The Story of South Sudan
Table of Contents
Other Relevant Ethnic Groups
1805-1899: EGYPTIAN CONQUEST AND BRITISH COLONIZATION
1947-1956: UNIFICATION AND INDEPENDENCE
1955-1972: THE FIRST SUDANESE CIVIL WAR
1983-2005: THE SECOND SUDANESE CIVIL WAR
2013-2015: OUTBREAK OF THE SOUTH SUDANESE CIVIL WAR
2016-2018: A FRAGILE PEACE, RENEWED CONFLICT, AND A CONSEQUENTIAL FAMINE
2018-2022: VIOLENCE CONTINUES DESPITE PEACE, AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
South Sudan | UN News 4 June 2022
INTRODUCTION from CIA World Factbook and Cultural Atlas
This document provides information about the people of South Sudan, facts about the country, history, and current news. Additional separate documents provide a list of videos and the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan.
The Dinka (a Nilotic people) are the biggest ethnic group in South Sudan, forming approximately 35.8% of the population. The Nuer (also Nilotic) is the second biggest ethnic group (15.6%). Other ethnicities or tribes include the Shilluk (Chollo), Luo, Bari, Azande, Anuak, Murle, Kuku, Kakwa, Mandari, Murle, Ndogom Lndi, Lango, Didinga, Dungatona, Acholi, Baka, Fertit, Bviri, Kreish, Bongo, Jiek and Nuba.
The people of South Sudan tend to feel a stronger sense of belonging to their tribe or ethnic group before identifying as citizens of the sovereign state. During the years of civil war with North Sudan, many ethnicities and tribes were able to set aside their differences in order to unite to fight for independence. There was a lot of hope and excitement among the broader South Sudanese community when the country gained independence in 2011. However, when conflict erupted in 2013 over competition for political power over the newly formed country, community opinion became divided again.
The Dinka tribe constitutes the biggest ethnic group of South Sudan and probably counts for almost 40% of the population. They are pastoralists and let their cattle graze on the Greater Bahr el Ghazal, in the Pariang County in Unity, in and North of Bor as well as along the Eastern shore of the Nile in Upper Nile State. These geographical divisions reflect themselves into political rivalries among the different Dinka subgroups. While the historical leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), John GARANG, as well as the core leadership of the uprising, came from the Bor area, President Salva KIIR came from Greater Bahr el Ghazal (Gogrial in Warrap), leading at times to political disagreement. Several other ethnic groups have repeatedly accused the Dinkas of using the South Sudanese institutions to advance a tribal agenda.
The Nuers are pastoralists and count for about 30% of the South Sudanese population. While the Unity State, with the exception of the Pariang County, is inhabited by the Nuer people, most of them live on the Eastern side of the Nile, in Southern Upper Nile, Northern Jonglei, and Western Ethiopia around Gambella. The former vice president, Riek Machar, is a Nuer from Leer in Unity, while the military commander of the SPLM in opposition, Peter Gadet, originated from Mayom, the hometown of the Bull Nuers. The Nuer culture is very similar to the Dinka customs but distinguishes itself by a very particular set of traditional beliefs as well as by a very efficient mobilization process of the youth. Since the end of the 19th century, several Nuer prophets, following Ngundeng Bong, appeared among the Nuer people. Since June 2014, Dak Kueth, a native of the Yuai area in Jonglei, has been recognized as an active prophet and exercises considerable influence over the cattle camp youth. Riek Machar reportedly possesses the “magical” stick of the original Ngundeng Bong prophet. While they seem to show greater solidarity than the Dinkas, the Nuer are also divided into subgroups. Most of the Bul Nuer from Mayom, for instance, openly supported the Juba government in the crisis in June 2014.
The Murle Tribe constitutes a relatively small ethnic group (about 160,000 persons) of pastoralists living in the Greater Pibor Administrative Area (formerly Pibor County). Depending on the season, besides the cattle, they get their food from the river (fishing), the forests (wild honey and herbs), agriculture (sorghum) or game (the Kob migration). While the Dinkas and the Nuers share many linguistic and cultural similarities, the Murle speak a totally different language and have developed a unique culture due to their geographical isolation in the swamps of the eastern region.
Members of the Jonglei tribe don’t respect an established permanent political structure among the tribes, but the men’s loyalty is given to the age set (or generation) to which they belong. The “dominant” generation gathers the men from about 20 to 30 years old and forms the warrior age set defending the tribe (and raiding the cattle of their neighbors at times).
Other Relevant Ethnic Groups
The Wau violent clashes with the Dinka administration of Western Bahr el Ghazal. The Shilluks live on the Eastern side of the Nile in Upper Nile State and respect the authority of a customary king. Due to the marginalization by the Juba authorities, some Shilluk leaders such as Olony and Ogat led an armed rebellion against the government of South Sudan until agreements were reached in 2013. The exact status of the different Shilluk armed groups, however, remains largely unclear.
The number of Dinkas living in Juba is misleading, as the original people living in the area of the capital and further North towards Bor are the Bari and the Mundari. Although they possess cattle, they are mainly farmers and complain about the frequent incursions from the Bor Dinka cattle keepers into their territory. This is a general concern for most of the farmers of the three Equatoria States: the Zande in Western Equatoria complain about the Dinka incursions into their farmlands while the Topposa in eastern Equatoria has a border dispute with the Jonglei State. The Topposas constitute an exception in the Equatorias because of their pastoralist culture and their historical involvement in wars.
South Sudan, officially known as the Republic of South Sudan, is a landlocked country in Central Africa. It is bordered by Ethiopia, Sudan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Kenya.
President: Salva Kiir Mayardit
Population: 11.19 million (2020) World Bank
Gross domestic product: 12 billion USD (2015) World Bank
The South Sudanese population is composed mostly of Nilotic peoples, and it is demographically among the youngest nations in the world, with roughly half under 18 years old.
South Sudan has the lowest literacy rate in the world: Only 27% of the adult population can read and write.
South Sudan is a mix of plains, plateau, and mountains. The central region is mostly flat with vast swampland like the Sudd formed by the White Nile Baḥr al-Jabal section. But the country contains highland areas, especially around its periphery.