About Sudan & South Sudan

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When 18th c. European and oriental merchants (and later European missionaries) first began to enter Sudan by going down the Nile, Egypt and Sudan (to a lesser extent) were at least nominally under the Ottoman Empire. Egypt was struggling for independence (1867) from the Ottoman Empire even as England and France were vying for control of Egypt (the Suez Canal 1869) and later the whole Nile Valley and Great Lakes Region.

At the same time, Egypt was trying to gain control of Sudan, the source of ivory and slaves for the markets of Khartoum, Cairo and especially Zanzibar. From 1822, Khartoum was the capital of that part of Sudan that was controlled by Egypt. Egypt attempted to colonize the region of southern Sudan by establishing the province of Equatoria in the 1870s.

The Mahdist Revolt (1881-1898) was against foreigners (including Anglo-Egyptian rule, with Egypt increasingly controlled by Britain) and aimed to restore Islam against the inroads of Christian missionaries, and to restore to local control the slave trade (a major factor in the local economy). Egypt had largely controlled the slave trade; the British and the missionaries were trying to end it. But in 1898 a British force was able to overthrow the Mahdist regime. An Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was established the following year with Equatoria being the southern most of its eight provinces.

photo by Paul Jeffery

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The Eastern Slave Trade is extremely important for an understanding of Sudanese/ South Sudanese history. In general, the Arabized peoples of the north were among the slave raiders, slave traders (along with Egyptians, Orientals, but even some Europeans and Americans) and slave owners. In general, the peoples of the south were those whom they raided and enslaved. This engendered an abiding sense of superiority in the Northerners, with resentment and hostility and a desire for autonomy on the part of the Southerners. “Bilal-al-Sudan”, the ancient name for the area means simply “the Land of Blacks” but it became almost synonymous with “slaves” in the mind of many Northerners.

The Eastern Slave Trade broke up clans and families and forced the dislocation of peoples, but it also increased suspicion of all foreigners (including missionaries) and between local population groups.

The region was largely left to itself over the following decades, but Christian missionaries converted much of the population and facilitated the spread of English. When Sudan gained its independence in 1956, it was with the understanding that the southerners would be able to participate fully in the political system. A process of Arabization of the south accompanied independence and all education was conducted in Arabic.

When the Arab government of Khartoum reneged on its promises, a mutiny began that led to two prolonged periods of conflict (1955-1972 and 1983-2005) in which perhaps 2.5 million people died – mostly civilians – due to starvation and drought.

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Ongoing peace talks finally resulted in a Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed in January 2005. As part of this agreement the south was granted a six-year period of autonomy to be followed by a referendum on final status. The result of this referendum, held in January 2011, was a vote of 98% in favor of secession. Independence was attained on 9 July 2011.

Since independence South Sudan has struggled with good governance and nation building and has attempted to control rebel militia groups operating in its territory. Economic conditions have deteriorated since January 2012 when the government decided to shut down oil production following disagreements with Sudan over the cost of transporting oil through pipelines in Sudan.

In December 2013, civil unrest was sparked by a power struggle between the President, Salva Kiir (Dinka) and his Vice-President Riek Machar (Nuer). Underlying issues, over many years, have never been dealt with; there is no strong leader since John Garang died in a plane crash; there is no sense of nationhood. What united the South previous to independence was opposition to the North because of oppression visited on the south by the north. Currently two million civilians are displaced and approximately 50,000 have died in this civil war.  Half the population is facing famine conditions.

A peace agreement was signed by the government (SPLM) and the SPLM in Opposition in August 2015.  As of June 2017 no transitional government has been formed.

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People of South Sudan

South Sudanese Ethnic groups: Dinka, Nuer, Kakwa, Bari, Azande, Shilluk, Kuku, Murle, Mandari, Didinga, Ndogo, Bviri, Lndi, Anuak, Bongo, Lango, Dungotona and Acholi.

English (official), Arabic (includes Juba and Sudanese variants); regional languages include Dinka, Nuer, Bari, Zande, Shilluk

Animist and Christian

  • 11,090,104 (July 2013 est.) country comparison to the world: 76
  • Age structure: 0-14 years: 46.2% (male 2,613,696/female 2,505,794) 15-24 years: 19.7% (male 1,148,967/female 1,030,569) 25-54 years: 29% (male 1,547,552/female 1,666,242) 55-64 years: 3.1% (male 186,460/female 154,924) 65 years and over: 2.1% (male 133,300/female 102,600) (2013 est.)
  • Population pyramid: Median age: total: 16.6 years male: 16.5 years female: 16.8 years (2013 est.)
  • Urbanization: urban population: 22% (2009 est.)

(statistics are unreliable given the civil war of 2013-2015) Infant mortality rate: total: 69.97 deaths/1,000 live births (2013 est.); highest rate of maternal death at birth in the world at 14%; under age 5 mortality rate is 14% Total fertility rate: 5.54 children born/woman (2013 est.) HIV/AIDS- adult prevalence rate: 3.1% (2009 est.) Major infectious diseases: degree of risk: very high; food or waterborne disease: bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A and E, and typhoid fever; vector borne disease: malaria, dengue fever, African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness); water contact disease: schistosomiasis; respiratory disease: meningococcal meningitis; animal contact disease: rabies In 2006 (latest date for statistic) there were only 36 doctors and 3600 primary health care workers in the country.

Definition: age 15 and over can read and write: total population: 27%; male: 40%; female: 18%; most girls leave school after Grade 4 and rarely complete primary school, Grade 8.

South Sudan Pound is as of late 2015 a free floating currency. Prior to that it was exchanged in the bank at SSP3.2: $1 US; currently it is exchanged at approximately SSP900:$1 US. Foreign currency is very difficult to obtain from the banks as there is a shortage in the country. Since this is required for importing materials and other goods, businesses struggle to remain open. There has been little development of manufacturing in the country and most goods are imported from nearby Kenya or Uganda or recently, from Sudan.

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Geography of South Sudan

Geography is a key factor in the isolation of the south from the north (Khartoum). Area: total: 644,329 sq km country comparison to the world: 42 Comparative: slightly smaller than Texas Land boundaries: total: 5,413 km border countries: Central African Republic 989 km, Democratic Republic of the Congo 639 km, Ethiopia 934 km, Kenya 232 km, Sudan 2,184 km, Uganda 435 km Note: South Sudan-Sudan boundary represents 1 January 1956 alignment; final alignment pending negotiations and demarcation; final sovereignty status of Abyei Area pending negotiations between South Sudan and Sudan Coastline: 0 km (landlocked)

Hot with seasonal rainfall influenced by the annual shift of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone; rainfall is heaviest in the upland areas of the south and diminishes to the north

The terrain gradually rises from plains in the north and center to southern highlands along the border with Uganda and Kenya; the White Nile, flowing north out of the uplands of Central Africa, is the major geographic feature of the country supporting agriculture and extensive wild animal populations; The Sudd (a name derived from floating vegetation that hinders navigation) is a large swampy area of more than 100,000 sq km fed by the waters of the White Nile that dominates the center of the country which prohibits travel by road during the rainy season. Elevation extremes: Lowest point: NA; highest point: Kinyeti 3,187 m

Hydropower, fertile agricultural land, gold, diamonds, petroleum, hardwoods, limestone, iron ore, copper, chromium ore, zinc, tungsten, mica, silver; note: The Sudd is a vast swamp in South Sudan, formed by the White Nile, comprising more than 15% of the total area; it is one of the world’s largest wetlands

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