South Sudan: A brief history


South Sudan: A brief history

Before the British arrived, Egypt had invaded Sudan in 1821 and for 77 years thereafter turned Sudan into a slave-hunting territory. Following on the heels of the slave hunters came the Ottoman Empire during the era of the “Scramble for Africa”, and it effectively became the first colonisers of Sudan, which it ruled through Egypt.

After the British arrived in 1898, hiding behind their Egyptian proxies, they saw South Sudan as part of Black Africa – in fact part of British East Africa, while the North was left to its Arab orientation.

As the mayor of Juba, Chris S.W. Swaka, explains it: “The South was predominantly African and the North predominantly ‘Afro Arabs’. Arabism in Sudan is not traced to having Arab blood in you. It is the Islamic religion that connects them to the Arab world. So it is more an ideological issue than a racial one, although the current generation in the North is changing that dynamic and more of them are calling themselves Africans now.”

Thus, there were clear-cut policies in the way North and South were administered in the colonial era. “But by the 1930s and 40s, with the issue of independence dominating the discourse,” says Foreign Minister Benjamin, “the British started changing their mind towards the South and saying it should become part of the North to form a united Sudan. 

“This was to fulfill certain pledges they had made to the Egyptians who wanted to control the whole 6,400km course of the Nile from Jinja in Uganda to Alexandra on the Mediterranean coast.” This decision, however, greatly displeased the people of the South who did not want to join the now Arab-dominated North. But the British were adamant. Thus, in a historic Roundtable Conference in Juba in 1947, the Southern chiefs told the British that if the South were to become part of a united Sudan, there must be a federal arrangement that would give the South autonomy over its affairs. But this too was denied. 

In fury, Southern troops in the national army rebelled in August 1955, four months before Sudan’s independence in January 1956, and went into the bush with fellow Southerners to fight for their rights and self-determination. Thus a united Sudan became independent with the burden of war on its young shoulders.

That war (called Anyanya I) continued till 1972 when a Peace Agreement was signed in Addis Ababa by the North and South, which ushered in 11 years of an uneasy truce and calm, the only period that peace reigned in South Sudan. The war reignited in 1983 after President Gaffar Nimeiri unilaterally abrogated the Addis Ababa Agreement.

For the South, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), then led by Dr John Garang, took over the execution of the war, which continued until a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in 2005. Under the CPA, Dr Garang became the First Vice-President of Sudan (based in Khartoum) and head of the Transitional Government in South Sudan. He sadly died in a helicopter crash on 30 July 2005, and was succeeded by General Salva Kiir Mayardit. 

The CPA led to a transitional period (2005-2011) and a referendum in January 2011 in which 98.85% of South Sudanese voted for separation and independence, which finally came on 9 July 2011.

During the long years of war – from 1955 to 1972, and from 1983 to 2005 – the various governments in Khartoum pursued a deliberate policy of neglecting the South’s development, to the point where in 2005, at the signing of the CPA, there was not one tarred road or street in the Southern capital of Juba, or anywhere else in South Sudan. 

To this day, there is only one tarred road in the whole of South Sudan, the Juba-Nimule Road, 120 miles long, that cost $200m to tarmac in 2009, paid for with a donation by the USA. Says Dr Benjamin: “They intentionally left the South undeveloped and all the development projects were concentrated in the North, for which some of the resources were taken from the South to run the companies in the North. So the South was completely marginalised and that made things worse as the South found that it was not getting what it deserved.”

But today the South’s relations with the North, following a Cooperation Agreement signed in September 2012, are now better. Dr Benjamin attests that the two countries have agreed that they are neighbours not of their own choosing, and therefore should remain good neighbours for their mutual benefit. 

“As such, our relations are now on a good platform of dialogue, on all issues, we don’t have to fight over our differences,” says Dr Benjamin. “South Sudan is the biggest market of the Republic of Sudan. Therefore, there is the need for good relations between the two countries. And it is based on the understanding that it is better we live as good neighbours. After all, our common border is the longest we have, about 2,000 km long. So the only solution is good neighbourliness.”


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Written by South Sudan

This special report was commissioned and published on behalf of the government of South Sudan by IC Publications Ltd. The reporting and editing was undertaken independently of the government.

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