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South Sudan is one of the youngest countries in the world and the newest state in Africa. Its formation came after the decades of the civil war in the quest for autonomy from the greater republic of Sudan. However, the journey to independence was not easy and was littered with guerilla warfare, widespread bloodshed, and the bloody conflict with the North to control the rich oil fields mainly found in the South. Sadly, the waves of hope for liberty from the North have not been actualized. The country faces the risk of descending into another civil war due to the challenges it has faced after gaining independence. This paper will outline the republic of South Sudan’s road to liberty detailing the events that led to the formation of the state and the current status of this young nation.
The Road to Independence
The Republic of South Sudan was officially recognized as the youngest independent nation in the world on July 9, 2011. It has marked the end to decades of a liberation struggle which had lasted through two civil wars namely, from 1955 to 1972 and from 1986 to 2005. Sudan’s civil conflicts stemmed from the creation of a state policy change in 1947 that unified the North and South to form a unified state when the former British colony gained independence in 1956 (Arnold and LeRichie, 2013).
During the British colonial rule in Sudan, the Muslim North and the predominantly Christian South were governed as two separate entities. However, the British administration was based in Khartoum, which was in the North. Therefore, the South was generally neglected. It consequently meant that by independence, the North was considerably developed than the South. Thus, irreversibly aggravating existent political and social grievances in the South with those people being apprehensive would be dictated by the Islamist North. Not only did the newly established government concentrate the development in the North, it also promoted Islam with disregard to other religions in the country. In addition to this, a frequent promise to establish the independent South Sudanese nation was not honored. It resulted in the eruption of the first civil war which pitted Southern Sudanese rebels against the Sudanese government with the conflicts demanding independence from the greater Sudan. It culminated in the acts such as the Massacre of civilian on Bentiu by rebels in 2014 (Deng & Deng, 2016).
The 1972 Addis Ababa agreement marked the end of the first civil war. The treaty established substantial regional independence to Southern Sudan with regards to internal issues. Another promise to grant independence to the South was also realized. However, the discovery and wrangles over vast oil fields in the South and the decision by President Jaffar Niemeiri to implement Sharia law in Sudan led to the eruption of the second civil war in 1983. The same year, the state saw the formation of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) also known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army by John Garang. The SPLM was formed to fight for a secular but united Sudan (Salman, 2013). A 1986 year coup led by Sadiq Al-Mahdi ousted President Niemeiri. Al- Mahdi gave his troops unrestrained freedom to do as they pleased in the South. It saw the butchering, rape and detention of hundreds of Southerners. Government negotiations with the SPLM occurred between 1988 and 1989. However, they were abandoned when Omar al-Bashir seized power in the coup. The oppression of the South increased under Bashir’s rule; and the guerilla warfare waged by the SPLM intensified (Edward 2015).
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In 2002, the negotiations between the SPLM and the Sudanese government began. They were mainly influenced by international pressure and the US sanctions imposed on the Sudanese government. It was based on the presumption that they were collaborating with terrorist organizations. These negotiations culminated into the end of the second civil war when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 between John Garang’s SPLM and President Bashir’s National Congress party was signed. It marked the completion of Africa’s longest running civil conflict. Garang was sworn in as the Sudan’s Vice President. However, he was later killed in a helicopter crash. His SPLM deputy, Salva Kiir, was immediately sworn in to take his place. The signing of the CPA paved the way for a six-year interim period during which the South enjoyed a high level of sovereignty from the North. According to the stipulations of the CPA, the Southern Sudan Referendum determining whether the South should cede from the North took place on January 9, 2011. The CPA also gave residents of the heavily disputed Abyei region the right to vote. It determined whether Abyei would be a part of South Sudan or would remain in Sudan. However, they were unable to make this decision based on the interesting fact that it is still impossible to define such ones. The Southerners voted overwhelmingly for the South to be autonomous from the North. On July 9, 2011, South Sudan gained its independence and Salva Kiir was sworn in as the first president of the new republic. The birth of the new nation was further cemented by the General Assembly’s admission of South Sudan as the 193rd member of the United Nations on 14 July, 2011. The new country was also admitted into the African Union on 28 July, 2011 (Enough Project, 2014).
Current State of the Nation
Despite South Sudan’s successful separation from the North important aspects of the CPA remain unfulfilled. It includes tenets regarding the Abyei Area Referendum in addition to the popular consultation processes in states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan. The struggle between the Northern and Southern governments to control the vast oil resources found in Sudan is a major source of conflict between the two countries (Peace Direct, 2014). On May 2011, the tensions between Sudan and South Sudan came to the fore when the North occupied the disputed region of Abyei in an effort to diffuse tensions and provide peace. Therefore, the two governments signed an agreement to withdraw their military troops from the area and instead permitted the Ethiopian peace keeping mission to occupy the area (The Sentry, 2015).
However, the major source of conflict that threatens to tear apart this relatively young nation does not originate beyond its borders but within them. Grand corruption within the government and internal wrangles within the ruling SPLM party threatens to divide the state along ethnic lines. Corruption has seen the deterioration of state owned enterprises and the diversion of funds meant for the construction of public infrastructure. It has led to dilapidated roads and government facilities. It occurs in addition to poor education and health standards in the country as a result of the misuses of funds allocated to develop these sectors (The Sentry, 2015). According to Warner (2014), the internal wrangles within the SPLM’s senior hierarchy pitting Salva Kiir of the Dinka ethnic group and Riek Machar of the Nuer ethnic group have polarized the country along ethnic lines. Salva Kiir dissolved his cabinet and dismissed Riek Machar after their acrimonious fallout. It led to the tensions between the two leaders’ followers. These conflicts came to the boiling point when fighting erupted between Dinka and Nuer individuals of the Presidential Guard. This fighting later spread through the capital city of Juba and the rest of the country. It has also split the army, which comprised of the former SPLA fighters. It was the expected occurrence because rebel fighters remained loyal to their commanders and found it difficult to take orders from senior army management (Warner 2014).
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Xenophobia is a surprising result of South Sudan’s independence. Foreigners mainly from African countries have been attacked or even killed there. It has led to an exodus of potential investors who would be essential to the development of the economy (Deng & Deng 2016).
In order to resolve the crises bedeviling South Sudan, a solution to the division of oil between the two countries needs to be reached. It is in addition to forging peace between the two warring leaders, i.e. Machar and Kiir, who may lead the country to genocide and do not attempt to foster concord between the different ethnic groups within their country. Corruption also needs to be tamed.
South Sudan has attained its independence as one of the most delicate and least developed nations in the world. Decades of civil war have left the state fragile. The teething problems of the nation as not adequately prepared for independence have begun to emerge. Therefore, the road to lasting peace can only be achieved through addressing the issues this young country faced before and after its formation. These problems include the incessant conflicts over oil resources with the North, internal wrangles within the SPLM, massive corruption posing a threat of slowing down the development of South Sudan, xenophobia and inter- tribal conflicts brought by leaders. It is important for the world to be involved in ensuring that this young nation is helped to overcome its issues before it is too late.