South Sudan: Birth of a New Nation PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 23 February 2011 10:13

South Sudan: Birth of a New Nation


Dr. Suresh Kumar

Diplomatist. Vol. III No.2. February 2011.


On 7 February 2011, the much awaited results of the Sudan referncdum came out. The results of the referendum announced on 7 February 2011 show that 98.83% voting in favour of independence (BBC News. 2011 & Table-2). After a six-year transitional period followiong two decades of brutal civil war, close to four million southern Sudanese went to the polls from 9-15 January 2011 to cast their vote for unity or secession. With 98-83 percent of all voters choosing independence, South sudan will officially be able to eclare independence on 9 July. The referendum marked the final phase of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which concluded 20 years of war between the northern-based governmenbt in Khartoum and the SudaN People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM/A) under their leadership of late John Garang and post Naivasha agreement democratic struggles under the leadership of Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, triggered political change and compelled Sudan to hold the referndum on time, and grant the award as per the majority will. 

The desire for political system for south Sudan society lays in the unity in diversity. ‘Federalism, it is true, unlike a unitary system, does not force unity out of diversity. It allows the two to coexist. But in the process of its progress towards maturity, contrary to what is sometimes stated, it does create unity through the greatly enlarged functions of the federal government, national planning and the like, as also because of the falling down of the once rigid barriers- physical, psychological and economic- between the component units of the state’ (Dikshit D.R. 1975: 11).

Although it is visible that regionally grouped diversities in Sudan are the fundamental fact of federalism, it is equally important to point out that the geopolitics distribution of diversities within a federation need not always rigidly follow the boundary lines of the component units of the state. As federalism often embraces a series of diversities on a number of issues in Sudan, it can hardly be expected that the state boundaries lines will mark off areas that coincide with all the different interests and opinions that may be held on all questions. The essential fact to remember for Sudan is that the units (provinces) in question should possess a total complex of diversities strong enough to distinguished them from their fellow members in the group and thereby make them desire and demand recognition of their individual identities and interests that is clearly seen in the Referendum of January 2011 (Table-2).

Indeed, the essential nature of state in Sudan is to be sought for, not in the shadings of legal or constitutional terminology, but in forces- economic, social, political and cultural- that has made the outward form of federalism necessary (Livingston S.W. 1956:1: emphasis mine). In this sense, the essence of federalism lays not so much in the constitutional structure as in the geopolitics of the Sudanese society itself.  Regionalism of this kind, in which diversities spill over state boundaries is considered a valid manifestation of the federal principle and the people of south Sudan has shown it through referendum (Table-2).

Therefore, the essential nature of federalism does not lie in the societies or the social diversities as such but in the spatial pattern of the total complex of social, political, economic and other relevant diversities that have imparted to the regional political units, some sense of individual identity. Thus, a spatial interaction of South Sudan people and the referendum result is based on sociological, political, and economic analysis.


Oil Exploitation of South Sudan and Referendum

The Neur were the key ethnic group as far as oil development was concerned. Nuer territory extended to most of the Muglad and Melut basins, with Dinka being the second largest ethnic group in the Southern Sudan oilfield regions. But the Dinka and Nuer national groups were suffering brutal death, wanton destruction of their homes, and unprecedented displacement of whole families and clans during the civil war. Their ancestral land has instead become a theatre of war, fueled with inputs from oil interests in Canada, China, Malaysia and some European countries” (Statement by USAP on oil 1999: 9). 

It is inappropriate to look at the economic and political aspects of the crisis in a separate and isolated manner. Both interact in varied and complex ways in Sudan. The characteristics of political regimes in Sudan are determined on the basis of resource ownership (particularly Cattle guarding), distribution of income (lop-sided development), modes of production in terms of geoponics, industrial and infrastructure and accumulation (mainly in northern region). The nature of political system in Sudan ignored the implementation of federal structures that has a major impact on patterns of accumulation, growth and distribution of wealth and played a crucial role in their economic performance. As a result, conflicts have become more of a basic ingredient of South Sudan people than an instrument of state politics.

The oil in the ground and flowing through the pipeline to the Red Sea supertanker port has driven expulsions from western Upper Nile/Unity State, the area of the main oil production today in South Sudan. The initial exploration areas in Blocks 1, 2 and 4 situated on the north-south conflicting region of Sudan (Map-1) are producing crude oil daily (230,000 barrels per day) since 1999. Petroleum exploration in Sudan began in the early 1960s. Activity was originally concentrated offshore in the Red Sea. In 1974, two years after the peace accord that ended the first civil war (1955-72), the Sudanese government granted the Chavron Oil Company (USA) large oil concession in Sudan. Chevron found oil near Bentiu town in 1978 and government named the oil field Unity, located in Block 1 (Map-1), inside Upper Nile province, part of the autonomous Southern region. Soon after, Chevron discovered the Helighfield, in Block 2. The French firm Total, which acquired various oil concessions around 1980, discovered Block 5 (120,000 square kilometers), which is larger than the size of Blocks 1, 2, 4, 5A and 5B. Canadian independent firm, Arakis Energy, in 1993 acquired the portion of Chevron’s concession in the north of the Bentiu town namely Blocks 1, 2 and 4. In June 1996, Arakis sold 75 percent of its interest to Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Corporation (GNPOC), the China national Petroleum Company (CNPC), Petronas Carigali overseas Sudan Berhad (a national Petroleum Corporation of Malaysia) and Sudan state-owned Oil Enterprise (Sudapet) Limited. On October 8, 1998, Canada’s largest independent oil and gas producer, Talisman Energy Inc; acquired Arakis and its main assets, and transferred Sudan from a net hydrocarbon importer into a potential member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).


In August 1999, the first oil for export earned the Sudanese government US $ 2.2 million in one shot. On October 30, 2002, Talisman announced that it had agreed to sell its Sudan interests to ONGC Videsh Limited, a subsidiary of Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited, India, for a net return on investment of 30 percent.

Along with it, the extraction of precious natural resources (minerals from Katanga and Kasaai and oil from southern Sudan) coincided with Sudan’s inattention to south Sudan economic decay, the resultant pan-territorial popular outrage served as especially potent mobilizing fuel. One measures the result of the sub-nationalist movement only through referendum of 2011.


History of South Sudan

Southern Sudan is a large territorial domain with distinct historical, cultural and religious characteristics that set the region substantially apart from the politically predominant north. ‘While Islamic Arabic people have dominated northern Sudan since pre-colonial times, the South is populated by a large number of animist and Christian groups. The largest and best-known group is the Dinka, having population of about 2 million. The Dinka has shared with other southern Sudanese communities the history of resistance against northern domination in Sudan’ (M A Mohamed Salih. 1994: 189: emphasis mine). Other southerners include the Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile provinces, the Shilluk, Auak and Neur, whose social institutions and identity reflect a complex set of relations between cattle and people (Sharon E. Hutchinson. 1996: 60) in Equatoria province, the Murle, Didinga, Boya, Toposa, and Bari; and in the south-west, the Azande, Kreish, Bongo, Moro and Madi. ‘Many of these smaller groups suffered particular devastation during the Arab slave trade, while the numerous and well-organized Dinka military units were able to marshal a more effective defense’ (Donald Rothchild. 1997: 215). For the most part, Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk and other southerners enjoyed cooperative political and economic relations with each other, and village leaders from different ethnic groups would frequently meet together to resolve different ethnic groups would frequently meet together to resolve differences. ‘The pre-colonial history of interethnic coordination against attacks from the north gave rise to prophetic traditions passed on through sacred songs and oriented toward the collective, inter-group liberation of the south from northern domination’ (Young Crawford. 1976: 492).   

During the twentieth century, the advent of British colonial rule led to a rigid administrative reinforcement of north-south separation, with northerners needing special permission to travel or conduct business in the south and southerners being accorded a distinct and less well-funded educational system (Sharon E. Hutchinson. 2001:326). The northern provinces of Khartoum and Kassala absorbed the vast share of communications and transportation infrastructure and development projects. ‘Political institution was similarly concentrated in north, while the south remained under the control of military commanders’ (Benyanamin Neuberger. 1993: 30). The southern provinces of Upper Nile, Equatoria, and Bahr el Ghazal remained excluded from representation in central government institutions and were not accorded substantial economic development investment (Johnson. 1997: 64). The rich history of south Sudan desires for the federal democratic set up in which all the communities should be respected and the State should for socio-economic development of the society.



There is a need to adopt a democratic nature of federalism in south Sudan as it consists of complex set of regionally grouped diversities. This federal diversities of south Sudan are regionally organized, and since they are neither purely sociological, economic, or political in nature but all these together at one and the same time, a geographical approach with its emphasis on aerial integrations and regional interactions should prove a helpful tool in the study of the dynamics of federal political systems, particularly with respect to their overall origins and stability wherein the regionally grouped diversities on which federal systems are based become a critical factor that distinguishes this polity from other governmental systems.

Geopolitically, South Sudan emerges as land-locked country. All the oil well of south Sudan is connected through pipeline to the Red Sea, a part of north Sudan. Both the north and south Sudan should come forward and taking care of each other’s need as a friendly state. It will be a win-win position for both as north will get share of revenue by providing them passage towards Red Sea. It will pave the way for sustainable development in both the states. The example of European Union in which all the sovereign states are having a porous border and facilitate the economic development of the region. The same idea applies on Sudan and south Sudan for the people’s development and mutual benefit.      

Today, in view of the south Sudan small population of 8.26 million (South Sudan population.2011) and their under developed provinces, the State should focus on socio-economic development. Most of the people has suffered half a century of their bitter conflicts, their contrasting levels of political and constitutional advance, made a centralized unitary polity and military rule unsuited to their needs. The political geography of south Sudan seemed to present a situation conducive to federation as they are having isolated communities faced zero development. The balanced development, in fact, is the only basis for mutual cohesion that will lead to participatory politics in a democratic system. The instrumental manipulation of ethnic elites should be discarded and all the religious or tribal group like Hamito-Semites, the Nubians, Dinka, Shilluk, Auak and Nuer, the Murle, Didinga, Boya, Toposa, Bari and Azande, Kreish, Bongo, Moro and Madi  be treated  on equal basis and be respected . The essential politico-geographic base of the south Sudan society is, therefore, federal rather than plural because of its natural matching of representing different provinces/territorially based communities. Finally, the newly elected central Government should invite all the traditional chiefs belonging sects to restore the historical bonds of unity and strengthen the socio-economic development and political unity.