South Sudan Wrestles with War and Corruption

Hopes ran high for independence, but reality has proven tough.
Geng Petroleum

South Sudan came into being a year ago but remains fragile today: It is rife with violent conflict and corruption, and sorely lacks infrastructure.

In 2005, a peace treaty between Sudan's mostly Muslim North and mostly Christian South put an end to Africa's longest civil war and set in motion a process for the South to become independent. After almost 99 percent of the population voted for separation in January 2011, the leaders of the main Southern rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Army, became the de facto leaders of the new nation. Today, the country is among the worst in health and education rankings globally. And President Salva Kiir recently admitted that the country's leadership stole $4 billion in funds intended for clinics, roads, and schools. 

Ongoing violence makes development tough. Clashes persist between rival tribes in South Sudan—often due to competition for scarce resources—and conflicts rage with the North over oil resources and border disputes. In May, the United Nations Security Council approved a resolution threatening both sides with sanctions if the fighting doesn't cease, and the two states are now discussing a "security road map." But many worry tensions will escalate again and destabilize the region. 

Cédric Gerbehaye, a Belgian documentary photographer, traveled to Sudan on a Magnum Foundation grant in July and August 2010, and returned during the referendum to document a country in transition. "The people were waiting for that historical moment, for that 'final walk to freedom,'" he said. After subsequent trips, he observed, "It was weird to see such hope within the population and then see that things haven't really changed." 

This project was funded in part by the Pulitzer Center.