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History of South Sudan

There were no known state formations in today's South Sudan in pre-colonial times, and the country's history before 1500 is almost unknown. From the 19th century, both North and South Sudan were occupied by Egypt, and from 1899 South Sudan was part of the condominium established by Egypt and the United Kingdom over Sudan.

History of South Sudan

Like most African states, South Sudan is shaped by the war on autonomy in the decades after modern Sudan became independent in 1956. South Sudan became an independent republic only in 2011.

Older history

There are a large number of different peoples in South Sudan, each with its culture and history, often closely related to people of other states in this part of Africa. Many of the peoples that exist today in South Sudan immigrated in the 15th to 19th centuries, and the country's oldest history is thus also linked to peoples and territories that today are partly found in other states of modern Africa, such as Uganda and Kenya, as well as Ethiopia. The history of these is partly in short documented, and the knowledge of the area's older history is based mainly on linguistics.

In the area that is today's South Sudan there were no known state formations in pre-colonial times. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of South Sudan. The area was populated by peoples in organized communities, with no clear states. South Sudan was culturally and politically influenced both from the south and from the north. Little is known about the influence of ancient Egypt. It is mostly in recent times that we see the influence of Islam through political events in Sudan. Such influence followed above all the Nile, but left its strongest mark on the northern parts of later Sudan, less so far south than in present-day South Sudan. The large swamp area Sudd, formed by White Nile south of Sudan's capital Khartoum, was one of several geographical barriers that restricted contact between the north and the south in what became one state, Sudan.

It is characteristic that the Roman emperor Nero sent an expedition that never failed to get through Sudd. The area south of Sudd remained unaffected from the north until much later in history. The southern parts of Sudan therefore never came strongly under Nubian or Egyptian influence. Even in recent times, the area was rather influenced by Christian mission, from the southeast - and this became a cultural dividing line against the Islamic north, which in modern times helped Sudan eventually disintegrate as one state formation.

Migration from the north brought several peoples to southern Sudan, including the Bahr al-Ghazal people and several Nilotic peoples, of which the largest group today are the Dinkas (Jieng). The ethnic group that is best documented historically is the Shillu. They established a kingdom on the west bank of the White Nile in today's South Sudan. The first king was Nyikang or Nyikango, who ruled in the 16th century. He is now a historical hero for the Shilluks. The Shilluks got their heyday from about 1500, after driving Funj away from their area. In the war against Funj, Shilluk entered into alliances with Fur, and with the defeat of the Funj dynasty, a period of stability and peace occurred. This was broken when the Jieng people invaded southern parts of Funj from around 1630 and changed the balance of power, with the result that Shilluk and Fur once again gathered in war, against the expansive Dinkas, which were driven east towards Ethiopia.

Despite military resistance to the Egyptian invasion, Shilluk's borders from 1821 were pushed south, and the state weakened. The Shilluks revolted in the 1870s against the introduction of forced labor on the new cotton plantations. The people are still the third largest ethnic group in South Sudan, with a traditional king. South of Shilluk, among others, were the Azande people. A strong political system helped Azande to withstand the extensive slave trade.


The Turkish-Egyptian occupation period

Northern Sudan was conquered by Ottoman Egypt from 1820, and the Nilotic Sudan was incorporated into the Egyptian kingdom under Muhammad Ali. For South Sudan, this meant above all that the area was looted, including for slaves. With British support, Egyptian hegemony was gradually established also over South Sudan, and the Egyptian conquest meant that Sudan, by the end of the 19th century, was for the first time assembled into a modern state unit.

Khedive Ismail ruled Sudan for Egypt from 1863 to 1879. During his reign, Egypt expanded southward into areas that today make up South Sudan. Already in 1863, he restored White Nile Province with Fashoda as its headquarters. The following year, Ismail established a river police to overcome the slave trade, but without success since the slave traders mainly operated in areas south of Egyptian control. In 1869, therefore, Ismail hired the famous British explorer, Samuel Baker, to annex the entire Nile River tract with associated lands, stop the slave trade and establish military posts throughout the conquered territory. Baker only partially met the goals by creating the Equatorial Province that stretched into today's Uganda. In this area he was also barred from the slave traders, and he established the Tawfiqiyah military post at Sobat's outlet in the White Nile.

While Baker fought against the slave traders along Bahr al-Jabal, the largest supply elephant of the White Nile, trade continued with people on the great plains of Bahr al-Ghazal in the west. One of the slave traders there, Zobeir Rahma Mansur, had become so powerful that Khedive Ismail could not challenge him. Ismail rather appointed Zobeir as governor of the area in 1873, and his territory was called Bahr al-Ghazal province.

In 1874 Charles Gordon took over as Governor of the Equatorial Province. Gordon was no more successful than Baker. Gordon therefore pressured Khedive Ismail to appoint him governor-general of Sudan to end the slave trade, and Ismail succumbed in 1877. To defame European creditors, Ismail signed an agreement with the United Kingdom that year to stop the slave trade by 1880, but the European powers convinced the Ottoman sultan to appoint Ismail as viceroy (khedive) of Egypt in 1879.

Meanwhile, Gordon had heard of the German-Jewish physician Eduard Schnitzer, who had come to Khartoum in December 1875 under the name Mehemet Emin. Gordon invited Emin to Equatoria to become the top military doctor in the province. He became very popular, and in 1878 Khedive Ismail appointed him successor to Gordon and gave him the title bey. As governor, Mehemet Emin received the title of Emin pasja and ruled the Equatorial Province of Mahdia State isolated him in 1883-1884. He moved to Wadelai in present-day Uganda until he was evacuated by Henry Morton Stanley in 1889.

Between the State of Mahdia and the Free State Congo

The territories that today make up South Sudan were missing out on the Turkish-Egyptian occupation when Mahdi revolutionized today's Sudan in 1881 and established an Islamic state there. The Turkish-Egyptian capital Khartoum fell in 1885.

A year earlier, the conquest of South Sudan began. Karam Allah Mohamed Kurqusawi was the leader of the 1500 Ansar (which means aides in Arabic), but never failed to put Equatoria under Mahdia state control. One possible reason why the Mahdia state did not try to conquer South Sudan was that the people there supported the Mahdist struggle against the Egyptians and the English.

A Mahdist military post was established at Rejaf, a region near Juba, but the Mahdia state never had effective control south of Fashoda. Rejaf was part of the Lado enclave given by England to the Free State of Congo in 1894 to control the Mahdists, but when Belgian King Leopold 2 tried to use the Lado enclave to conquer Sudan north, England eventually sealed the deal and took control of the South -Sudan from 1899.

The Anglo-Egyptian condominium

From 1899, South Sudan was part of the condominium that Egypt and Britain established over Sudan. While the Arab leaders in North Sudan joined the regime after the British won the battle of Omdurman in 1898, there was opposition to the colonial rule in the south.

Britain invaded and occupied Egypt in 1882. The British quickly realized that they had to keep other European countries away from the Nile River so that the Nile water flow could not be sabotaged. In 1896, France sent an expedition from the Loango on the Atlantic coast of today's Republic of Congo to Fashoda (now called Kodok) on the White Nile in today's South Sudan. The expedition was led by Captain Jean-Baptiste Marchand, and the goal was to build a dam on the Nile to waive British control over Egypt.

The British decided that the only way to protect the Nile from the French was to control Sudan. Horatio Herbert Kitchener, the general of the Anglo-Egyptian army, was therefore ordered to invade Sudan. Omdurman, the capital of the Mahdia state fell to the Anglo-Egyptian forces on September 2, 1898. By then, Marchand and the French expedition had already reached Fashoda where he had hoisted the tricolorand proclaimed the area as a French province. Kitchener pulled a small flotilla up the White Nile to Fashoda, where he met Marchand September 19, 1898. They left to their respective governments to come to an agreement on control over the Nile, and the so-called Fashoda crisis was a fact. The British were ready for war, but not the French. They therefore agreed that the French expansion east of Africa should stop at the watershed between the Nile and Congo. However, this was the start of the British colonization of today's South Sudan.

The British began their expansion up Bahr al-Ghazal in December 1900. During the spring, Sudanese troops occupied under the command of British officers Mashra ar-Raqq, Wau, Tonj, Daym az-Zubayr, Shambe and Rumbek. The administrative headquarters were relocated to Wau in 1901. However, the South Sudanese failed to approve the Sudanese government as their new overlord.

Several people opposed foreign rule, whether represented by British or Arabs. In the north, the pressure for independence led to the establishment of a legislative assembly in 1948. There were only 13 of 75 members coming from South Sudan. This followed a governing council, which was first established only with participation from the north, from 1947 with representatives from the south. Arabic was chosen as the Assembly's working language, which contributed to the cultural divide between the regions, and to dissatisfaction in the South, where English was used as the main language in administration and education.

The modern state formation of Sudan was formed under Egyptian and British rule during the colonial period (1898–1956), with separate administrations for the northern and southern parts respectively, which in practice were ruled as two separate colonies. South Sudan was little integrated into the modernization of Sudan, and just as the geographical distance between the north and south was great, the cultural divides were significant. While North Sudan quickly adapted to Egyptian-British rule, opposition in South Sudan was greater; this also contributed to a lesser degree of modernization in the south, where more effort was taken to manage the area. The government invested little in education in the south, leaving it mainly to religious institutions. After independence, public positions were largely held by Muslims from the north.

The British colonial government conducted different policies in the two regions, limiting contact between them, including with a view to including South Sudan into British East Africa rather than the Middle East. Not least, British policy for South Sudan from 1930 contributed to the divide; it meant that the South should be developed according to "African", and not "Arab", guidelines, and indirect rule through traditional leaders were introduced. British colonialism further contributed to the divide through the spread of Christianity, through missionary work.

However, when the British colonial power in 1945 made an assessment of which part of the empire most naturally associated with southern Sudan, the recommendation became North Africa and the Middle East, essentially because of the Nile connection line. The result of the so-called Juba Conference, held in the then Equatorial Province of the British Colony Administration in June 1947, with both British and Sudanese delegates, was that the two parts of Sudan should be more closely linked and governed as a unit. As a result, Sudan was united, but with skepticism from the South Sudanese representatives at the same time became the seed for future conflict- and detachment - created. Still, South Sudan was not truly integrated as an equal part of Sudan.

The emergence of Sudanese nationalism after the First World War was essentially a phenomenon linked to the mainly Arab part of Sudan, that is, the north, where several political groups were formed that had independence as their goal. A new Anglo-Egyptian agreement in 1953 gave Sudan internal autonomy, with the withdrawal of all Egyptian and British forces. South Sudan was not included in the agreement; here, the transition to self-government, independence and unification under one central political leadership therefore meant increasing subordination to North Sudan.

During the Juba Conference on the Future of South Sudan in 1945, the political elite in the south advocated independence for Sudan, but presumed a federal structure and that the southern part could later choose full independence. In principle, these were the same assumptions that were the basis of the peace agreement 50 years later.

Release Game

South Sudan participated in the Sudanese struggle for independence from British colonial rule, which was just as largely driven in the north. A new Anglo-Egyptian agreement in 1953 gave Sudan internal autonomy for three years. The first elections were held in 1953, and representatives from South Sudan joined the new government formed by Ismail al-Azhari in 1954.

In the south, the Liberal Party got the most support; it advocated a federal state custom with a federal government and separate states in the two regions. However, the election was won by the National Unionist Party (NUP), which advocated not only a united Sudan, but a merger with Egypt, which would have further strengthened the Arabization of Sudan. The dissatisfaction with increasing Arabization and marginalization led to the first military resistance in the south: In August 1955, units from the army stationed in Torit revolted. The rebellion was quickly extinguished after the British flew in about 8,000 soldiers from the north. Some of the rebel soldiers escaped, laying the groundwork for the later resistance battle.

Sudan became an independent republic from January 1, 1956, and South Sudan became an integrated region. In South Sudan, this marked the start of a political struggle for self-government that was only concluded with the attainment of independence in 2011.

The first civil war

In the Sudanese parliament, among other things in constitutional discussions, representatives from the south still promoted a federal solution. Uncertainty about political development was exploited by the military to seize power, first in 1958, later on several occasions. In 1958, the commander-in-chief, General Ibrahim Abboud, took power in a military coup, which also had significance for South Sudan, where Arabic was introduced as an educational language and Islam promoted - to promote Sudanese unity, at the expense of South Sudanese identity.

Bureaucrats from the north were placed in central administrative positions, and Christian missionaries, who had been central to providing education in the region, were expelled from 1962. The liberation struggle was fueled by this development, which resulted in a strike in the schools and demonstrations in the south in 1962; schoolchildren fled the country. In 1963, the armed resistance struggle started in earnest, to which the Khartoum government responded with increased repression.

The attitude in the south was divided between those who sought full independence and those who wanted self-government within one Sudan. To those seeking independence, the first organized political and military groups in South Sudan, with the Sudan African Closed Districts Union (SACDU), formed in exile in 1962 and a military branch known as Anyanya established in 1963, and which took up the fight for secession. The party changed its name to the Sudan African National Union (SANU) in 1963 and established its own government, the Nile Provisional Government (NPG), which led the liberation struggle. Following divisions in SANU, the Southern Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM) formed in 1967, led by Joseph Oduho Haworu (1927–1993), who was also the commander-in-chief of Anyanya.

The SSLM participated in the 1971 negotiations, which in February 1972 led to the so-called Addis Ababa Agreement, which ended the first round of civil war in Sudan, liberation war in South Sudan. The Addis Agreement granted South Sudan local autonomy; the three regions gained autonomy as a single region, with a separate assembly in Juba; elections were held in 1973. The ensuing stability enabled efforts for economic and social development in the south. Among other things, Norwegian Church Aid, with public Norwegian support, launched a large-scale development program in South Sudan - which later had to be abandoned when the war broke out again.

Experiences of continued marginalization and resistance from Khartoum, where Islamization of politics and social life continued, led to the resumption of the military struggle in May 1983, through the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA), both led by Colonel John Garang de Mabior, which remained its leader until its death in 2005. The Islamization of Sudan during the military regime of Gaafar Muhammad Nimeiri, who seized power in a coup in 1969 and experienced discrimination against the south, contributed to sporadic military resistance even before 1983. The exploitation of the South Sudan's natural resources, including the construction of the Jonglei Canal to improve the utilization of water from the Nile and extraction of oil, contributed to the flare-up again.

The Second Civil War

The war broke out again when an army battalion stationed in Bor rebelled and sought refuge in Ethiopia. Several followed, and the SPLA organized their resistance match from there. The reason for the war resumed was not least the introduction of Shari'a legislation also in the south, as well as a division of South Sudan into three provinces, which in effect meant that the peace agreement of 1972 was broken. The Sudanese regime responded to the rebellion in the south with widespread military attacks, largely targeted at the civilian population, by destroying crops, preventing food supplies, and expelling people from their homes. Combined with drought, including in 1984–1985, this led to widespread drought and social distress in large parts of southern Sudan.

The war in South Sudan was the worst of Africa's conflicts in the 1980s and 1990s. Both parties were accused of being responsible for gross human rights violations, and both the government and the SPLA are accused of forcibly recruiting soldiers, including children. The war also contributed to hunger disasters in the south of the country, which has been a further cause of around 4.5 million people being internally displaced in the late 1990s; a further one million fled to neighboring countries. It is estimated that around two million people lost their lives as a result of the war, which required large-scale humanitarian efforts. This was significantly prevented by the Sudanese government, and assistance to South Sudan had to be mainly taken from Kenya, including through the UN emergency relief operation Lifeline Sudan.

The requirement for SPLM/SPLA was from the outset extensive self-government in a united Sudan, or alternatively independence for South Sudan. The SPLA then went further than Anyanya, advocating the liberation of the entire country, for a new Sudan, without discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion or cultural background. In doing so, the movement also brought other groups, including in central and eastern Sudan, into battle against the central power.

The war of liberation was also marked by internal strife in South Sudan, which also resulted in military clashes between different groups, and challenged Garang's leadership, and his policy of a still united, but secular and democratic Sudan, with equal opportunities for all regions. In 1991, the SPLA was split into two factions, partly along ethnic lines, where the SPLA, led by Garang, stood strongest among the Dinkas, while the outbreaks, led by Riek Machar, secured support among the Nuer; Machar was a supporter of South Sudanese independence. In the same year, the SPLA was weakened by the overthrow of Ethiopia's military junta; The rebels in Sudan were supported by Ethiopia, but Sudan supported the Eritrean liberation movement that fought against Ethiopia.

The SPLA was weakened until 1997, when the movement again strengthened its military position. Further divisions took place in the 1990s, and some opposition groups, including the South Sudan Independence Movement (SSIM), signed separate peace agreements with the government in 1997. While the South Sudanese factions reached peace agreements between themselves, and much of the internal struggle ended in 1995, the war against the north escalated after the government declared a holy war, jihad, against the rebels in South Sudan in 1995. Despite several offenses, the government forces failed to defeat the SPLA.

The peace process

The peace negotiations on South Sudan began in 2002, but only in 2005, after international mediation, a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed, with several agreements and protocols signed over a longer period. Negotiations were led by the regional organization Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD); Norway and the US also played a key role. As part of the process, an independent observer group based in the United States, the Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT), was launched in 2002, according to an agreement between the parties on civil protection.

Then, in 2003, IGAD set up an international group, the Verification and Monitoring Team (VMT), which partly took over the tasks after the CPMT. A group of 12 countries, coordinated by Switzerland and with participation from Norway - the so-called Friends of the Nuba Mountains constellation - was behind a monitoring mechanism in the Nuba Mountains: the Joint Military Commission (JMC) - which was also part of the peace process for the South. Sudan. JMC consisted of foreign observers, as well as military personnel from the two parties - under the leadership of the Norwegian Brigadier Jan-Erik Wilhelmsen. The group had the task of monitoring the separate peace agreement on the Nuba Mountains, signed between the Sudanese government and the SPLM in January 2002. In 2005, JMC transferred its tasks to the UN force United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).

In May 2004, several agreements between the government and the SPLM were signed in Naivasha, Kenya, based on the so-called Machakos protocol, which in 2002 was signed between the government and the SPLM. The agreements cover several areas, including security, distribution of power as well as natural resources, and the conflicts in the Abyei district, South Kordofan and Blånil states. On the basis of these, a complete peace agreement with a permanent ceasefire (CPA) was signed; finally signed on January 9, 2005. The agreement covers a number of matters, the most important of which is the autonomy of South Sudan for six years, after which a referendum should be held about the region's future, with detachment and own state formation as one alternative. As a result of the agreement, South Sudan gained its own government and president, headquartered in Juba. John Garang became the first President of the autonomous South Sudan, and at the same time Vice President of Sudan. After he died in a helicopter accident in July 2005, his position was taken over by Salva Kiir Mayardit.

Alongside political power, Sudan's large oil deposits have played a significant role in the peace process: both the Khartoum central government and the Juba regional government in the south are dependent on the oil export revenues, as per the 2005 agreement, on both sides, used, among other things, to build up their respective armed forces. Oppositionists in the east and north have demanded that much of the oil-based revenues fall to development purposes in these areas. A key underlying feature of the agreement was that it would help to end South Sudan's marginalization as well as allow for increased resources to other marginalized areas of the country, financed through revenues from oil exports. A proposal for demarcation of the north-south border was presented in 2008.

Under the peace agreement, forces from the Sudanese army were to withdraw from South Sudan, and a united defense was being built, in parallel with a reduction in the number of soldiers on both sides; a UN-sponsored disarmament program involving 180,000 soldiers was launched in 2009. At the same time, the SPLM retained - and strengthened - its military branch SPLA as the state's own defense, and both sides prepared. A serious ceasefire breach took place in November 2006, when fighting broke out between the SPLA and the government- backed militia at the town of Malakal. The peace agreement underwent a new critical phase when the SPLM exited the central government in October-December 2007, as the party considered that the peace agreement was not complied with, partly because government soldiers from the north were not pulled out of the oil fields in the south. Peace was further under pressure as a result of fighting over Abyei in May 2008.

New battles followed in Abyei, even after South Sudan was established as an independent state, and a separate UN operation was deployed there in 2011: United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNIFSA). Based on the peace agreement, the UN Security Council in 2005 decided to establish a military force to monitor the peace agreement, UNMIS, with participation from Norway as well. Prior to this, a political delegation, the United Nations Advance Mission in the Sudan (UNAMIS), was established in 2004 to prepare the military effort.

In 2008, SPLM held its second national congress in Juba, where Salva Kiir was elected party leader; the first congress was held in 1994. The ceasefire - and the underlying intention to further develop one Sudan - was closely linked to the SPLM leader Garang, and after his death, less willingness was sought to seek such a solution, not least in the South. Sudan.


A South Sudanese government was established in October 2005, as a transitional arrangement pending a formal clarification on the future of South Sudan. It adopted the Provisional Constitution, which came into force from December. In accordance with the ceasefire agreement, a referendum on the future of South Sudan was held on February 7, 2011. With a turnout of 97.6 per cent of voters, the vote gave a 98.8 per cent majority for dissolution. South Sudan then became an independent state on July 9, 2011, and joined the UN in September. Sudan accepted the vote and approved the release.

The relationship between the two states equally brought some tension, underlined by the South Sudanese government interrupting talks with Sudan in March, and accused the government of planning a coup in the south. After independence, several unresolved issues remain, including border demarcation and the future of Abyei; the latter situation was further militarized in the summer of 2011 after Sudanese forces occupied the area, and a United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA) was deployed. The situation in Abyei is a potential source of conflict between the two Sudan states. In June 2011, the parties agreed to establish a demilitarized zone of ten kilometers depth, on each side of the boundary line, established following mediation from African Union, led by South Africa's former President Thabo Mbeki.

Several economic issues were also unresolved by the independence, including the distribution of oil revenues and debt, as well as questions of citizenship in respectively. Sudan and South Sudan. At the split, an estimated one-fourth of the old state's total population in South Sudan ended, accounting for about one-third of the total land area; up to 80 per cent of the known oil reserves are found in South Sudan.

Since December 2013, the country has been hit by a civil war triggered by a conflict between President Salva Kiir Mayardit and Vice President Riek Machar.

In 2017, the UN declared famine in South Sudan as a result of the ongoing civil war. The share of the population in crisis is steadily increasing in recent years, reaching more than half of South Sudanese in 2019.

Renewed agreements between Kiir and Machar in December 2019 give hope for improvement in the situation in the crisis-hit country.

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