South Sudan is the newest country in the world. It broke away from the nation of Sudan in 2011 after years of civil war. South Sudan is home to over 60 different ethnic groups and the majority of these groups either follow traditional religions or Christianity and speak local tribal languages. This is in contrast to the north of Sudan where the majority of people speak Arabic and are Muslim.
When Sudan gained its independence from joint rule by the UK and Egypt, a group of military elites from the north took power. The south’s natural resources were exploited with little benefit to the impoverished people living there and almost all gain from the mining of resources such as gold and the production of oil went to the powerful and well-connected elites from the north. Meanwhile, many of the regions in the south of Sudan suffered from immense poverty and famine. In 1983, civil war broke out with many tribes from the south uniting against the government in the north of Sudan. The Sudanese government is accused of attempting to engage in genocide and ethnic cleansing of regions in the south of Sudan and government-backed militias have attacked several non-Arab villages and tribes such as the Dinka and Nuer, the two largest groups in modern South Sudan.
In 2005, after years of war and famine, a ceasefire was finally reached between the government of Sudan and rebels from the south. They agreed that southern regions of Sudan would be able to autonomously govern themselves. The agreement also stated that the autonomous regions of southern Sudan could hold a referendum for independence at any time.
In 2011, a referendum on independence was held and almost 99% of voters voted for independence. South Sudan became an independent nation but problems occurred almost immediately. The many ethnic groups and tribes in South Sudan were all united while fighting against the Sudanese government to the north, however, tension between different factions began almost immediately after independence. In order to try to limit these conflicts between tribes, a government was established with the president, Salva Kiir belonging to the largest ethnic group, the Dinka and the vice president, Riek Machar being from the second largest group, the Nuer.
In 2013, vice president Machar attempted to stage a coup d’etat to overthrow president Kiir. Immediately afterward, Kiir expelled many members of the government who were part of Machar’s party. South Sudan’s government under president Kiir alleges that Nuer soldiers loyal to vice-president Machar raided businesses owned by Dinka people in the capital city, Juba. Most of the people who were dismissed from the government were from the Nuer tribe. President Kiir filled most of the vacant positions with members of his own Dinka tribe. Soon, former vice-president Machar fled South Sudan and called for president Kiir to resign.
Soon after this, majority Nuer militias clashed with the majority Dinka militia and the South Sudanese army. Both government troops and rebels loyal to Riek Machar have been accused of attacking civilian villages where they have killed and raped people and looted property including cattle. Ceasefire negotiations between different factions are ongoing but several agreements have broken down. The United Nations has send peacekeeping forces to maintain order in the capital and to protect the refugee camps which are hosting massive numbers of people displaced by the fighting. Amid the chaos, the already dirt-poor nation of South Sudan is once again facing famine due to and is extremely vulnerable to drought conditions making food shortages worse. Almost all schools in South Sudan have shut down and the majority of people do not have access to medical attention. This has exacerbated the already worsening disease epidemics such as malaria and cholera.
Today, the government of South Sudan reached out to rebel groups in an effort to re-convene peace talks amid increasing violence.