South Sudan’s Tragic Civil War – Part 1

I’ve discussed Qatar, the world’s richest country if gauged by GDP per capita.   By those same measures, South Sudan is one of the world’s poorest countries.  It is also the world’s newest country, gaining its independence from Sudan in 2011, following a referendum on independence.  South Sudan is totally dependent on oil for it’s income, accounting for  98% of the government revenue.   It has many natural resources and  productive agricultural land.

The creation of South Sudan was likely considered to create some stability in the region.  It hasn’t happened.   Sudan was once home to Osama bin Laden’s training camp, and the US under President Clinton bombed bin Laden’s  camp and the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in 1986, believing it was producing VX gas.  There is considerable evidence to the contrary, see link below.

Sudan has a violent history, with two civil wars, the first from 1955 to 1972 and the second from 1983  to 2005.    The  war was a result of  the Sudanese government, a strict Islamic regime and adherents to Sharia rule, extending their control to other populations, many to the south of Sudan.   It is described  an ethno-religious clash as the northern part of Sudan, was primarily Arab speaking and adherent to Islamic rule, while the south (now South Sudan) was more like it’s neighbors, Kenya and Uganda, where 82% of its population are non-Muslim.   It was also a clash between the Dinka and Nuer tribes.

The human toll of the civil war in the Sudan  is staggering.  According to Wikipedia:

Roughly two million people died as a result of war, famine and disease caused by the conflict. Four million people in southern Sudan were displaced at least once (and normally repeatedly) during the war. The civilian death toll is one of the highest of any war since World War II and was marked by a large number of human rights violations. These include slavery and mass killings.

Sudan was one of the countries in President Trump’s travel ban.    Interestingly, South Sudan were there is an active civil war, was not included in the ban.

  • South Sudan Political Situation:

South Sudan gain independence in two steps, first as an autonomous region (2005 to 2011) then as a fully independent country in 2011.  The government main support came from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/movement (SPLA/M).  It was likely that the “two country” solution with a democratic government in the south would end the hostilities.   The SPLA/M was supposedly multi-ethnic party, but the ethnic divisions were very strong and soon surfaced.    John Garang was a Dinka leader and part of SPLA/M who died in a helicopter crash in 2005. He was succeeded by Salva Kirr, now president of South Sudan.   The opposing leader is Riek Machar, representing the Nuer ethnic group.  The civil war between Dinka and Nuer tribes continues to this day.

It is clear that the President Kirr objective is to unite the country by force, and frequently using starvation of civilian population as one of the weapons of war.  Under Kirr, the country is a Kleptocracy,  paid for by the oil revenues.   Wikipedia describes the horrendous violations of human rights as follows:

Campaigns of atrocities against civilians have been attributed to the SPLA.  In the SPLA/M’s attempt to disarm rebellions among the Shilluk and Murle, they burned scores of villages, raped hundreds of women and girls and killed an untold number of civilians.  Civilians alleging torture claim fingernails being torn out, burning plastic bags dripped on children to make their parents hand over weapons and villagers burned alive in their huts if rebels were suspected of spending the night there. In May 2011, the SPLA allegedly set fire to over 7,000 homes in Unity State.

Further in the Wikipedia article, it is stated:

The United Nations rights office has described the situation in the country as “one of the most horrendous human rights situations in the world.” It accused the army and allied militias as allowing fighters to rape women as form of payment, as well as raid cattle in an agreement of “do what you can, take what you can.” Amnesty International claimed the army suffocated to death in a shipping container more than 60 people accused of supporting the opposition.

More on the horrific actions by the military against women has been reported by the Boston Globe, as provided in the links at the end of this blog.

This brief blog simply highlights some parts of the  conflict. More information on the ethnic groups involved and the support given by outside countries is provided in the links.   A recent article posted on July 9, 2017 in the Washington Post, by Sophia Dawkins,  provides excellent summary of the most essential details on the current conflict.   Sadly,  based on research as cited in her article, the prospects of reconciliation appear poor as neither Kirr (Dinka)  or Machar (Nuer)  factions appear willing to compromise.

  • Oil Economy:

I particular like the statement in Dawkins article, “South Sudan was born rich” as it clearly defines a petrostate.  However, it is an oil curse rather than a blessing, as the oil revenues go to fuel the civil war, and make any hope of reconciliation less likely.   It did not make the Sudanese people any wealthier.  The oil revenue has gone  to pay the military and various militias, who committed the atrocities against the people of  opposition tribes, such as the Nuer tribe.

The 2005 agreement allowing South Sudan to become an autonomous region.

While famine and disease  persists in much of the country,  the government party leaders bathe in the wealth created by  oil revenues.

The other sectors of the economy, particularly agriculture, are ignored as all investment goes to oil development.  According to Wikipedia:

The economy of South Sudan is one of the world’s weakest and most underdeveloped, with South Sudan having little existing infrastructure and the highest maternal mortality and female illiteracy rates in the world as of 2011.[2]

South Sudan is one of the poorest countries in the world. Most villages in the country have no electricity or running water, and the country’s overall infrastructure is lacking, with few paved roads. South Sudan exports timber to the international market. Some of the states with the best known teaks and natural trees for timber are Western Equatoria and Central Equatoria.

One of the major natural features of South Sudan is the River Nile whose many tributaries have sources in the country. The region also contains many natural resources such as petroleum, iron ore, copper, chromium ore, zinc, tungsten, mica, silver, gold, and hydropower.[3] The country’s economy, as in many other developing countries, is heavily dependent on agriculture. Some of the agricultural produce include cotton, groundnuts (peanuts), sorghum, millet, wheat, gum arabic, sugarcane, cassava (tapioca), mangos, papaya, bananas, sweet potatoes, and sesame.

Part 2 will examine the role of the US and other countries in South Sudan.

Stay tuned




Boston Globe: Sexual violence reaches ‘epic proportions’ in South Sudan’s civil war


US Sanctions:



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