South Sudan, also called Southern Sudan, country located in northeastern Africa. Its rich biodiversity includes lush savannas, swamplands, and rainforests that are home to many species of wildlife. Prior to 2011, South Sudan was part of Sudan, its neighbour to the north. South Sudan’s population, predominantly African cultures who tend to adhere to Christian or animist beliefs, was long at odds with Sudan’s largely Muslim and Arab northern government. South Sudan’s capital is Juba.
South Sudan was settled by many of its current ethnic groups during the 15th–19th centuries. After the Sudan region was invaded in 1820 by Muḥammad ʿAlī, viceroy of Egypt under the Ottoman Empire, the southern Sudan was plundered for slaves. By the end of the 19th century the Sudan was under British-Egyptian rule. Although the north accepted British rule relatively quickly, there was greater resistance in the south. Because of this, British energies in the north were free to be directed toward modernization efforts, whereas in the south they were more focused on simply maintaining order, leading to a dichotomy of development between north and south that continued for several decades. After Sudan became independent in 1956, numerous governments over the years found it difficult to win general acceptance from the country’s diverse political constituencies, especially in the south. An early conflict arose between those northern leaders who hoped to impose the vigorous extension of Islamic law and culture to all parts of the country and those who opposed this policy. The latter group included the majority of southern Sudan’s population, many of whom were already up in arms over fears that the south would be further marginalized by the northern-based government; those fears led to a lengthy civil war (1955–72). The Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972 ended the conflict only temporarily, and in the next decade widespread fighting resumed with the second civil war (1983–2005).
Numerous discussions, cease-fires, and agreements between southern leaders and their northern counterparts occurred but yielded very little success until the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended warfare and generated an outline of new measures to share power, distribute wealth, and provide security in Sudan. Significantly, it also granted southern Sudan semiautonomous status and stipulated that a referendum on independence for the region would be held in six years. Despite some obstacles, the eagerly awaited referendum did take place: a weeklong vote on independence for southern Sudan was held January 9–15, 2011, with the results indicating the south’s overwhelming preference to secede. The country of South Sudan declared independence on July 9, 2011.
South Sudan’s vast plains and plateaus are drained by the Nile River and its tributaries. This river system runs from south to north across the entire length of the east-central part of the country. At the heart of the country is a clay plain, the centre of which is occupied by an enormous swampy region known as Al-Sudd (the Sudd).
There are two contrasting upland areas. The Ironstone Plateau lies between the Nile-Congo watershed and the clay plain; its level country is marked with inselbergs (isolated hills rising abruptly from the plains). On the Uganda border there are massive ranges with peaks rising to more than 10,000 feet (3,000 metres). The Imatong Mountains contain Mount Kinyeti (elevation 10,456 feet [3,187 metres]), the highest point in South Sudan.
Drainage and soils
The Nile River system is the dominant physical feature, and all streams and rivers of South Sudan drain either into or toward the Nile. The White Nile (Baḥr Al-Abyaḍ) enters the country as the Mountain Nile (Baḥr Al-Jabal) from the south through rapids at Nimule on the Uganda border. After its confluence with the left- (west-) bank tributary known as the Baḥr Al-Ghazāl, the Mountain Nile becomes the White Nile. A little farther north along its course, the White Nile receives much of its water from the right-bank Sobat River, which flows from the Ethiopian Plateau to join the Nile near Malakal. Drainage in the country does not always reach the Nile rivers; the rivers of the southwest, for example, infrequently reach the Baḥr Al-Ghazāl system.
In 1978 construction began on the Jonglei (Junqalī) Canal, which was planned to bypass Al-Sudd swamp and provide a straight well-defined channel for the Mountain Nile River to flow northward until its junction with the White Nile. It also would have drained the swamplands of the Sudd for agricultural use. The project was suspended in 1983 because of disruptions arising from the civil war between the north and the south. After the CPA was signed in 2005, there was discussion about resuming work on the canal, spearheaded by the Egyptian government and Sudan’s Khartoum government, although the government of southern Sudan (GoSS) was hesitant to embrace the project and deferred making a decision about it until they could give the matter further study; a decision had not been made at the time of independence.
The southern plains consist of an alkaline soil that is a heavy cracking clay. The clays of Al-Sudd were deposited in the area of impeded drainage.
South Sudan has a tropical climate with wet and dry seasons. The seasons are characterized by the oscillation, north and south, of the boundary between moist southerly air and dry northerly air. This phenomenon, more specifically, involves the seasonal migration and pulsation of the northern tropical continental air mass and the southern maritime continental air mass, which are divided by the intertropical convergence zone. In winter the north winds of the tropical air mass blow across the country toward the front, which may be as far south as the Tropic of Capricorn. These winds are relatively cool and dry and usually bring no rain. By April the front begins to move northward, and the moist southerly air of the maritime air mass is drawn in from the South Atlantic Ocean. Because of this, South Sudan has a rainy season, the total length of which varies according to latitude and is generally no more than eight to nine months a year, beginning as early as April and continuing as late as December.
South Sudan’s lowest annual temperatures are in the high 60s to high 70s F (low to mid-20s C) in the centre and north of the country, while the lowest annual temperatures in the outlying areas are slightly cooler, about high 50s to high 60s F (mid-10s to low 20s C). The highest annual temperatures for most of South Sudan generally range from the mid-80s to the mid-90s F (low to mid-30s C), although some areas toward the north of the country range from the mid-90s to mid-100s F (mid- to upper 30s C). The highest temperatures normally occur just before the rainy season.
In South Sudan, most precipitation usually occurs during the summer months and varies across the country. The majority of the country receives about 30–40 inches (750–1,000 mm) annually. Areas in the western part of the country receive slightly more, about 40–60 inches (1,000–1,500 mm) annually, while some areas in the northeastern and southeastern parts of the country receive less, about 20–30 inches (500–750 mm). Some areas in the extreme southeast receive fewer than 20 inches (500 mm).
Plant and animal life
South Sudan’s main vegetational belts run in succession from northwest to southeast, more or less in coincidence with rainfall patterns. They are low-rainfall savanna (grassland), high-rainfall savanna, both with inland floodplains, and mountain vegetation regions.
Low-rainfall savannas consist of grasses and thorny trees. Acacia trees dominate these savannas, with one species, A. senegal, yielding gum arabic, which was long one of Sudan’s principal exports. The high-rainfall savannas of the south-central part of the country are more lush, with rich grasses along the Nile that support a large number of cattle. The intermittent woodlands dotting this belt gradually merge southward with the true rainforest that is now found only in remnants in the southernmost portions of the country.
The country’s wildlife includes lions, leopards, and cheetahs as well as elephants, giraffes, zebras, buffalo, hippopotamuses, warthogs, and numerous varieties of antelope, such as gazelles, elands, and hartebeests. Chimpanzees, baboons, and monkeys are found in the forests. Birdlife includes ostriches, several kinds of partridge, cranes, storks, pelicans, plovers, weavers, and shrikes. Reptiles include crocodiles and various lizards. Decades of civil war have severely affected some animal populations, such as those of elephants and hippopotamuses. Insect life is abundant. Mosquitoes infest the riverbanks and swamps, and seroot flies (large bloodsucking houseflies) are a scourge during the wet months. The tsetse fly is typically found in or near wooded areas or in areas with streamside vegetation.
South Sudan is home to several national parks and game reserves, including Southern and Badingilo national parks, located in the south. Boma National Park, in the east, is notable for being home to one of the largest mammal migrations in the world.
The people of South Sudan are predominantly Africans who for the most part are Christian or follow traditional African religions. The largest ethnic group is the Dinka, who constitute about two-fifths of the population, followed by the Nuer, who constitute about one-fifth. Other groups include the Zande, the Bari, the Shilluk, and the Anywa (Anwak). There is a small Arab population in South Sudan.
The Dinka are mostly cattle herders and can be found throughout much of the country, while the Shilluk are more-settled farmers and, like the Anywa, are concentrated in the east, although they too can also be found in other parts of South Sudan. The Nuer are concentrated in the centre-northeast of the country, while the Bari live farther south, not far from the border with Uganda. The Zande live in the southwest, close to the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The most important linguistic grouping in South Sudan is that of the Nilotes, who speak various languages of the Eastern Sudanic subbranch of the Nilo-Saharan language family. Chief among the Nilotic peoples are the Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk, Bari, and Anywa. The Zande and many other smaller ethnic groups speak various languages belonging to the Adamawa-Ubangi branch of the Niger-Congo family of languages. Arabic, a Semitic language of the Afro-Asiatic language family, is spoken by the country’s small Arab population and by others.
Under the 2005 interim constitution, both Arabic and English were official working languages, although English had been acknowledged as the principal language in what is now South Sudan since 1972 and was the most common medium for government business. The preference for English was made clear when South Sudan’s 2011 transitional constitution named it the official working language of the country and the language of instruction for all levels of education.
Religion of South Sudan
Christians, primarily Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Presbyterian, account for about three-fifths of South Sudan’s population. Christianity is a result of European missionary efforts that began in the second half of the 19th century. The remainder of the population is a mix of Muslims and those who follow traditional animist religions, the latter outnumbering the former. Although the animists share some common elements of religious belief, each ethnic group has its own indigenous religion. Virtually all of South Sudan’s traditional African religions share the conception of a high spirit or divinity, usually a creator god. There exist two conceptions of the universe: the earthly and the heavenly, or the visible and the invisible. The heavenly world is seen as being populated by spiritual beings whose function is to serve as intermediaries or messengers of God; in the case of the Nilotic peoples, these spirits are identified with their ancestors. The supreme deity is the object of rituals using music and dance.
South Sudan as a whole has a rather low population density, although distribution throughout the country is uneven. The greatest population densities are found along the Nile rivers and their tributaries. About four-fifths of South Sudan’s population is rural. Rural settlements are usually clustered along watercourses because of water supply problems, especially during the dry months. The most common type of housing in rural areas is a round hut known as a tukul. It has a thatched conical roof and is made of mud, grass, millet stalks, and wooden poles.