South Sudan this week celebrates the one year anniversary of its independence, providing an opportunity for its government and people to reflect on the challenges that lie ahead.

Celebrations have been mute, with flowers planted and “official buildings given a lick of paint”, as the country’s ongoing dispute with its northern neighbour, Sudan, continues to cause huge economic problems.

In its first year as an independent country, installing necessary infrastructure to operate has proved a major challenge. In the poorest parts, less than 1% of children finish primary school and more than half the population does not have enough food to eat or faces imminent food shortages, as shown below (BBC, 2012).

Sudan and South Sudan Food Insecurity.

Prolonged conflict is inevitably a contributory factor, but aid agencies say that more people are going hungry now than at any time since the 2005 peace agreement that ended a 22-year civil war. In addition, since independence, thousands of people have returned to South Sudan, often bringing with them very little, creating huge logistical problems and further exacerbating water and food access issues.

Road to Independence

Problems in the region began shortly before the formerly united Sudan gained its independence from joint British and Egyptian rule in 1956, when a north-south border was also established. After southern-army-led hostilities that began a year earlier, a civil war broke out between the south and the new northern-based Sudanese government, which was accused of reneging on promises to create a federal system, and trying to establish a northern Arabic, Islamic identity over a southern traditional/Christian, African one.

A peace agreement affording the south a certain degree of autonomy was signed in 1972, but after the government cancelled the arrangements, the south again rebelled in 1983. Over the following years, some 1.5 million people were killed and more than 4 million were displaced.

In 2005, a peace deal drew to a close Africa’s longest-running civil war, with a referendum held in the south in early 2011 determining the south’s seccession, with a 99% vote for independence. As a result, a new country was born: South Sudan (capital, Juba), whilst the (former) north retained its name of Sudan (capital, Khartoum).

Oil: the fuel for conflict

Soon after the split in 2011, Sudan and South Sudan began arguing over border demarcation and how to share oil profits. Whilst the majority of the oil is situated in South Sudan, the pipe line to the Red Sea is in Sudan. As a result, South Sudan took most of the region’s oil (now constituting 98% of its budget), but was forced to rely on Sudan’s infrastructure to market it.

In January 2012, South Sudan shut its oil production industry, as Sudan confiscated oil in lieu of unpaid transit fees. South Sudan in turn accused Khartoum of stealing oil worth $815 million.

After bitter hostilities and killings, and the Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir labelling South Sudan’s government as an ‘insect’ that needed swatting away, the two sides restarted negotiations, which are ongoing.

Questions are being asked as to whether all-out war between Sudan and South Sudan is inevitable, with the main disputes summarised by some as revolving around five key issues:

  1. The amount of money South Sudan should pay Sudan to use its oil pipelines.
  2. The demarcation of the border.
  3. Ownership of Abyei (an oil-rich area right on the borderline, important to both countries).
  4. The rights of each other’s citizens now situated in another country (c. 500 000 southerners in Sudan, c. 80 000 Sudanese in South Sudan).
  5. Mutual support of rebel groups in each territory.

It remains to be seen what the future holds for South Sudan, but developments in the last year have extinguished a great deal of the optimism that had come with independence.

Sudan/South Sudan Factfile

Data sourced from: CIA (2012).