South Sudan Is 2019’s Saddest Country in the World

By Teresa Sfeir



On September 12 of last year, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and former Vice President and opposition leader Riek Machar signed yet another peace deal that might amount to nothing, if their disputes remain unresolved before the formation of a new government in May. The country has already witnessed the loss of 400,000 lives, and more than a third of its population has been displaced because of the five-year long civil war.

The peace deal stipulated that the two conflicting parties unify their forces into a national army prior to the formation of a unity government in May 2019. This still has not taken effect. Moreover, the tribal conflict between the Dinka and Nuer tribes is still ongoing. Fighting has continued in the Southern Equatorial region between the army and rebel forces led by Thomas Cirillo, who has refused to sign the peace deal.

South Sudan is the youngest country in the world; it is also the unhappiest, according to the World Happiness Report. The Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations released this report on March 20, the date that the UN has declared as the International Day of Happiness.


The war in South Sudan still does not receive enough global attention at a time when grave human rights violations infest the country. Rape, sexual mutilation and slavery, abductions and killings have become commonplace. People are detained for years and tortured in secret. Children are run down by tanks. Babies are drowned, starved and murdered in atrocious ways.

After years of conflict, the country gained independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011. Independence did not bring the conflict to end, however. In 2013, the Civil War broke out when President Kiir clashed with his then vice president Machar. The latest peace deal was meant to end the five-year civil war in response to increasing global condemnation. However, people are skeptical about its effectiveness, as they have not yet witnessed tangible outcomes.

“We are scared that if there is any misunderstanding again, we the citizens will be the victim,” Joseph Abdullah, a community representative at an IDP camp, told a group of visiting UN officials.

Theological Reflection

And they spoke to him, saying, “If you will be a servant to these people today, and serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever” (1 Kings 12:7 NKJV).

King Rehoboam, son of King Solomon, did not heed the above counsel of the elders. Instead, he answered the people roughly and refused to listen to their needs. He chose authoritarian rule over servant leadership. He placed his own interests above those of the people. He certainly did not relinquish power in order to give way to a wiser leader who might have preserved Israel’s status as light unto the nations. Unlike his father, Rehoboam’s unwise leadership eventually led to the breakup of the kingdom.

In both Northern and Southern kingdoms, hope was repeatedly renewed – yet often quickly lost – with the coming of each new king. While the Southern Kingdom was closer in adherence to God’s statutes, most of its kings, too, failed to walk in the way of the Lord. When kings strayed, they tended to lead the people astray as well.

Missiological Recommendations

Even today, in every election, in every change of leadership, there are promises for a better future and the abandonment of a faulty past. It does not take long, however, before the promise of authentic political change proves insubstantial. What is then the solution to this dilemma? Psalm 146:3-5 sums it up well:

Do not put your trust in princes,

Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.

His spirit departs, he returns to his earth;

In that very day his plans perish.

Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help,

Whose hope is in the Lord his God.

Herein lies the secret in an unconceivably, unbearably horror-filled world: Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help.