Educate a Community: South Sudan History

October 17, 2013 by Diana Coombs


We drove out to an open field to see a war plane. I honestly didn’t know why we were doing that or what to expect. The car was parked on the dirt road and all of us climbed out. I followed our Sudanese friends through the dry field and started to recognize remnants of a plane in the distance. The colors it was painted camouflaged itself in the tall dry grass. When we got to the plane, we all began to examine it, climb on it and talk about it.

How did it get here?

I was told it was a plane sent from northern Sudan to perform air raids on the villages in southern Sudan. It was an Antonov plane, which I learned through research, was supplied by Russia to the Sudanese government. This particular plane was shot down by the local villagers during the civil war. Where it fell to the ground wasn’t very far from the village where ELI has built a school and training center.

walking on plane

We climbed on top of the wings of the plane and took pictures. Should I smile in the photos? Should I look solemn? I took my cues from my Sudanese friends and smiled. Maybe for them it was a reminder that a small village is more powerful than it seems, to be able to bring down a strong plane like this one. Maybe it was a trophy to them, showing off their efforts.

I began to silently ask a bunch of questions. Why was there a war plane attacking the villages in this region? What would cause such an act of destruction on so many civilians? I’ve heard of this 20 plus year war that happened in Sudan, but what caused it? And why did ELI choose this village and community to build a school and training center?

Like many African countries, in the 1800s expeditions from Europe began to pour into these “new” and exotic lands. Belgium, France and the United Kingdom all tried to gain ground in the lands of Sudan, as they tried in Congo and other West African countries. In 1946 the British tried to set up Sudan to become self-governed, however, in the process they gave the majority power to Sudanese in the north (who were mostly ruled by Islamic laws); the southern Sudanese felt betrayed as they were more Christianized. It wasn’t until 1956 that Sudan’s independence was recognized, however, power was not shared between the northern and southern people groups. This sparked a civil war that lasted 17 years. Hundreds of northern Sudanese in bureaucratic, teaching and other official positions were massacred if they were found in the south.

By 1972, after several coups trying to overthrow the current government, an agreement was signed by the north and south to self-rule their respective lands. This stopped the civil war for 10 years. In 1983 the president of Sudan at the time, declared the country as an Islamic state. Fed up with how the government was being run and how the people in the south were being treated, John Garang founded the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). He and his army fought with the north for 22 years (1983-2005) which became the longest civil war in Africa. Four million southern Sudanese sought refuge in neighboring countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Chad and Egypt. Families left their homes because of the threat of bombings, raids and starvation. Food sources were cut off and people died of malnutrition. Healthcare was inaccessible and schools were shut down. Life came to a halt for the people as the future looked more like death.

In 2004, “Darfur” became a well-known name across the world. Groups in this region of western Sudan accused the government of committing ethnic cleansing. Janjaweed, government supported Arab militias, killed and displaced hundreds of thousands of people if they were not Arab. Many of the Sudanese fled to Chad. Thousands died in combat or of starvation. A coalition of African countries (African Union), tried to bring peace in this region but the war pressed on until 2010 when a ceasefire agreement ended the conflict in Darfur. Many lives were lost in a war that most of the world did not even recognize until 2004 even though it began in 2003.

Southern Sudan rebels and the government signed in 2005 a peace treaty agreeing to six years of autonomy. After those six years the south would be able to decide by election whether to secede from the north. Income from oil would be split evenly and Islamic law would remain in the north. Despite this peace treaty, conflict still ensued in Darfur until 2010.

South Sudan Flag

In 2011, after the 2005 peace treaty came to an end, southern Sudan voted whether to become an independent country from northern Sudan and the vote was 98.8% in favor of seceding. The people were desperate for independence from the north. Sudanese people in the south were ecstatic with the results and in July 2011 South Sudan became its own country. Even though South Sudan became independent, lack of infrastructure, internal conflicts and continual fighting with the north still ensue to this day.

Tribal conflicts within South Sudan keep the country from moving forward. The SPLA have killed people, destroyed villages, raped women and children and have even tortured small children in attempts to disarm rebellions among tribal groups. An example is the Murle, a pastoral tribe that practices a mix of animism and Christianity. The tribal groups depend on cattle as their source of income and as a status of wealth.

man with cattle

Cattle also play a significant role in marriage as they are used to purchase brides. Because there is such a value placed on cattle, they resort to stealing cattle from other tribal groups. The Murle resort to stealing because they have been denied access to water resources that other tribes have access to, preventing them from watering their cattle or growing food. With limited resources to care for their precious commodities, they resort to stealing. Since the Murle are known for practicing “strong magic,” they have been blamed for outbreaks of disease which makes them a target for eradication from other tribes. Also, since the South Sudan government is largely dominated by the Dinka and Nuer tribes, the Murle are often overlooked and blamed. If tribal conflicts like this are not addressed, civil war will continue to threaten this newly formed country.

Outside influences also threaten development. Shortly after South Sudan became independent, military attacks ensued between northern Sudan and South Sudan. These attacks were largely centered on claims to oil. A large amount of oil is in the south but the north controls the larger refineries. In September 2012 Sudan President Omar al-Bashir and South Sudan President Salva Kir signed agreements to set boundaries for oil exporting, however, there are still many unresolved issues.

As I learn more about Sudan and its history, my heart grieves for the children and families who are caught in the crossfire. Hundreds of thousands of people have suffered for the actions of greedy, power- hungry and irreconcilable parties. The good news is that these families are not forgotten. Slowly, people have been returning back to their villages. Our director of ELI South Sudan has returned to his village to restore the community. Since 2005, ELI has built a school where, for the first time in over 20 years, children are being educated. Families are learning life skills like how to grow their own food and take care of animals. Life is being rebuilt again. ELI is showing the children and their families that God sees them and cares about them. We hope and pray that the generations of children that are being supported through ELI’s school will become the future leaders of South Sudan and help to restore peace within the country.


Want to be a part of raising up South Sudan’s future leaders? Support our school and educate the entire community!


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Categories: Education Sudan Vulnerable Children