In January 2005, agreements signed in Kenya put an end to a conflict in Sudan that had lasted for more than 20 years. The Sudanese government and the rebels, whose leader John Garang would die some months later, now had a power-sharing deal, allowing the south six years’ of self-rule.
The war left more than two million people dead. Some four million civilians were displaced. Food production plummeted then famine struck in 1998.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Army had fought from the outset largely with US support.
It was a second civil war. The first had followed the 1956 independence from British rule, and lasted for 17 years. This was when the confrontation between the mostly Muslim north and the largely Christian or animist south began to build. The promises of the central government in Khartoum were placed in doubt.
In all 50 years of wretched tumult was brought to an end with the partition agreement. A referendum was held in January this year. More than 98% of the votes favoured independence.
This paved the way for a new country’s birth, whose 8.5 million people represent nearly a quarter of the former Sudan’s population.
It starts in shreds and ruin, with more than four out of five southerners illiterate. But the south has the resources to change.
The two Sudans have reserves of 6.7 billion barrels of oil. Three quarters of production comes out of the south. This represents all except two percent of its income. Independence means a 37 percent drop in revenue for the north. This remains highly contentious.
The north is in economic turmoil as it is, and its president Omar al-Bashir is accused by the UN criminal court of genocide.
In the south, ex-rebel Salva Kiir, who succeeded John Garang in 2005, was elected as the south’s first prime minister, with more than 90 percent of the vote last year. The last time Sudan had multiparty elections was 1986.