South Sudan

South Sudan

Slow progress toward basic reforms by President Salva Kiir’s government, as a result of ongoing political disputes over how to implement key elements of the 2020 agreement, is contributing to the growing unrest and increasing number of violent incidents between the main signatories. Both Kiir and Riek Machar, his one-time political arch rival and current first Vice President, have lost support with their key political power bases. Elements of the Dinka ethnic group and Sudan People’s Liberation Movement think Kiir should be replaced, and Machar’s Liberation Movement Army in opposition and members of his own Nuer ethnic group are unhappy with his lack of leadership.

The failed promised reforms include completing unification of the army command, graduating a unified force and reconstituting the Transitional National Legislative Assembly. Further adding to the country’s current crisis are allegations of rampant corruption involving high government officials and their relatives in mining, real estate and other business dealings, trading political favors for cash. Concern with the entirety of the situation resulted in a unanimous vote in the UN Security Council in March 2021 to extend the 20,000 UN peacekeeping force in South Sudan with a mandate to “advance a three-year strategic vision to prevent a return to civil war” and build peace, both nationally and locally. UNHRC reports that violent attacks directed at civilians are the worst recorded since the civil war began in 2013, and many fear renewed war is a strong possibility. All this at the same time more than 7,000,000 South Sudanese suffer from acute food insecurity with almost 100,000 facing famine-like conditions and 8.3 million people in need of humanitarian assistance.


When•  Dec. 2013 – May 2021

Location  •  Central/East Africa

Estimated Dead  •  Almost 400,000 (Source: New York Times)

Displaced Persons  •  2.24 million (Source: UNHCR)


Declaring independence in 2011, South Sudan is the world’s youngest nation as well as one of its most troubled. This region has been embroiled with conflict since Sudan’s independence in 1955 when rebel groups in the south began fighting the northern government for an independent South Sudan. Ethnic differences sowed discontent between the two regions, with the south being majority African Christians and the north being mostly Arab Muslims. In addition, concentration of political power in the north led to marginalization and exclusion of southern Sudanese from the democratic process. The first Sudanese Civil War lasted from 1955 until 1972 with the south being granted greater autonomy at its conclusion. A second civil war would break out in 1983 after the government in the north was replaced with an aggressive Islamic dictatorship that repeatedly undermined southern autonomy.

In January 2005, the final peace treaty in a set of agreements known as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed, and the south was granted the right to hold an independence referendum six years from then. On July 9, 2011, South Sudan declared independence with almost 99% of the population voting “yes.” However, the violence did not end with South Sudan’s split from the north. Tribal violence over agricultural and livestock continued during the early months of South Sudan’s independence with the government not having the funds nor the resources to handle the increasing violence.

In an attempt to curb such violence, President Salva Kiir enacted emergency powers to disarm all ethnic groups within the military. However, after the disarmament, generals began to rearm their own ethnic groups, beginning with the Dinka and then the Nuer. In 2013, fighting broke out between the presidential guard and both ethnic groups, while Dinka soldiers began targeting Nuer civilians in the capital Juba. Nuer militia, in hopes of overthrowing President Kiir, formed an opposition rebel movement to the mostly Dinka-supported government. 

In 2016 President Kiir signed a peace deal with rebels. Among other things, the peace deal requires the re-institution of rebel leader Riek Machar as Vice President of Sudan. Before this signing, at least seven ceasefires were agreed to and then broken. Machar eventually was installed as Vice President again only to be ousted months later and fighting resumed. In 2018 Kiir and Machar met and signed a new peace agreement to end the five years of civil war that killed more than 380,000 and forced almost 4,000,000 people from their homes. The agreement also paved the way for a power-sharing government to be installed with Machar as vice president. However, that part of the agreement would be delayed until 2020 due to outstanding differences over state boundaries, creation of a unified national army, and protection for Machar.

In 2020 Machar was finally sworn in and he and Kiir agreed to negotiate outstanding issues under the new government. Throughout the conflict, mass atrocities including genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing occurred. 

By early 2021, the UN and others described progress in South Sudan as “behind schedule and poorly provisioned.” There are now renewed concerns about rampant corruption, militias being armed, starvation, and the fragile peace.

Timeline of critical events in the Central African Republic

1983 – Civil War started in Sudan.

1991 – Reik Machar worked with other rebel leaders to create the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).

2005 – The Navaisha Agreement gave the SPLM control of Southern Sudan until the independence vote in 2011.

2011 – On July 5, South Sudan voted for independence and became its own country.

2011 – United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) was established.

2012 – (January) UN Security Council issued a statement of concern over intercommunal violence in Jonglei.

2013 – Civil war begins in Juba, spreading across the country, after fighting between President Kiir and Vice-President Riek Machar, leading to an alleged coup attempt. 

2015 – A Peace Accord was signed between Machar and Kiir.

2016 – In April, Machar returned to Juba and was reinstated as vice president. 

2016 – In July, violence broke out again and Machar went into exile.

2018 – A Peace Agreement was signed between Machar and Kiir, but delays were incurred.

2020 – The Unity government was finally instated. Machar was sworn in as Vice-President again.

2021 – The 10-year anniversary of independence for South Sudan.