent. In January 2012, the breakdown of talks on the sharing of oil revenues led South Sudan to stop oil production and halve public spending on all expenses with the exception of salaries. In March 2013, an agreement provided for Sudan to resume pumping South Sudanese oil and created a demilitarized border zone. However, since the 2005 peace accord, there has been an economic revival and investment in utilities and other infrastructure (Global Black History). It is unfortunate given the state’s great economic potential, that progress has been stalled due to yet another civil war.

Political analysts have yet to reach a consensus as to what exactly has caused the outbreak of the ongoing civil war in South Sudan. What is known is that tension had been on the rise for sometime. Since mid 2012, schisms within the SPLM became public. In July 2012, in what some political analysts considered an autocratic unconstitutional move, President Kiir dismissed his entire cabinet and some of the publicly elected state governors. Machar, who was the former vice president, was also dismissed (Maru). Additionally, The SPLM and its army the SPLA, became split along divisions largely unaddressed in the independence war, resulting in the formation of the SPLM in opposition led by the state’s former vice president (International Crisis Group). The factional split of the SPLM has caused political instability, ethnic targeting, communal mobilization and violence which has led to high levels of brutality against civilians including deliberate killings inside churches and hospitals. Aside from the SPLM split, there has been ethnic violence. Dinka elements of the Presidential Guard and other security personnel have engaged in ethnic violence against the Nuer in Juba. This has led some armed groups to mobilize such as the Nuer White Army, to respond by targeting Dinka and other civilians in more than a dozen locations (International Crisis Group).

With all of this unrest, South Sudan fell into civil war on December 15, 2013. The continued fighting has displaced more than one million people and killed over ten million while the humanitarian crisis threatens many more (International Crisis Group). It is estimated that more than eight hundred thousand people have fled their homes. As for the economy, there is little possibility that the economy can grow or even remain stable during the war. Since the beginning of the war, oil production, which is what South Sudan’s economy is based on, has fallen drastically (South Sudan profile).


Since the beginning of the civil war, other actors, mainly surrounding nation-states and international organizations, have intervened in attempts to re-stabilize the country and the region. One of the latter is Uganda. Uganda and South Sudan have a significant relationship. Uganda’s military conducted raids against LRA bases in Northern Sudan while offering combat assistance to the SPLA during South Sudan’s struggle for independence (Opalo). Given that Uganda has a history of militarily intervening in the affairs of other states in the region, to maintain its own security, it is no surprise that Uganda is involved in this war. The Ugandan intervention also has an economic basis, which is to secure stable markets for Ugandan goods. According to figures from the Bank of Uganda, in 2012 the country’s exports to South Sudan totaled an estimated $1.3 billion. About one hundred fifty thousand Ugandan traders operate across the border, not to mention countless more primary producers in agriculture who benefit from cross-border trade with their northern neighbor (Opalo).

One international organization involved is the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). UNMISS is hosting an estimated seventy thousand civilians that are fleeing ethnic reprisals. However, the peacekeepers are not only facing thousands of heavily armed forces and militias, but are also outgunned. Peacekeepers have already come under attack, including a fatal incedent in Jonglei, while protecting civilians. Within at least five locations, South Sudanese seeking protection have been targeted and killed by armed actors in or around UNMISS bases. Increasingly hostile rhetoric from government officials and some opposition commanders and limitations on its freedom of movement are additional challenges (International Crisis Group).

What will happen next?

Given that the civil war in South Sudan is a new conflict, it is difficult to determine the outcome. Nonetheless, there are two likely outcomes that the civil war may produce. The first of which being that Uganda, which is the most militarized country in Africa, will increase its military presence in South Sudan. Uganda will increase its military support to the SPLM in order to not only secure its economic interests with South Sudan, but also to secure the region. This could lead to Uganda gaining more influence within the country and having more of a military presence. If this scenario comes to pass, the civil war will be relatively short. However, it does provide an opportunity for South Sudan to become a puppet state for Uganda.

The second possible scenario is that the level of fighting and the involvement of foreign actors will continue. In this case, the civil war could continue for an extended period of time, which would cause the country to disintegrate into smaller competing faction regions. Given the ethnic element that is involved, it is possible that some of the competing faction regions will be determined based on ethnicity. Furthermore, the level of violence might increase and the number of individuals having to flee their homeland might also increase.

How to solve the civil war?

History has shown that the causes of civil wars are difficult to identify and complex. More so, they are difficult to resolve. In the case of South Sudan, the major problem is the competing interests amongst the members of the dominant party and the lack of government representation for different ethnic groups. To resolve this, the country could allow multiple political parties based on a variety of political and economic ideologies. The political parties could also include and represent the interests of those from different ethnic and religious groups. Allowing individuals of each ethnic and religious group to represent themselves in the political process can do this. Additionally, each group could be given an equal amount of representation in government. Furthermore, the government could continue to implement the democratic elections that were being held prior to the civil war.

To ensure that the basics of the democratic process are successful, one of two actors should be involved. The first of which is the UN. The UN would have to increase its level of involvement in order to ensure that South Sudan not only ends the civil war, but that it is also able to transition into a democratic state. This can be achieved by sending experts in the democratic process to monitor the democratic transition of South Sudan. Another actor that can assist South Sudan is a country within the developing world that has a history of civil war and is currently democratic. Such countries include: Nigeria, the Republic of Congo, the Philippines, etc. For South Sudan, this would be beneficial because it would help the country gain valuable experience and forge valuable relationships.


South Sudan has struggled and continues to struggle in order to achieve independence and stability. The ongoing civil war is another phase which the country is going to go through before it is able to achieve regional stability. How long the civil war will last is unknown. Before its independence, South Sudan faced armed conflicts from the north for nearly two decades. Prior to that, it faced colonial independence from the British and Egyptians. In actuality, the nation-state has been experiencing conflict before it was even a nation-state. Now that it is one, it must decide as to whether to continue as a nation-state or as a  failed state. If it wants to become the former, then the ongoing civil war may be necessary in order to resolve ongoing issues that have carried over from previous conflicts. This may require foreign assistance and intervention from foreign actors, but it will permit a chance for a country that has experienced conflict for its entire existence, to finally achieve peace and stability.



Work Cited

 “South Sudan profile.” BBC News. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Aug. 2014. <>.

Maru, Mehari Taddele . “The real reasons behind South Sudan crisis.” Al jazeera. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Aug. 2014. < sudan-crisis-2013122784119779562.html>.

“South Sudan: A Civil War by Any Other Name.” – International Crisis Group. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Aug. 2014. <>.

Opalo, Ken . “Why is Uganda’s Army in South Sudan?.” The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, n.d. Web. 3 Aug. 2014. <>.

“New Hopes for South Sudan.” Global Black History. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Aug. 2014. <>.