The East-Central African country of South Sudan gained independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011. Since then, the nation of 13 million people has struggled to maintain governance and control due to violent civil conflict. This struggle has lead to a dire humanitarian crisis and four million South Sudanese facing displacement.
The Nuer are a prominent and second most populous ethnic group in South Sudan, contributing to 16 percent, or two million people, of the total population. Given this status, the Nuer have stood at the center of the civil Sudanese conflict for decades. These 10 facts about the Nuer of South Sudan offer insight into an ethnic group afflicted most by the South Sudanese Civil War.
10 facts about the Nuer of South Sudan
- The Nuer live in South Sudan in rural swamps and open savannas on both sides of the Nile River. They are located approximately 500 miles south of Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. Due to the civil conflict, the Nuer also inhabit United Nations refugee camps in the South Sudanese capital city of Juba.Nuer also seek refuge in neighboring countries like Uganda, which hosts over a million refugees. Approximately 2.5 million South Sudanese are seeking refuge or asylum protections. The majority of these refugees are women and children.
- The Nuer of South Sudan are cattle raising pastoralists. Horticulture is also commonly practiced, but less desirable. With more than 80 percent of the populace living in rural areas, cattle have historically been both a cultural and religious symbol, signifying wealth as well as an economic livelihood for the Nuer. Cattle are particularly important as a part of bridewealth exchanges.
- Since independence, the official language of South Sudan is English, replacing Arabic, but the Nuer traditionally speak the Nuer language. The Nuer language belongs to a subgroup of Nilo-Saharan languages, as a Nilotic language indigenous to the Nile Valley.
- Despite a high infant mortality rate , South Sudan is the world’s youngest country. The infant mortality rate stands at 79 infants per 1,000 live births and the under-five mortality rate is 108 per 1,000 live births. Around 45 percent of the country is between zero and 14 years of age.
- The Nuer of South Sudan form a cluster of autonomous sections and clans. The North had long sought state control of Nuer land, but neglect of social and political developments provoked two civil wars. This eventually led to South Sudan gaining independence from the North after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 and the Independence Referendum in 2011.There is no structured political system for the Nuer, generating significant conflict. However, dominant clans often hold more significance and elders often make decisions.
- In 2013, Vice President Riek Machar, a Nuer, was dismissed by the South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, over accusations of a coup attempt against the president. In addition to past support for the North by the Nuer, this sparked massive violence; President Salva Kiir ordered the deaths of thousands of Nuer in the Juba Massacre of 2013. These actions prompted the ongoing civil war in South Sudan.
- Since the start of the conflict, more than 2.4 million people have been displaced. In the northern part of South Sudan, the United Nations protects civilians in camp Bentiu. Nearly everyone in this camp is Nuer. In February 2017, a group of Dinka soldiers called the Upper Nile State attacked the Bentiu U.N. compound, killing an estimated 300 Nuer civilians.
- Thousands of Nuer have faced rape, sexual exploitation and attacks on women outside of Protection of Civilian (POC) sites. Studies show that 65 percent of women and girls in South Sudan have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. According to UNICEF, these incidents have occurred continuously over the past two and a half years, increasing with the outbreak of violence.
- International nonprofit and government agencies like the Nuer International Relief Agency (NIRA), The Red Cross, UNICEF and the U.N. provide humanitarian relief, health and education for war-affected and displaced Nuer. In the first three months of 2018, the International Committee of the Red Cross provided 1,675 metric tons of food, improved access to water for 267,000 people and helped 16,000 people reach family members separated by the conflict. Additionally, these agencies actively advocated and lobbied for successful peace and reconciliation as of June 2018, as well for the support of international communities in addressing the crisis.
- In May 2018, more than 200 children were released from armed groups in South Sudan. The release was the third this year, totaling to more than 800 child soldiers being freed in 2018. Additional releases are expected in coming months that could result in more than 1,000 children being freed.Despite this success, an estimated 19,000 children continue to serve in armed groups. UNICEF urges for the abolishment of recruitment and for the release of all child soldiers.
These 10 facts about the Nuer of South Sudan show a lot still needs to be done on the ground to address the suffering of Nuer ethnics and all South Sudanese nationals. More than 8 million people are in need of emergency humanitarian assistance in South Sudan. However, on June 28, 2018, warring parties signed a permanent ceasefire in Sudan’s capital city Khartoum, calling for an end to the four-and-a-half year civil war. The agreement, signed by President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and Former Vice-President Riek Machar, a Nuer, represents a significant stride towards peace in South Sudan’s history and resolution of these crises.
– Joseph Ventura