History of Southern Sudan

The region that we now know as Southern Sudan is composed of ten states: Western Bahr El Ghazal, Northern Bahr El Ghazal, Unity, Warab, Lakes, Western Equatoria, Eastern Equatoria, Central Equatoria, Jonglei and Upper Nile. Before the European scramble for Africa, there was no state - by current definition - that existed in this territory. It only consisted of small, medium and large nationalities that coexisted in harmony.


This tranquil existence was brutally interrupted by the European invaders on empire-creation mission. These invasions were motivated by their craving for trade commodities and markets. Southern Sudan became the main source of such trade commodities like slaves, gold, ivory and timber. The first of these invasions was by Turkish troops in 1820-1 through the Pasha of Egypt, Mohammed Ali. The Turko-Egyptians frequently raided the Southern region for slaves resulting in millions of the residents being carried into slavery in the Arab World and other regions. Even though the Turko-Egyptian regime lasted over 60 years, it didn't subdue all communities Southern Sudan and neither did the Mahdist regime after it. However, the regimes plundered the wealth of the region. The first plunderers were Arabs (known as al-Jallabas) under the Ottoman empire who used Mohamed Ahmed el Mahdi, a Northern Sudanese to intensify slave trade, Arabization and Islamization in the region.

Modern Sudan, as we know it today, emerged during the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium (1898-1955) upon the break-up of the Ottoman Empire in which British and Egypt colluded to occupy Sudan with separate administrative arrangements for the north and the south. Sudan got its independence in 1956 and since then has gone various internal wars. Sadly, 37 of the past 49 years have been wasted on major civil conflicts; the first from 1955-1972 and the second from 1982 to 2005 when the CPA was signed.

Historians corroborate that Southern Sudan has known marginalization right from the colonial days. Some political analysts and historians opine that while the British colonialists paid attention to socio-economic development in the North, similar responsibilities were left to Christian missionaries in the South. This development policy approach, commonly known as the "Southern Policy" was articulated through the Closed District Order of 1922. Apart from pursuing separate development agenda for the South and the North, it also established the ordinance that required the use of permits and passports for travelers from the North to the South and vice versa. It also prohibited Southern Sudanese from establishing contacts with any other foreigners who were also similarly proscribed. Sadly, this policy did not stimulate desired socio-development in the South and exacerbated its inequity with the North. The British changed tact in 1945 and began implementing unitary policies for the whole of Sudan, reportedly under the influence of Northern Sudanese elites. Unfortunately, this policy was biased against Southerners and a large extent placing them under the Northern rule. Activities that followed such as the Juba Conference of 1947, the unilateral establishment of Sudan Legislative Assembly in 1948, and the Cairo Agreement of 1953, all confirmed the bitter truth that Southern Sudanese had been "auctioned" by the British colonizers to the Northern elites.


The British engaged the Northerners meaningfully and brokered an independence package which placed the Southerners under the former. Now with retarded development and lack of political - and economic power - the Southerners felt betrayed leading to the 1955 mutiny by the Southern troops leading to the first civil war which lasted 17 years until the Addis Ababa agreement in 1972. Even though this agreement gave some autonomy to the Southern Sudan, it was blatantly violated by the Khartoum government in many respects including the imposition of Sharia Law. This period was particularly cruel for the Southern Sudanese who was the subject of calculated atrocities aimed at political marginalization; socio-development stagnation; cultural subjugation; decimation through slavery, massacres, executions, and forced islamization. Similarly, the period was also marked by several revolts by Southern Sudanese to liberate themselves and their region from Northern domination and redeem their dignity as a people born free and capable to determine their destiny. The major ones include mutinies by the Anya Nya movement in 1962 and 1972; and longest civil war waged by the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement and Army led by the late Dr John Garang de Mabior beginning from 1983 to 2005 when the CPA was signed.


The CPA, signed in Nairobi on 9th January 2005, finally granted Southern Sudan some autonomy and self-rule under a new constitution. Under the CPA, the SPLM/A leader Dr. John Garang de Mabior became the First Vice-President of the Republic of Sudan and President of the semi-autonomous Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS). Unfortunately, Dr. Garang perished in an aircraft accident on August 1, 2005 barely three weeks in office having been sworn in on 9th July, 2005. He was succeeded in both offices by Lt. General Salva Kiir Mayardit. This constitutional arrangement will remain in place until 2011 when the citizens will vote through a national constitutional referendum to decide on whether Southern Sudan should severe links with the North and become an independent state.



This article was updated on Oct 20, 2009

Other information sources on Southern Sudan history


>> Juba Conference (1947)


Web Sites:

>>South Sudan: A History of Political Domination - A Case of Self-Determination, (Riek Machar)


>> Sudan Timeline by BBC


>>Sudan Historical Timelines


Print Publications:

  • Malok, E. (2009). The Southern Sudan: struggle for liberty. Nairobi: Kenyway Publications
  • Johnson, D.H. (2007). The root causes of Sudan's civil wars. 4th Imprint. Nairobi: EAEP
This article was updated on Jan 29, 2010