South Sudan: A painful history

In the turmoil now gripping the middle east all eyes from over the world are drawn to the threat of the Islamic State, through their barbarous treatment of those that live under their de facto State. It grips us so much mainly because it has essentially landed on the doorstep of Europe, creating the greatest refuge crisis and terror attack on France the world has seen since the Second World War. Not to mention, we have the complications surrounding the support of Russia (whom are backing Assad and are essentially fighting a proxy war with Europe), and the added element of Turkey’s interventions on the matter.

However the terror in the middle east must not be a catalyst for overlooking another great crisis hitting the nation of South Sudan; where people have been driven away from the most basic necessities. A place where two year old girls are raped, where there is such a lack of food resources where groups of people are forced to eat grass broth, young children forced into fighting, struggling for life when the alternative is far worse. The South Sudanese are the forgotten people, at least I use the word ‘forgotten’ but how many westerners ever knew the slightest thing about the turmoil in South Sudan? It is therefore the duty of any news outlet to communicate and analyze the crisis to the general public.

In order to understand the crisis we must first understand the history and birth of South Sudan. South Sudan hasn’t had a particularly pleasant history, in 1821 the land was occupied by the Muhammed Ali Dynasty however facing European pressures Egypt opened the country to trade from European merchants. The Merchants initially wanted to trade with the people of Sudan due to its high concentration of ivory however as the merchants had very little to trade that was of interest to the Sudan people they resorted to force and seized Ivory. Control over the land was difficult this was mainly due to the bloody start of the colonalisation and the high taxes imposed on the Sudanese people and a power vacuum began to develop until a powerful merchant Al-Zubayr filled the lack of authority by capitalising on Western demands for ivory.

Egypt’s Khedive Isma’il Pasha grew increasingly concerned about Al-Zubayr’s forces and thus set up an Egyptian province in areas of South Sudan known as Equatoria lasting from 1869 until the Madhist Sudan Revolt where Muhamaed Ahmad proclaimed himself the Madhi of Sudan and depanded independence. With Egypt falling increasingly under British control Britain began to become increasingly more involved in the Egyptian claim after many attempts to secure the terriory, the Mahdi was defeated and fell into a Anglo-Egyptian administration.

After falling as another victim to the scramble of Africa, it too became the victim of the Post-Second World War colonial aftermath. Where the British attempted to join the southern parts of Sudan with North Sudan territories. By this point North Sudan was heavily Arabized, Muslim and both economically and politically well structured. Nilotic tribes were heavily Christian and lacked the stability of the north. With the South in a far weaker position to negotiate at the Juba Conference the terrorizes eventually turned to civil war. From 1955 to 1972 the Sudanese were at war, until being declared an autonomous region. That only lasted until 1983 where President Gaafar Nimery declared all of Sudan an Islamic State leading to a second civil war. However infighting within South Sudan meant more South Sudanese died from each others hands than the north the war lasted until 2005 when Sudan was granted as an autonomous region within Sudan. Finally in 2011 it voted for independence by referendum and became the independent nation of South Sudan.

But if one was to think that merely gaining independence would be enough for Sudan to gain some form of stability they would be sadly mistaken. Upon gaining independence Sudan faced a massive power vacuum finding itself at war with seven armed groups from nine of its ten states, including the infamous Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army. South Sudan’s diverse ethnic tribes which were brought together during the post-Second World War era and united under ruthless leaders faced spiraled into conflict.

The turning point was when President Kiir of the Dinka ethnic group and his ex-deputy Riek Machar of the Neurs, fell into conflict over the rights of their respective ethnic groups. Rebels began attacking government forces and Dinka people, the government soldiers began attacking the rebels and the Neurs. One million people have been displaced in this conflict, with an estimate of a hundred thousand killed. Whilst there is turmoil on our doorsteps it’s important to remember that the conflicts we overlook are the conflicts that inevitably end up on our doorstep, as conflict breeds a power vacuum of which terror breeds.

In August 2015 a peace agreement was signed backed by foreign mediators, which installed Machar as vice-president again, however war haunts a region that has not known much else, the conflict has not come to halt as of yet, many are still displaced, malnutrition is widespread, the people of the Dinka and Neur tribes will not forget the suffering each side has caused them. There is little prospect of rebuilding the lives ruined by the conflict.


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