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South Sudan’s history is characterized by conquest, colonialism, conflict, carnage and courage.  For nearly 200 years the area that is now South Sudan was under foreign rule:

  • 1820-1881 The Turkiya (Turko-Egyptian) domination
  • 1881-1898 The Mahdiya (Mahdist) domination
  • 1898-1956 The Anglo-Egyptian Condominium
  • 1956-2011 North Sudan domination

Civil war broke out on August 18, 1955, just months before Sudan became independent on January 1, 1956. Multiple large-scale massacres forced waves of refugees to cross the borders into neighboring countries.

One of the rebel groups, Anyanya (snake poison), formed by Lt. Joseph Lagu in 1963, came to symbolize the South Sudanese people’s struggle for freedom.

However, it was not until 1971 that the various fighting groups were brought together to form the South Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SSLM/A) under the leadership of Lt. Lagu.

A peace accord – The Addis Ababa Agreement- was signed in 1972, bringing to an end what came to be known as the Seventeen Years War. The war cost the lives of at least 2 million and caused one of the largest refugee crises in Africa.

The post-Addis Ababa Agreement territory became the South Sudan Autonomous Region. A decade of relative peace gave hope to the Southern Sudanese, with very many of them returning from exile.

However, when Sudanese President Gaafar Muhammad an-Nimeiry declared all Sudan to be an Islamic State under Sharia Law, and abolished the South Sudan Autonomous Region in 1983, a second armed rebellion began.

Led by Col. John Garang, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) prosecuted a 22-year armed resistance against Sudanese government forces. By the time the conflict ended in 2005, it had claimed the lives of 2.5 million people and created many more refugees.

A peace agreement was signed in Nairobi in 2005 and the Autonomous Government of South Sudan came into being.

A referendum was held in January 2011 and 98.83 percent voted for independence from Khartoum. The Republic of South Sudan became independent on July 9, 2011.

Post-independence South Sudan has continued to be a theatre of conflict and carnage. In 2012, war broke out between Sudan and Southern Sudan.

In December 2013, another civil war erupted. Forces loyal to Dr. Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon, the vice-president, fought against government forces loyal to President Salva Kiir Mayardit. Battalions of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) were deployed to beef up government forces.

The war resulted in an estimated 2.2 million people displaced and an unknown number dead. Calm returned following the signing of a peace agreement in August 2015. As part of that agreement, a government of national unity would run the country for 30 months before holding elections. Riek Machar was re-appointed as as vice-president, but with a Kiir loyalist as second vice-president.

In December 2015, President Kiir announced that South Sudan’s 10 states were abolished and replaced them with 28 new ones.  Rick Machar returned to his post in Juba in April 2016. However, with renewed fighting in July 2016, Machar fled the capital and refused to return. The president fired him and replaced him with Taban Deng Gai as first vice president. Fighting continues in some parts of the country.

South Sudan was formally admitted into the East African Community on August 15, 2016.


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