Southern Sudan Independence
Country Profile: Southern Sudan
A look at the politics, economy and foreign relations of the newest state in Africa.
Last Modified: 02 Jul 2011 18:07

Southern Sudan is set to break away from Sudan on July 9 and become Africa's youngest nation.

Independence follows a referendum in January, in which nearly 99 per cent of South Sudanese voted in favor of secession. The referendum, in turn, was the result of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the deal which ended decades of civil war between the two sides.

The new country will comprise 10 of Sudan's 25 states from the regions of Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile. Several "disputed regions" on the border between north and south Sudan, including Abyei, are supposed to hold referendums later this year to determine whether they will remain in Sudan or become part of Southern Sudan.

Southern Sudan will face a number of challenges shortly after independence. Its economy is dominated almost entirely by the oil sector; poverty is widespread, and most of the country lacks infrastructure. The political system is dominated by one party, and much of government revenue is devoted to paying salaries for an army which the United Nations says is twice the size it needs to be.


Southern Sudan has been an autonomous region with its own government since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005.

The new country is in principle a democracy, with a president, a unicameral legislature and an independent judiciary.

In reality, its politics have been entirely dominated by the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the political wing of the rebel group which fought a decades-long civil war against the north. John Garang, the former head of the SPLM, served as Southern Sudan's first president until he was killed in a helicopter crash in July 2005.

The current president, Salva Kiir, took over after Garang's death; he was re-elected with 93 per cent of the vote in 2010.

Parliamentary elections in April 2010 were marred by widespread reports of intimidation and fraud, and left the SPLM with a sizable majority in the 170-seat legislature.

The SPLM's domination of southern politics was actually mandated by the CPA, which required that 70 per cent of seats in the legislature be allocated to the party. It also gave the SPLM wide control over state-level governments. Other opposition parties are extremely weak.

The party has benefitted from this arrangement internationally, where it is often treated as indistinguishable from the southern government as a whole.

"Southern opposition parties argue that there is little or no distinction between [government of Southern Sudan] and SPLM finances," the International Crisis Group wrote in a May report, "and that monetary support from abroad to both the party and the government has served to solidify the strangehold of this 'darling of the West.'"


Southern Sudan's economy, shattered after decades of war, is dominated almost entirely by the oil industry.

Juba produces more than three-quarters of Sudan's 500,000 barrels per day of oil. 98 per cent of government revenue comes from the petroleum sector. But the south does not have the infrastructure to refine the oil, or to ship it to international markets; both of those functions are performed at ports in the north.

Both sides, then, are trying to negotiate their share of post-independence oil revenues. South Sudanese leaders have promised in the past that their government will keep 100 per cent of revenue, but the south's reliance on the north makes that impossible. Omar al-Bashir, the president of Sudan, has promised to shut off oil pipelines through the north if the south refuses to pay.

Southern Sudan will almost certainly receive a greater share of revenues after independence, but the exact details of an agreement with Khartoum are still being discussed.

Outside the oil industry, most people in Southern Sudan are employed either by the government - particularly the security forces - or in the agricultural sector. The region's exports are limited, owing in part to the lack of infrastructure: Southern Sudan has just 60 kilometres of paved roads, and electricity is provided only intermittently by generators.

Trade in Southern Sudan has typically been with its neighbours in East Africa, rather than with the north.

Much of Juba's government revenue goes to maintaining the military; southern officials estimate that between 150,000 and 200,000 people - in a region of 20 million - are on the army's payroll. The United Nations has urged southern officials to halve the army after independence.

Foreign Relations

Sudan has already promised to open an embassy in Juba after independence, as has Egypt. Kenya and Uganda, two of Southern Sudan's neighbours to the south, have also decided to recognise the new country; so has the African Union.

At least three countries - Eritrea, Iran and Libya - have said they will not recognise the new state.

Even before independence, Southern Sudan had offices in several countries; missions in Washington, Nairobi and Addis Ababa issued "travel permits" which could be used to enter Juba without a Sudanese visa.

Dozens of new embassies will open in the weeks following July 9. The southern government seems to change the exact number, and the list of countries, each week, but the new country will have representation in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and several other European states.

Juba will also open a mission in the United Arab Emirates, a country which it hopes will become a source of investment dollars in the future.

One area to watch will be Southern Sudan's relationship with China, currently the largest oilfield operator in the country. China has pledged to maintain friendly ties with the north - al-Bashir visited Beijing in late June - but several high-ranking Southern Sudan officials have also visited China in recent months.

Al Jazeera
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