South Sudan

An image of the country's flag.

The Republic of South Sudan is the world’s newest country, covering an approximate area of 619,000 square kilometers, estimated to be one third of the total land area of Sudan. The country became independent on July 9, 2011 after two civil wars with Sudan. The wars, which spanned 50 years, have delayed development of basic infrastructure, human services such as education and health, agricultural investment and agricultural extension. Violent conflict between South Sudan and its northern neighbor over resources and revenues, as well as over cultural and religious differences, formally ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. The CPA established the Government of National Unity (GNU) and the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) and supported wealth and power-sharing arrangements during a six-year interim period for peace building.

During the interim period, a fragile peace persisted even as conflict over access to resources and political control continued in the oil-producing regions straddling the North-South border. Despite constant turmoil and tension, the GoSS was able to maintain a degree of political independence that allowed it to adopt its own constitution (subject to the terms of the national 2005 Interim Constitution) and legislation, including a Land Act enacted in February 2009. In addition, with the support of foreign aid, South Sudan began to establish and develop the institutions necessary to promote economic growth and prosperity.

South Sudan is the most oil-dependent country in the world, with 97% of its revenue coming from oil. The oil reserves lay along the North-South border, and 75% of the reserves of the former country are located in the South. But South Sudan lacks the necessary infrastructure to refine, transport and ship the oil, and depends on the existing infrastructure in the North. The oil-dominated economy makes South Sudan extremely vulnerable to changes in oil prices and oil production levels, and dependent on its relationship with Sudan.

Despite South Sudan’s abundance of oil and other natural resources, its population remains poor, due in large part to the effects of protracted conflict and apparent lack of transparency and accountability to equitably distribute oil resources. The country’s 10 million people comprise over 200 tribal groups with a variety of lifestyles that depend upon crop agriculture, pastoralism and mixed crop and livestock agriculture. Some progress has been made in the interim period to address challenges facing South Sudanese. However, the country continues to respond to numerous obstacles that impede its ability to grow a diverse economy not solely dependent on oil. The GoSS has attempted to create employment opportunities, to support returning IDPs through reestablishing livelihoods and basic necessities, and to maintain a fragile peace not only with Sudan, but also among South Sudan’s diverse ethnic groups, which compete over land, water and other natural resources. The government is committed to addressing current barriers to economic development. Over the short-term, its priorities are to continue: (1) improving governance; (2) achieving rapid rural transformation to improve livelihoods and expanding employment opportunities; (3) improving and expanding education and health services; and (4) deepening peace-building efforts and improving national security.


  • Continued support for maintaining peace between South Sudan and Sudan. As a newly independent country whose development has been stalled, South Sudan’s future stability depends in part on its ability to maintain the fragile peace with Sudan. Despite South Sudan gaining 75% of the region’s oil production after independence, the country remains dependent on Sudan’s export facilities since there is no infrastructure in the South. Disputes over pipeline fees, revenue-sharing and demarcation of the contested oil fields that straddle both countries have led to violence and insecurity in the region, causing South Sudan to shut down its oil production. Although the countries have reached an agreement, tension in the region remains. Donors can assist the GoSS by supporting the adoption and implementation of the recently negotiated agreement that outlines terms for sharing of oil revenue and pipeline fees; demilitarizing the contested oil fields; and demarcating the oil fields that are located on both sides of the border.
  • Continued support for strengthening legal frameworks and governance structures. South Sudan has made significant progress in establishing a comprehensive legal framework for land and natural resources. However, the government needs assistance in addressing chronic gaps and pressure points, establishing necessary governance bodies at all levels, and developing mechanisms for control and enforcement of rights. Donors can assist the government by supporting the enactment of draft policies and bills; clarification of rights to land held by government at all levels, communities and individuals; capacity development of the South Sudan Land Commission to make informed decisions about coordinating natural resource use among public and private entities and communities; and increased transparency of and reduced conflict over the allocation of resources to private sector investors and over the revenues generated by the extraction and use of the natural resources.
  • Support for strengthening customary tenure and women’s access to land. Customary law continues to govern the use of land and other natural resources in South Sudan, with each ethnic group applying its own laws relating to land and land rights within its own territory. However, customary rules are not equitable and restrict women’s access to land and property. The current legislation recognizes the importance of customary institutions as well as their inability to protect women’s access, control and ownership of land. While the legal framework provides a solid foundation, efforts need to be made to clarify roles and responsibilities of the government and customary institutions when rights overlap, and to provide guidance on how to bridge the gap between a customary framework that restricts women’s rights, and the new legal framework that puts women on equal footing with men. Donors can assist the government by: helping to develop a Community Land Act that would establish guiding principles and a legal framework for the governance of community lands by traditional and formal governing institutions; clarifying roles and responsibilities of traditional institutions and the newly mandated local land institutions such as the County Land Authorities and district-level Payam Land Councils over the governance of community lands; ensuring that women participate in the decision-making process and increasing women’s representation within land administration institutions; sensitizing government, customary institutions and communities to the importance of women’s access, control, inheritance and ownership to land; and coordinating implementation efforts to ensure regional coverage, documentation of best practices, and providing comparative knowledge about the process of integrating customary rights into formal law.
  • Support for dispute-resolution mechanisms and forums. Conflicts among competing groups over access to and control over land and water are common in South Sudan, and the decades of war, prevalence of weapons and large numbers of people with combat experience have increased the likelihood of disputes turning violent. Establishment of an effective, integrated, socially legitimate system for the resolution of disputes over land and other natural resources is critical to South Sudan’s future. Donors can assist the government in assessing the actual and potential roles played by traditional authorities on one hand, and formal legal institutions and forums on the other. Donors could further help the GoSS to develop options for creating a system that more fully integrates formal and customary components and supports local governance bodies in their implementation of laws and policies.
  • Support urban development and formalization of urban land rights. Rapid urbanization across South Sudan has outpaced the capacity of government institutions to create and implement master plans and develop policies for upgrading and regularizing informal settlements. Donors can assist the GoSS in: developing appropriate strategies for urban planning and settlement upgrading; identifying resettlement trends and regional needs to accommodate returning IDPs; and providing technical assistance to help draft and implement legislation and programs to regularize informal rights, paying particular attention to vulnerable groups such as IDPs, households affected by HIV/AIDS and households headed by women and children.


South Sudan, with a land area of 619,745 square kilometers, has an abundance of water, forest and mineral resources. The River Nile is the dominant geographic feature in South Sudan, which is also home to Africa’s second-largest wetlands, the Sudd, and the largest intact savanna ecosystem in East Africa. South Sudan’s swamps, floodplains and grasslands contain a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna.

The country is made up of 10 states sparsely populated by roughly 10 million people. An additional two to three million South Sudanese are estimated to live in Sudan or other neighboring countries, or further abroad. There are also an estimated 390,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in South Sudan, informally settled in urban areas or on land provided by host communities. Although many parts of South Sudan remain peaceful, there is often conflict among communities that share resources such as water points, grazing lands and agricultural land. For the majority of South Sudanese, access to land and water is and will continue to be important for livelihood, since over three-quarters of the population relies on farming, pastoralism or a mix of both.

Customary law, specific to each ethnic group, has governed the use of land and other natural resources in the region for centuries. Formal land laws have had little impact on the customary tenure system in South Sudan. However, with the signing of the CPA, the GoSS recognized the need for legislation, policy and formal institutions to ensure that land rights are equitable for all South Sudanese. The CPA mandated the establishment of the South Sudan Land Commission (SSLC), which has begun to develop land policies that reflect customary rules and institutions, per the Interim (2005) and Transitional (2011) constitutions. Three laws – the Land Act (2009), the Local Government Act (2009) and Investment Protection Act (2009) – provide a statutory framework for fair and transparent administration of land rights in South Sudan. The Land Act classifies land as public, community or private and provides that the land is owned by the people, and that the government regulates land use.

In the absence of a clear and enforceable legal and regulatory framework for land transactions, foreign investors have recently acquired large areas of land in South Sudan. The GoSS transferred an estimated 5 million hectares of land – including all 2,280,000 hectares of the Boma National Park – to private companies in long-term leases during the interim period.

Forests and woodlands make up nearly a third of South Sudan’s land area, and 20% of the country’s land is designated as forest reserves. Forest timber and non-timber resources are used for food, timber, firewood and habitat and supply 80% of the county’s energy. In addition, forests provide the country with economic opportunities. South Sudan formally and informally exports a wide range of timber products to international markets; however, the sector is poorly managed, and reliable numbers quantifying exports and economic potential do not exist. Many non-timber forest products such as shea nuts, gum arabic and honey are harvested for local consumption. There is growing international demand for non-timber products, in particular shea nuts and gum arabic. But South Sudanese have not been able to benefit from these natural resources due to insignificant investments by the government to improve the sector.

South Sudan has significant oil and gas reserves as well as deposits of gold, silver, chrome, copper, iron, manganese, asbestos, gypsum, mica, limestone, marble and uranium. Upon independence, South Sudan gained ownership of 75% of Sudan’s oil production since the majority of reserves are located within the boundaries of the South. However, the pipelines, refining and export infrastructure are located in the North, making South Sudan dependent on Sudan to export the oil to market. The CPA outlined the management of the oil and sharing of the revenue during the interim period, but did not address ownership of fields straddling the border. In addition, the CPA included a new revenue-sharing formula and new payment requirements for the use of Sudan’s export infrastructure by South Sudan after South Sudan’s secession. This resulted in a dispute over revenue-sharing and pipeline fees between the two countries, prompting South Sudan to shut down its oil production. In 2012, the countries reached an oil revenue-sharing agreement that should allow oil production to commence.

Published / Updated: May 2013