By Mabeny Peter Malath
Sudan was under Anglo/Egyptian (United Kingdom and Egypt) before gaining independence in 1956. In that period heading to independence till 1972, Sudan faced a 17-year old war (known as Anya-nya one) which ended with the Addis-Ababa peace agreement in 1972. This war came as a result of Southerners’ fear of Northern anticipated domination of the government once Sudan gains independence and with clear differences between the two regions, Northern Sudan having closer ties with Egypt and being mostly Arabs and Muslims while the Southern region are mostly animists or Christians, conflict was inevitable. With the help of World Council of Churches, the Addis-Ababa agreement took place, giving the South self-government type with the formation of Southern Sudan Autonomous Region.
That peace lasted only ten years as it was followed by ethnic, religious and economic conflicts between the Muslim Arab and Arabized northern Sudanese and the mostly animist and Christian Nilotes of Southern Sudan which led to the 1983 second Sudan civil war fitting North against the South, led by Sudan People Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) under the leadership of Dr.John Garang. President Nimeiry attempted to create a federated Sudan including states in southern Sudan, which violated the Addis Ababa Agreement that had granted the south considerable autonomy.
The civil war intensified when Omar al-Bashir came into power through coup d’état in 1989 and he played a major role in fitting Southerners against themselves highlighted by the 1991-1997 Dinka-Nuer conflict in which he influenced high ranked officials in the SPLM/A to defect to his side and come back to hurt the South. The situation worsened in the South of the country with the use of Russian-made combat helicopters and military cargo (Antinov) planes that were used as bombers to devastating effect on villages and tribal rebels. According to varying statistics from the CIA, the UN and the BBC, it is estimated that the civil war took 2.5 million lives in the south of the country in 21 year period while displacing approximately 4 million people.
The defining moment in the history of Sudan came in 2005. After two years of intensive negotiation between the Sudan government and Sudan People’s Liberation Army in the Kenyan town of Naivasha, the two parties agreed to sign the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on January 9th 2005, granting Southern Sudan autonomy for six years, to be followed by a referendum about independence for the South or Unity depending on what the Southerners decide.
This agreement also enabled the south and the north to share oil wealth at 50% each while sharing the central government in Khartoum, hence paving way for SPLM/A leader Dr. John Garang to become the first vice President of Sudan and president of Government of Southern Sudan at the same time. Dr. Garang did not live long enough to see the end product of the Southern struggle when he died in a helicopter crash on 1 August 2005, three weeks after being sworn in.
As agreed upon under the 2005 CPA, the Southerners voted on January 9, 2011 across the world from UK, the US, Australia, Canada, Europe and East Africa with Southerners deciding on unity or separation but eventually decided to vote an overwhelming 98.3% favoring separation. On July 9, 2011, Southern Sudan became independent and the 193rd UN recognized nation in the world and the 54th nation in Africa.
Despite gaining independence, there are other tasks ahead for this young nation now ranging from security with in South Sudan and disputed regions of oil rich Abyei in the border with the north as well as education and healthcare, and just infrastructure overall because it is one of the least developed places in the world.
It is as critical now just like during the conflict for the people of South Sudan and the World Community to give a helping hand where it is needed for this nation to grow and sustain growth, peace and stability.