Major Papers


Malou Dhal


In his book Power Sharing and International Mediation in Ethnic Conflicts, Timothy Sisk has argued that “What is most important is not whether ethnic group identity is innate and fixed or contrived and manipulable; it is that members of an ethnic group perceive the ethnic group to be real. Perceptions are critical in understanding the extent to which intergroup relations can be peaceful or violent” (Timothy Sisk, 1996, p. 13). In South Sudan, "Identity Groups" are not only perceived to be real, they are real, and as such serve as the basis ethnic differentiation. Before the separation and independence of South Sudan in 2011, Sudan was inhabited by over five hundred distinct ethnic groups; South Sudan seceded with sixty-four of these ethnic groups. Importantly, each of these groups had unique cultures, traditions and religious beliefs that shaped their identities. This multi-ethnic and multi-communal setting created an environment conducive to social conflict, in that it set the stage for the absence of a unified Sudanese identity. The result was "protracted civil conflict" (Azar, 1990), resulting in decades of political instability and civil wars. First, there were two post (1956) independence civil wars with the North, and second, following its independence in 2011, a civil war broke out within South Sudan. The net result is that since independence in 1956, these civil wars totalled thirty-nine years of conflict that killed over three million and three hundred thousand people on both sides, mostly from South Sudan – totals not to be envied. This paper initially seeks to trace the origins of identity groups in Sudanese/South Sudanese history, both before and after the Turko-Egyptian and Anglo-Egyptian condominium eras beginning in 1821 and lasting until 1956. Further, it will trace the continuing impact of colonial and independent Sudanese government policies on creating "isolated identities" as the "root causes" of the protracted social conflict seen in Sudan following independence in 1956. Finally, through the author's first-hand experience growing up in South Sudan, the paper explores how these identity groups have been perpetuated into the present through an examination of the socialization process. In conclusion, the paper will document how a lack of a common shared identity created dysfunction in South Sudan's Transition Government, resulting in instability, insecurity and widespread human suffering.

Primary Advisor

Dr. Walter Soderlund

Program Reader

Dr. Tom Najem

Degree Name

Master of Arts


Political Science

Document Type

Major Research Paper

Convocation Year