Understanding the Conflict in South Sudan – Timeline and Fact Sheet

JB Shreve
October 4, 2018 6 mins to read
Reading Time: 5 minutes

The following is a brief overview for understanding the conflict in South Sudan. Scroll down for a look at the South Sudan conflict timeline and South Sudan conflict fact sheet. This post is updated regularly.


South Sudan Conflict Fact Sheet and Timeline

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The conflict in South Sudan is now the greatest humanitarian disaster on the African continent. Famine has already been declared in several parts of the country with an expectation it will spread by the summer months of 2017. The crisis is political, economical, humanitarian, military, ethnic and compounding in its magnitude.

Background and South Sudan Conflict Timeline

  • 1896 The British rule over Sudan but treat the north and south as two different nations. The north is predominantly Muslim, the south Christian. The south is left to itself leading to it falling behind in development but having established relations and sympathies with the Christian west greater than that in the Muslim north.
  • 1956 Sudan becomes an independent state but conflict between the north and south is immediately apparent. Violence and civil wars continue almost unabated all the way to 2005.
  • 1988 Famine hits Sudan resulting directly in the death of 250,00 citizens. Warring factions used food and famine as a weapon of war.
  • 1989 Omar al-Bashir assumes leadership of Sudan through a coup. He increases the repression over the south with already established means of violence including massacre, enslavement and mass rape.

understanding south sudan conflict

  • 1997 President Clinton imposes a comprehensive trade embargo and blocks the assets of the Sudanese government in response to the nation’s support of terrorism. Osama bin Laden had lived in the nation’s capital as a guest of the government in the mid 90s.
  • 2003 Rebels in Darfur stage an uprising. Sudanese military forces and militia allies responded by killing tens of thousands. This results in charges of genocide at the International Criminal Court against Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
  • 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed by both sides of the conflict ending the civil wars between north and south. Conflicts in the Darfur region continue.
  • 2006 The Darfur Peace Agreements fail.
  • 2008 A joint UN and African Union peacekeeping mission is deployed to Darfur.
  • 2009 International Criminal Court indicts Sudan President Bashir of war crimes and crimes against humanity with three counts of genocide later added.
  • 2011 South Sudan formally secedes from Sudan after decades of fighting a series of civil wars that killed over 2.5 million people. This event effectively makes South Sudan one of the youngest nations in the world today, while also one of the least developed nations.
understanding south sudan conflict
President Salva Kiir
  • December 2013 fighting breaks out in South Sudan between rival militias supporting President Salva Kiir and recently dismissed Vice President Riek Machar. The President accused the Vice President of an attempted a coup. This has accusation has not been confirmed and is doubted by many. The fighting quickly falls into the lines of an ethnic conflict.
  • August 2015 peace agreements signed between the two sides quickly fall apart and fighting resumes.
  • November 2015 the African Union issues a report documenting rapes, massacres, and deteriorating humanitarian situation.
  • August 2016 the United Nations documents ethnic killing, government sponsored mass rapes including children. Three million people have fled their homes. More than 17,000 children have been recruited to fight.

understanding south sudan conflict, south sudan conflict timeline, south sudan conflict fact sheet

  • October 2016 a UN panel of experts sends the Security Council a report noting that the conflict in South Sudan is being fueled by arms deals from Israel and Bulgaria.
  • December 2016 the United Nations Security Council rejects a call for arms embargo and targeted sanctions on South Sudan.
  • January 2017 the US agrees to lift its 20 year policy of sanctions on Sudan in an effort to get better access for aid to the people of South Sudan. The new policy will be reviewed at 6 months in June of 2017
  • February 2017 the United Nations declares that 5.5 million people (almost half the population) of South Sudan will need food aid by July. This includes 1.1 million malnourished children.
  • May 2017 the United Nations reports that 1 million children have now fled South Sudan. Another 1 million children are displaced within the country. One in five children are now displaced in South Sudan and it is becoming the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.
  • September 2018 new peace agreements were signed by all parties to the conflict at a ceremony in Ethiopia. Because these agreements do not address many of the root issues and problems, little hope has been generated from these to produce last changes in the conflict.



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South Sudan Conflict Fact Sheet – High Priorities

  • In South Sudan famine is spreading. The economy is bankrupt. Inflation is in the triple digits. War crimes and crimes against humanity are a regular feature.
  • Over the past three years more than 3 million South Sudanese have been displaced.
  • In many of the areas hardest hit by famine NGOs and aid organizations have withdrawn due to consistent raids and attacks from militant groups.
  • Sudan, Iran and Syria remain on the US government’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.
  • The fighting and conflict in South Sudan is further complicated by the increasing number of rebel groups who would all need to be included in any lasting peace agreements.
  • Reports of war crimes in South Sudan continue including enslavement, mass rape and forced cannibalism.
  • It is a very dangerous environment for aid workers. More than 113 international aid workers have been killed in the South Sudan conflict.
  • A new report from September 2018 places the death count in South Sudan conflict now at more than 383,000 since 2013.



Recommended Reading & Listens


South Sudan Cannot Be Allowed to Collapse (New York Times)

In South Sudan, Mass Killings, Rapes and the Limits of US Policy (New York Times)

How the UN Security Council is Perpetuating South Sudan’s Conflict (Newsweek)

Mass Rape, a Weapon of War, Traumatizes South Sudan (New York Times)

1 Million Children Refugees in South Sudan’s Civil War (Washington Post)

Understanding South Sudan’s Political Crisis (The Wire)

Sudan Conflict Profile (Insight on Conflict)

How Rape is Used as a Weapon in South Sudan’s War (PBS News Hour Podcast)

Millions on the Brink of Starvation in South Sudan (PBS News Hour Podcast)


If this South Sudan conflict timeline and fact sheet has been helpful, you might also enjoy some of my more in depth guides and explainers on various global issues. You can subscribe to the blog/feed below to be kept aware whenever new fact sheets, explainers and timelines are added to this web site.


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