South Sudan became independent in 2011 after a referendum in which its people voted with almost 99% in favor of secession from Sudan. Independence was the outcome of a long armed struggle led by South Sudanese starting in the mid 1950s. There are two phases of the armed fight:
The first one started in 1955 and lasted until 1972. The Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972, which ended the first phase of the armed struggle, granted self-government to the South Sudan within the Sudanese state. Relative peace returned to the South during this period. However, in 1983, the second phase of the conflict started when two mainly South Sudanese battalions of the Sudanese army revolted in the towns of Bor and Ayod.
These two battalions formed the center of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement. At first the SPLM pursued to redefine the political landscape in Sudan by calling for the founding of a “New Sudan” that was democratic in prospect. Although its political base was in the southern part of the country, the SPLM sought to build a mass movement across Sudan to achieve its objective of a “New Sudan.” To this end, the SPLM extended its presence into Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile, two areas considered part of Northern Sudan. An attempt to establish a hold in Darfur in the early 1990s was prevented by the Sudanese army.
In 1994 the SPLM accepted the concept of self-determination for South Sudan. Three years after it suffered a major ideological split within its ranks. In following talks with the Sudanese government, self-determination was included in the agenda for peace negotiations. In 2005 finally both sides in the Sudanese conflict reached a peace deal under the auspices of a regional body called the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Although the agreement recognized the right of self-determination for South Sudanese, it also prioritized the unity of Sudan. In that, it prescribed autonomy for South Sudan for a period of five years in order to give South Sudanese and their Northern Sudanese equivalents a chance to be united as one country.
Two years after independence, a conflict in the South Sudan started caused by a controversy within the ruling party SPLM. On the one hand, there is the SPLM with loyalty to President Salva Kiir against the armed opposition led by Riek Machar. The conflict continues unabatedly after a peace deal signed in August 2015 and collapsed in July 2016. The unintended consequence of the collapse of the peace agreement has resulted in the founding of new armed groups that are opposed to the government.
In February 2016, the UN announced that a famine was developing in the country. Nearly 5 million people, which represents more than 40 percent of South Sudan’s entire population, are now at risk of starvation due to what the UN calls a “man-made” famine induced by the war.
Currently, aid agencies have launched a massive campaign to reduce the impact of the famine. According to the UN, the number of food insecure people will increase to 5.5 million if efforts to arrest the gravity and spread of the food crisis are not successful. About a million children across South Sudan are severely malnourished and at risk of death unless they receive immediate help. Efforts to get aid to the needy are hindered by the main actors’ obstruction of free movement of aid workers. The war has caused massive displacement. An estimated 1.5 million people have sought refuge in neighboring countries, while 1.85 million are internally displaced.
If the conflict is not going to be solved soon, an aggravation of the current situation is predictable.