Country profile: South Sudan

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Country profile: South Sudan

Eleanor Hobhouse writes about the newest country in Africa, five years after independence.


Singing and dancing at a church in the Mingkaman camp for IDPs (internally displaced people). There have been 100,000 people at the camp because of the conflicts of the last few years. © Andrew McConnell / Panos Pictures

The road from Juba airport (one of the few paved roads in the country) is old with a lot of unfinished buildings. The buildings were built after independence from Sudan in 2011. Juba was once a small trading town on the Nile. It is now a big city, full of UN officials and military. There are not many basic systems like transport and power, especially outside Juba.


Sudan became independent in 1956. But the British did not give the southern states autonomous rule, as they had promised. These states are different culturally, ethnically, linguistically and religiously. So there was conflict. There was a short time of stability after by the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement. This gave the South the right to self-government. But this broke down in 1983 and there was more conflict. The rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) started, led by John Garang.

There was guerrilla conflict until 2005. Then they made the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) under a lot of international pressure. They promised a referendum for the people of the South to decide if they wanted independence. A few months after the CPA was signed, John Garang was killed in a helicopter accident. His deputy, Salva Kiir, took over, but the peace agreement almost ended. Because of pressure from the West, the CPA continued. And in 2011, 98.8 per cent of South Sudan’s people voted for independence.


Villagers in Unity State in the north watch a plane drop food aid. Andrew McConnell / Panos Pictures.

But there were still two problems: the north-south border line (including the Abyei area with a lot of oil) and how to divide the money from the southern oilfields between the two countries. When South Sudan became independent, it got control of three-quarters of the oilfields but had no coastline. So Sudan kept the processing and export facilities. Six months after independence, the government decided to stop producing oil. They were protesting because Sudan was charging so much money for transporting the oil.

At independence, the new country spent 50 per cent of their national budget on military. They had to do this to keep peace between all the ethnic groups. But when they had no money from oil for 15 months, President Kiir couldn’t control the political groups. There was a challenge to his leadership from his vice-president, Riek Machar. Kiir and Machar were the most powerful people from the Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups. Because they turned against each other, a civil war started in December 2013.

There has been ethnic killing. There was a peace agreement in August 2015 with the suggestion of sharing the power, which proposed a power-sharing deal. But in July 2016, heavy fighting started again in the streets of Juba.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed and 2.3 million have lost their homes. The conflict has destroyed any development after independence. The price of oil has dropped. They government has to pay for pipeline and interest on debts to oil companies. Charity money helps people. So the government now has no money.

The economic and political problems are now very serious. Inflation is very high. The military will soon not get paid. There will be more conflict. Before the war, the community was strong but now the community is broken. The history of South Sudan is conflict and poverty. But the future looks worse.

Eleanor Hobhouse

Country profile: South Sudan Facts

Leader President Salva Kiir

Economy GNI per capita $790 – it was $1,060 before independence in 2010 (Sudan $1,710, UK $43,430).

Money South Sudanese Pound (SSP)

Main exports Oil is the biggest export and about 60 per cent of South Sudan’s GDP. Most people are growing food or raising animals. The fall in the oil price has been terrible for the country. The currency has collapsed and inflation is now 300%.

People 12.3 million. Annual growth 3.0% - the population has almost doubled since 2000. People per square kilometre 21 (UK 267).

Health Infant mortality 60 deaths per 1,000 live births (Sudan 48, UK 4). About 55% of people can get clean water and only 15% have good toilets. Lifetime risk of maternal death, 1 in 26 (UK 1 in 5,800). HIV 2.5%.

Environment A lot of the country is very dry, from too many animals in one place. The White Nile runs through the country and floods a lot every year. CO2 emissions per person per year, 0.1 tonnes.

Culture There are 64 recognised ethnic communities: The largest ethnic group is the Dinka (nearly 35%), the second is Nuer (almost 16%). Both tribes are part of the Nilotic group, which includes other, smaller pastoralist tribes. Small farming groups in the south, include the Azande and Bari.

Religion Christian 61%; Muslim 6%; traditional African religions 33%.

Language English (official); a lot of people speak Arabic (including ‘Juba Arabic’ in Juba). There are about 80 other languages eg. Dinka, Nuer, Bari and Zande.

Human development index 0.467, 169th of 188 countries (Sudan 0.479, UK 0.907).

Country profile: South Sudan in detail

Income distribution 5.1 million people – almost half the population – need help with food. But a small number of important people have earnt a lot of money via power networks.

Life expectancy 56 years (Sudan 64, UK 81) – the 11th lowest in the world.

Position of women There is an agreement to always have 25% women in government and legal areas. But there is a lot of control by men. Only 33% of girls go to school and there were a lot of attacks on women in the recent conflict.

Freedom 140th out of 180 countries in the Press Freedom Index. It went down 21 places in 2 years. Security forces killed many people in the student protests in June 2016. The 2016 NGO Bill brings in more restriction and a lot of government control.

Literacy About 27%. 70% of children (6-17) have never been to school.

Sexual minorities Male same-sex sexual activity is illegal – you could go to prison for 10 years This is from British colonial rules in Sudan – but they did not say anything about lesbianism. There is a lot of social discrimination.

NI Assessment (Politics) There is a lot of corruption in the world’s newest country. The terrible civil war started because of competition between different ethnic groups for control of state resources. Both sides in the conflict have made the ethnic divisions worse. And now the state is controlling people more because the economic and political crisis is getting worse.

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