South Sudan became a country by gaining independence from Sudan on July 9th, 2011. It came as the outcome of a 2005 agreement that ended Africa’s longest civil war. It is made up of the 10 southern-most states of Sudan and it is one of the most diverse countries in Africa. Its capital is Juba.
South Sudan is estimated to be the seventh-largest country in Africa and is bordered by Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda.
It is home to more than 60 different major ethnic groups and most of its people still follow traditional religions.
Salva Kiir Mayardit became president of South Sudan – then still part of Sudan – and head of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in 2005, succeeding long-time rebel leader John Garang, who died in a helicopter crash. He was re-elected in April 2010 and then became the president once South Sudan gained independence.
South Sudan has the third-largest oil reserves in Sub-Saharan Africa. More than Currently, its oil export relies on the infrastructure provided by Sudan. South Sudan is the most oil-dependent country in the world; oil accounts for the bulk of its exports, approximately 60% of GDP and more than 95% of government revenues.
In 2012 there was a disagreement with Sudan over the oil-rich region of Abyei. The disagreement escalated into fighting, it was called the Heglig Crisis. A peace deal was reached in June 2012 that helped resume South Sudan’s oil exports and created a 10km demilitarized zone along the border.
In 2013, President Salva Kiir accused his Vice-President Riek Machar of planning a failed coup. Machar denied the accusations, in turn accusing Kiir of employing state power for the illegal purpose of silencing dissent within the ruling party, the SPLM. He then mobilized a rebel force and began fighting the government. A UN-backed peace deal was signed in 2015, paving way for the 2016 formation of a unity government, with Machar taking up the first vice president position. The deal was however short-lived as fighting broke out in the capital Juba in July 2016, forcing Machar to flee the capital.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the African Union (AU) characterized the incident between the President and the former Vice-President as a crisis. The crisis, however, escalated in a civil war due to the SPLM and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement Army (SPLA) inability to manage the situations, with assistance from a concerted effort by the international and Pan-African community.
The main reason for the civil war is the post-independence political indulgence and the inclination marked by the absence of any meaningful reform. During the fight for independence, what kept SPLM together was the common enemy in the face of Khartoum and the aspiration for self-determination and independence, past 2011 both of those are gone. In post-liberation period, being a majority in number should not be construed as a majority in power with a license to do whatever one wishes. Juba, under the current leadership of SPLM, failed to take this into account. Disregarding the increasing discontent by the minority within SPLM, the leadership style of the top leaders of the SPLM focused on winning routine political scuffles and abandoned the task of nation building.
The political instability that led to the civil war was accelerated by corruption that is a symptom of the country’s weak legislative, regulatory and enforcement mechanisms. Without military, legislative and other state institutions being resistant to abuses and misuse by the political wing of the relevant liberation movement, autocratic elements of the liberation movement may take over.
The South Sudanese army was not a professional army, it was an institutionalized army, adding to the possibility of the civil war that began. It is a collection of militias and each of the militia were loyal to their commander. To put it simply, the army was separated into ethnic army units.
When Riek Machar was pushed out of government, not having the resources required to try and construct a multiethnic coalition by buying in diverse members of the elite, he fell back to the ethnic mobilization because it was quick and cheap. He called the ethnic Nuer militia, called the “White Army” to mobilize.
Thus, the conflict became an ethnic civil war between the Nuer and the Dinka. The Dinka are the predominant ethnic group that support President Kiir. However, there are some Nuer groups that support the government, and there are Dinka groups, specifically around Bor, that attempted to remain neutral or sympathized with the opposition.
However, apart from President Kiir’s interests, former VP Machar’s interests and the ethnic groups interests, South Sudan is also subject to a number of foreign actors, who have, in one way or another taken part in the supposed resolution of the conflict.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s (IGAD) role in South Sudan dates back to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which was negotiated under its auspices. IGAD also played a critical mediation role in the negotiation of the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS), the blueprint for the resolution of the crisis in South Sudan that carries international support. IGAD was also ordered by the AU, with the support of the UK, US and Norway and the broader international community to lead the implementation of the ARCSS through the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission.
IGAD however has proved incapable of eliciting the required conduct from the warring parties in South Sudan, until the power-sharing agreement of August 2018.
South Sudan is also the ground for economic interests from its neighboring countries. It has attracted small and big investors from Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Egypt. The subsequent engagements by these countries were generally informed by their desire to protect their investing nationals, although the intensity of such interests has varied from country to country.
The secession of South Sudan from Sudan resulted in the loss of more than 70 percent of oil revenue for Khartoum. In an effort to compensate for the loss in oil revenue, the Government of Sudan levies exorbitant oil transportation tariffs, processing, and transit fees for exporting South Sudan’s crude through its pipeline to Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast. Thus, Sudan has actually taken about half of South Sudan’s oil revenue until 2015 for itself. Given Sudan’s dependence on revenue from its pipeline, it necessarily benefits from situations in which instability renders South Sudan unable to pursue building an alternative pipeline.
With the progress of South Sudan’s civil another pressing matter was the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The construction of Ethiopia’s GERD angered Egypt, because Egypt has a monopoly on Nile water. This is under the Nile Waters Agreement signed in 1929 between Egypt and Britain granted Egypt an unprecedented monopoly in the management and use of the water of the Nile River, despite the fact that 97 percent of the water flowing into the Nile originates outside Egypt’s territory. Thus, Egypt might need South Sudan to get access to Nile water. South Sudan and Egypt do not share a border, however the former is concerned with sustainable access to the river water informs its interest in South Sudan, which occupies 45 percent of the Nile Basin.
Kenya’s economic interests lie largely in the banking sector and air transport industries. Kenyan nationals also constituted a key part of the budding hospitality industry in addition to running small businesses.
The national interests of regional actors have complicated the conflict in South Sudan through the provision of financial, military, and unwavering diplomatic support to belligerents or indifference in the face of a worsening humanitarian situation. Regional support also comes in the form of the sidelining of Riek Machar as well as the arrest and rendition to South Sudan of opposition leaders.
The larger interests at play in South Sudan from beyond Africa come from two sides. One is from the side of China and Russia, with China’s interests being the leading ones. The other being the US, with France, the UK and Israel as a supporter of the US.
The US is still the biggest beneficiary of South Sudan. Even before it seceded from Sudan, South Sudan was a top priority for the US. For it the stability and the peace in the country is a matter of image and reputation. However, it is also dictated by the many UK, French and US businesses that operate there in the oil and other industries, and of course they would pressure the South Sudanese government into protecting their interests. The US, in turn, protects its national businesses and those of its allies.
China’s political interests in South Sudan are aligned with their economic ones. China is the biggest investor in South Sudan’s oil industry. Thus, when the civil war affected the oil industry China scored big losses. Russia is assisting China in achieving its interests, however it has also sold arms to South Sudan, a profitable business.
Despite these global powers being removed and indirect mediators to the peace talks, the high stakes that they have in regard to the region suggest that their role in the process will go beyond the mere diplomatic assistance. The protection and pursing of their interests may incentivize them to direct their resources to ensure the implementation of a ceasefire agreement, the monitoring of truce and the further involvement in a peace settlement. An example of this is the US and UK’s pressure on the UN Security Council to enforce the recent embargo on arms sales to South Sudan, a move which was vocally condemned by members of the African Union and Russia.