South Sudan: A brief history
South Sudan is Africa’s 54th country and the UN’s 193rd. It is the youngest country in the world, having gained independence on 9 July 2011. Stretched over 640,000 sq km, South Sudan is larger than France, but has a population of a little less than 12 million people. Its capital is Juba.
The country is divided into 10 states. They are: Western Bahr el Ghazal, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Warrap, Lakes, Unity, Upper Nile, Jonglei, Western Equatoria, Central Equatoria, and Eastern Equatoria. The major towns are: Juba, Wau and Malakal.
The history of South Sudan, which is intertwined with the history of the Republic of Sudan (or North Sudan), goes back a long time, even before the birth of Jesus Christ. The 25th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt was a Kush dynasty, and these were Sudanese people who ruled over those territories.
In Biblical times, Sudan (North and South) was known as Kush, which had a very old historical presence in the areas now occupied by the two Sudans and beyond. There were powerful Christian kingdoms that grew along the Nile in the northern parts of Sudan, such as the Kingdom of Nubia, the Kingdom of Meroe, and the Kingdom of Alodia. The history of these kingdoms dates back to 500 BC or even earlier.
One may ask, if Christ was not born, how could the kingdoms be Christian at the time they existed? The answer is simple: The Kushite kingdoms knew God and served the Almighty before Christ was born. The Biblical records show Joseph, the son of Jacob, had been entrusted to rule Ancient Egypt by the Pharoah, and following his great exploits in Egypt, Joseph’s whole family traveled across the desert in Canaan. Including his father Jacob, 70 of the family moved from Canaan to live in Egypt where Moses would later be born.
This was long before Christ was born, and the influence of the then-growing Israelite community, whose members stayed in Egypt for 480 years, spread in the neighbourhood, reaching the Kushite kingdoms as a result.
Therefore, the five kingdoms of Sudan, like the Ethiopians, knew God long before Christ was born, and long before Europe even became Christian. In fact, there are more pyramids in northern Sudan than there are in Egypt.
As South Sudan’s foreign minister, Dr Bernaba Marial Benjamin, a medical doctor and noted historian, attests: “When the last Sudanese Christian kingdom was defeated as a result of the Islamisation process that came through Egypt to Sudan, they found staunch Christian kingdoms existing in the north. These kingdoms tried to retain their identity like what happened in Ethiopia.
“In the end, the last Christian kingdom there, the Kingdom of Alodia, was defeated in 1505. So people who claim that it was European missionaries who brought Christianity to South Sudan, do not know what they are talking about. That is not true. Christian religion had been in Sudan even before Europe.”
Technically, no country, as the word is now understood, existed in the territory now known as South Sudan before the European scramble for Africa. The area only consisted of small, medium and large nationalities that coexisted in relative harmony. The indigenous populations and their territories remain largely the same to date.
This tranquil existence was interrupted by European invaders seeking trade. South Sudan became the main source of slaves, gold, ivory and timber. Thus, enormous human and other resources were plundered for generations. Modern South Sudan emerged during the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium (1898-1955), upon the break-up of the Ottoman Empire. Britain and Egypt colluded to occupy Sudan with separate administrative arrangements for the North and South.
After the defeat of the Mahdist army in 1898, during the battle of Omdurman, the people of North Sudan accepted the rule of the new Anglo-Egyptian regime. However, the South rejected the regime and continued to fight for their independence.
As Dr Benjamin says: “The Arab invasion and conquest only affected North Sudan, and that’s why when the British came in 1898 and saw the dichotomy between North and South Sudan – the northern part being Middle Eastern-looking and inclined towards the Middle East, and the South still 100% African where missionaries and Christian religion had taken root, looking towards East Africa – they made South Sudan a “Closed District” to block the Arab invasion that was coming from the north.
“People from the North needed a passbook to travel to the South and vice versa. Britons like General Charles Gordon and Samuel Baker were in South Sudan. At the time, the Kingdom of Darfur was an independent state until 1916 when it was annexed to Sudan.”