20 January, 2022

The Humanitarian Collective

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How Oil Corruption Fueled a Civil War in South Sudan

In the history of Sudan, July 9, 2011 was the day that was supposed to end the war and violence that had for decades plagued the entire nation, specifically the south. However, this day prompted quite the opposite. 

For decades, there had been a bloody civil war raging between Sudan and South Sudan––primarily fought on the grounds of Southern independence. For years, the primarily Muslim North has held both economic and political power over the primarily Christian South. A group of elites held almost all of the political power of the country in the North by controlling the oil trade, of which the majority of Sudan’s GDP is accredited to. For 22 years, the South waged war over their right to freedom from the oppressive North, and in 2005, they were given the right to vote for their independence. In 2011, the vote was finally held, and 99% of South Sudanese people voted to secede from Sudan to form a new country–– South Sudan. This vote was seen as a landmark victory for both freedom and liberty in Northern Africa, but also as a major victory for the South Sudanese people as they could finally divorce themselves from the oppressive rule of the North. The first president and vice presidents were chosen for the new nation, and other officials were appointed to major roles within the government. Following decades of turmoil, South Sudan seemed to have finally reached a point of peace and prosperity, yet this hope for a prosperous future would quickly be destroyed.

Although South Sudan is populated by tens of different tribes, all of which have different cultures and ideologies, the two most prominent are those of the Dinka and the Nuer. During the war for independence, all of these tribes banded together against the North, and in a time of great strife, the tribes united under the banner of South Sudan; however, with the end of the war came too, the end of the tribes’ alliances. Soon after the vote for independence, the president and vice president of the country were chosen––the President was a member of the Dinka tribe, Salva Kiir Mayardit, while the Vice President was a member of the Nuer tribe, Riek Machar. At first the two most powerful positions in the country being held by two members of different but powerful tribes appeared to be a blessing, however, this ideal would soon be destroyed as only two years into South Sudan’s independence, Kiir began to grow paranoid of Machar. Kiir believed that Machar and other higher ups within the government were planning to overthrow him in the coming years. Yet this lack of trust between Kiir and Machar was by no means unfounded, for years Machar belittled Kiir and his accomplishments, and publicly disagreed with Kiir on important policies. This growing tension between Kiir and Machar created further tensions between the Nuer and the Dinka tribes themselves. Kiir soon showed greater hostility towards Machar, and in 2013, the tension between Kiir and Machar, as well as the Dinkas and Nuer reached a boiling point, and resulted in a violent conflict for power over the South Sudanese government in the form of yet another civil war.

At the heart of the conflict isn’t the Dinkas or the Nuer, nor is it Kiir or Machar. It is instead the oil that sits beneath the country: South Sudan rests geographically above millions if not billions of gallons of oil. 

The elite of Sudan prior to Southern Independence had used this oil for years to control the economy and politics of Sudan, and now in the hands of South Sudan, the elite of the youngest country in the world did the exact same. Kiir and Machar both seized South Sudan’s oil in order to pay for arms and the war. With the sale of these oil reserves, each side’s militaries have been able to flood the country with new modern arms that help perpetuate the violence. After five years of war and over 383,000 deaths, the war was supposedly over after both sides signed a treaty in 2018 with international assistance. In 2020, peace was to be reached officially, however, arms continue to be rushed into the country, and continue to be bought with money from oil that continues to be under the control of the South Sudanese elite.

The Independence day of South Sudan, July 9, 2011 was intended to be a breath of the future for the South Sudanese people, who for decades had suffered under the rule of the oppressive North. But the first nine years of South Sudan’s existence has only been more of the same violence. The people of South Sudan continue to suffer from oppression, famine, drought, and the griefs of a civil war, all of which is propagated and perpetuated by the wealthy elite who for years have cared solely of the wealth that could be acquired from South Sudan’s oil reserves to fuel further warfare. Humanity has simply been devastated in South Sudan. 

Donate to:

World Vision: https://donate.worldvision.org/give/east-africa-emergency-relief

Save the Children: https://www.savethechildren.org/us/what-we-do/where-we-work/africa/south-sudan

7 things you can do right now: https://www.fastcompany.com/90363335/sudan-massacre-how-to-help-7-things-from-gofundme-to-unicef



Brett Karpf is a Horace Mann student going into his Junior Year. He likes sleeping, squirrels, and birch trees.