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South Sudan: oil-rich but impoverishedPublish Date: Jan 03, 2014
South Sudan: oil-rich but impoverished
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A November 6, 2009 aerial view of the southern Sudanese town of Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile state. PHOTO/AFP

JUBA - Oil-producing South Sudan, the world's newest nation, gained independence from Sudan in July 2011 after more than 20 years of civil war.

But the country has been wracked by almost three weeks of fighting between government forces and those loyal to former vice-president Riek Machar. The violence is feared to have killed thousands of people and displaced some 200,000 others.

Population and geography

The landlocked country in northeastern Africa is populated by 10.8 million people scattered over an area about the size of France.

It shares borders with volatile countries such as the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Half the population is under 18 and almost three-quarters under the age of 30.

Ethnic groups

There are more than 200 ethnic groups. Among the largest groups are the Dinka, Nuer and Shilluk. President Salva Kiir is from the biggest tribe, the Dinka.

Domestic politics

Political rivalry between Kiir and former deputy Machar, a Nuer, goes back decades. In July, Kiir fired Machar and dissolved the cabinet.

Opposition parties are only a tiny minority in a parliament controlled by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).

Security troubles

South Sudan is awash with weapons and armed groups, some historically allied to Juba and others former proxies for the government of Sudan.

A group of South Sudanese soldiers gather near a truck as they patrol the streets of Juba. PHOTO/AFP

The ongoing conflict has led to the deaths of hundreds of people and many have been left injured. PHOTO/AFP

South Sudan president Salva Kiir and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni meet in Juba. PHOTO/AFP

Oil dependent economy

Despite its oil wealth, which accounted for about 80 percent of 2012 gross domestic product (GDP), South Sudan is one of the continent's least developed countries.

Potentially exploitable resources include timber, iron ore, copper, zinc, tungsten, silver and gold.

But GDP amounted to just $10.22 billion in 2012 according to the World Bank, down 47.6 percent on the year before.

Soaring inflation was expected to fall to 17 percent at the end of 2012, and 50.6 percent of the population lives in poverty, bank data showed.

The landlocked South holds the bulk of former Sudan's oil but it relies on Khartoum to get crude to the Red Sea for export, and output has been disrupted several times.

Most South Sudanese eke out a livelihood from subsistence farming or herding livestock. Only 27 percent of those above the age of 15 are literate.

Tensions with Sudan

In addition to oil revenue sharing, border-related disputes have poisoned relations between Juba and Khartoum.

One row concerns the border enclave of Abyei, which is claimed by both sides.

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