After more than 30 years of civil wars, the longest in modern Africa’s history, a peace deal reached in 2005 actually held and in a referendum of January 2011 an overwhelming majority of South Sudanese voted to become independent and Africa’s largest country, just short of a million square miles, split into two states, the north comprising two thirds of the old country’s landmass, the south consisting of the ten southernmost states forming the new South Sudan, which became independent on 9 July 2011.
The new country faces a difficult future. True, it inherits the greater part of Sudan’s oil wealth but otherwise it lacks infrastructure and economic development while disputes with the Khartoum Government, which was always reluctant to see the South secede, could well erupt into violence unless carefully handled. Unlike the majority of the population in the North who are Muslim, South Sudan is a mixture of traditional religions, some Muslims and a minority of Christians. Conflict appears to be second nature in Sudan. As the British prepared to leave in 1955, southern army officers mistrustful of the intensions of the new government in Khartoum, mutinied.
The South wanted a federal system, the North sought a unitary system that would allow it to impose an Islamic and Arab identity upon the whole population. The British left at the beginning of 1956 even as the first civil war got under way with the South’s Anya Nya guerrilla movement taking on the Sudanese government. This first civil war ended in 1972 when the Addis Ababa peace agreement gave the south a degree of autonomy. The second civil war erupted in 1983 and lasted 22 years to the 2005 peace agreement.
This time the South was led by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). During the ensuing years 1.5 million or more people lost their lives in the fighting and more than four million were displaced. Apart from relations with the North, South Sudan contains a number of ethnic groups including the Dinka, Nuer and Shilluk and violence between different groups has become part of the Sudan story. It is one thing to achieve independence, as South Sudan has just done, it is something else to weld together rival tribes and create a new nation.
University of Rochester Press