South Sudan, which gained independence from Sudan on 9 July 2011, is the world’s newest country. Home to a diverse array of mainly Nilotic ethnolinguistic groups that settled in the territory in the 15th through 19th centuries, South Sudanese society is heavily dependent on seasonal fluctuations in precipitation and seasonal migration. The land comprising modern-day South Sudan was conquered first by Egypt and later ruled jointly by Egyptian-British colonial administrators in the late 19th century. Christian missionaries propagated the spread of English and Christianity, rather than Arabic and Islam, leading to significant cultural differences between the northern and southern parts of Sudan. When Sudan gained its independence in 1956, the Southern region received assurances that it would participate fully in the political system. However, the Arab government in Khartoum reneged on its promises, prompting two periods of civil war (1955-1972 and 1983-2005) in which as many as 2.5 million people died - mostly civilians - due largely to starvation and drought. The Second Sudanese civil war was one of the deadliest since WWII and left Southern Sudanese society devastated by humanitarian crises and economic deterioration. Peace talks resulted in a US-backed Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed in January 2005, which granted the South a six-year period of autonomy followed by a referendum on final status. The result of this referendum, held in January 2011, was a vote of 98% in favor of secession.
Since independence, South Sudan has struggled to form a viable governing system and has been plagued by widespread corruption, political conflict, and communal violence. In December 2013, conflict erupted between forces loyal to President Salva KIIR, a Dinka, and forces loyal to Vice President Riek MACHAR, a Nuer. The conflict quickly spread throughout the country and unfolded along ethnic lines, killing tens of thousands and creating a dire humanitarian crisis, with millions of South Sudanese displaced and food insecure. KIIR and MACHAR signed a peace agreement in August 2015 that created a Transitional Government of National Unity in April 2016. However, in July 2016, renewed fighting broke out in Juba between KIIR and MACHAR’s forces, plunging the country back into conflict and drawing in additional armed opposition groups, including those in the southern Equatoria region that had largely stayed out of the first round of civil war. A "revitalized" peace agreement was signed in September 2018, which mostly ended the fighting. The government and most armed opposition groups agreed that they would form a unified national army, create a transitional government by May 2019, and prepare for elections in December 2022. Subsequent extensions pushed elections to late 2023, and the transitional government was formed in February 2020, when MACHAR returned to Juba as first vice president. Since 2020, implementation of the peace agreement has been stalled as the parties wrangle over power-sharing arrangements, contributing to an uptick in communal violence and the country’s worst food security crisis since independence, with 7 of 11 million South Sudanese citizens in need of humanitarian assistance.
Sources: CIA World Factbook, December 2022