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South Sudan: A Year in Review

By: Maija Ehlinger

The world’s newest nation turned one last month.  This July 9th anniversary was a poignant reminder of the hope as well as the struggle that accompanies a new republic.  It was a celebration rising out of a 22-year guerilla war that divided a land brought together by external imperial powers.  It was also a time of celebration that is blemished by the uncertainty of a hesitant peace.  But it was a celebration in South Sudan nonetheless.

It is rare to see a new country created in the 21st Century.  But the history that shapes this northern African nation makes this one year anniversary even more spectacular.  Sudan gained independence in 1956 with the end of the 57-year Anglo-Egyptian Condominium.[1]  But the problems stemmed first from the fact that the original borders of Sudan were drawn without tribal consent or ethnic consideration; a decision that would bring the predominately Islamic north and the Christian dominated south under one flag.  Two civil wars, genocide, and economic turmoil have placed Sudan at the center in international news throughout the years.  The culmination of these atrocities has linked the Islamic North increasingly with Arab Spring uprisings, tribal disputes, and human rights violations.

But in an important turn of events for international business and affairs, the discovery of oil in the southern Sudanese area changed the dynamic between the Northern and Southern peoples.  The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed between the North and the South in 2005, nominally ending the civil war that killed over 1.5 million people.  Following the March 2011 election, in which an unprecedented 98.83% of people living in the Southern 10 provinces voted to break away from the Islamic-run government in Khartoum, South Sudan gained full independence on July 9, 2011.[2]

But the ethnic disputes would not end with the creation of the new nation; instead, the issue of oil would continue the border conflict and strain the fragile peace crafted by election and compromise.  The small, oil-rich area of Abyei, which lies on the border of the two countries, was denied the ability to vote in the 2011 election for independence.  Due to the large oil reserves in the area, the Sudanese government in Khartoum set referendum standards so that the nomadic peoples in the region were not eligible to vote.[3] In a fashion that eerily parallels the ethnic disputes brought about by careless colonial aspirations, the two Sudanese governments could not reach an agreement on whether or not nomadic Arabic cattle herders, the Misseriya, should vote in the Abyei region.  This would have tremendous effects on the outcome for Abyei, as the Misseriya would most likely vote to stay with the Islamic-dominated North.  Yet, the land has historically been linked to the Dinka tribe, the majority group that identifies more with the South.  Due to the oil production possibility in the area, Sudanese military intervention from Khartoum has been commonplace over the passed year. The latest round of negotiations in July ended in yet another standstill, as the northern government refused to pay the South $3.2 billion, plus $9.10 per oil barrel produced, for Abyei.[4]  Even though the UN Security Council has extended the mandate for peacekeeping troops in the Darfur region, it has yet to lead any tangible ceasefire agreement or worked to create beneficial voting guidelines.[5]

After one year of independence, South Sudan still faces economic pains and civil conflict that make the July 9th, 2011 celebrations seem elusive. There have been talks about The Hague managing the border dispute; a move that will have huge consequences for international investors in the oil area.  But more importantly, these talks will have huge implications for the region, as protestors in northern Sudan have called for President Al-Bashir’s resignation after losing the majority of oil resources to the south one year ago.[6]  The loss of Abyei oil region sparked increased violence in a region still dealing with the aftermath of civil war.

While South Sudan celebrates one year under its own flag, there is perhaps a sense of disillusionment mixed with hope.  The first year has brought economic pains, security threats and misguided internal regime, along with continued military quarrels with the north.  But as negotiations between North and South fail to produce a secure and economically favorable solution to the Abyei question, the UN has done little more than continue to place Ethiopian peacekeeping forces in the region.  But even this move has not quelled the violence or the apprehension of thousands of displaced Sudanese.  Comprehensive peace has been in place, at least on paper, for years with little success.  If the international community is serious about finding a solution in the region, they must work with both countries to create voting standards for the Abyei region.  It is only through monitored, secure elections that the border dispute can begin to heal.  But at the same time, the UN must work to ensure that any agreement reached is economically sustainable for both oil-dependent countries.  Of course this is no small task, and the negotiation process has no clear solution.  But the answer from international organizations cannot be just talk of a peace settlement.  As South Sudan enters its second year of independence, the area of Abyei still tarnishes the hope for peace after years of civil war.

Maija Ehlinger is a rising junior working on a major in history and a minor in global health.  Her main academic interests are in international health policy, and she hopes to pursue a career in the field of public health.  Maija is spending the summer in Atlanta interning at Emory’s Office of Marketing and Communications.


[1] Lobban, Richard A, Jr.  Kramer, Robert S. Historical Dictionary of the Sudan; Third Edition. The Scarecrow Press, Inc.  2002. Page 23.

[2] www.bbc.co.uk/world-africa-121111730.  Q&A: South Sudan independence.  4 July, 2011.

[3] http://allafrica.com/stories/201207010005.html. South Sudan: Abyei Community Prepares for Independence Celebration. 30 June, 2012.

[4]Sudan: Khartoum Rejects South Sudan’s ‘Last’ Offer on Oil, Abyei. 23 July, 2012.  allAfrica.  http://allafrica.com/stories/201207240168.html

[5]Security Council Extends Mandate on UN-African Union Darfur Peacekeepers. 31 July, 2012. UN News Centre. http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=42595&Cr=&Cr1=

[6] Sudan breaks up protest, blames Zionist plot. 1 June, 2012. http://chicgaotribune.com/news/sns-rt-us-sudan-unrestbre8600gh-20120701,0,5462435.story.

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