Military dictatorships promulgating an Islamic government have mostly run the
country since independence from the UK in 1956. Over the past two decades, a civil
war pitting black Christians and animists in the south against the Arab-Muslims
of the north has cost at least 1.5 million lives in war- and famine-related deaths,
as well as the displacement of millions of others. |
In Sudan’s 1981 census, the population was calculated at 21 million. No comprehensive
census has been carried out since that time due to the resumption of the civil
war in 1983. Current estimates range to 30 million.
The population of metropolitan
Khartoum (including Khartoum, Omdurman, and Khartoum North) is growing rapidly
and ranges from 6-7 million, including around 2 million displaced persons from
the southern war zone as well as western and eastern drought-affected areas.
has two distinct major cultures--Arab and Black African--with hundreds of ethnic
and tribal divisions and language groups, which makes effective collaboration
among them a major problem.
The northern states cover most of the Sudan and
include most of the urban centers. Most of the 22 million Sudanese who live in
this region are Arabic speaking Muslims, though the majority also use a traditional
non-Arabic mother tongue (i.e., Nubian, Beja, Fur, Nuban, Ingessana, etc.)
Among these are several distinct tribal groups; the Kababish of northern
Kordofan, a camel-raising people; the Ja’alin and Shaigiyya groups of settled
tribes along the rivers; the seminomadic Baggara or Kordofan and Darfur; the Hamitic
Beja in the Red Sea area and Nubians of the northern Nile areas, some of whom
have been resettled on the Atbara River; and the Negroid Nuba of southern Kordofan
and Fur in the western reaches of the country.
The southern region has a population
of around 6 million and a predominantly rural, subsistence economy. This region
has been negatively affected by war for all but 10 years of the independence period
(1956), resulting in serious neglect, lack of infrastructure development, and
major destruction and displacement.
More than 2 million people have
died, and more than 4 million are internally displaced or become refugees as a
result of the civil war and war-related impacts. Here the Sudanese practice mainly
indigenous traditional beliefs, although Christian missionaries have converted
some. The south also contains many tribal groups and uses many more languages
than in the north.
The Dinka (pop. est. more than 1 million) is the largest
of the many Black African tribes of the Sudan. Along with the Shilluk and the
Nuer, they are among the Nilotic tribes. The Azande, Bor, and Jo Luo are “Sudanic”
tribes in the west, and the Acholi and Lotuhu live in the extreme south, extending
Sudan was a collection
of small, independent kingdoms and principalities from the beginning of the Christian
era until 1820-21, when Egypt conquered and unified the northern portion of the
country. Historically, the pestilential swamps of the Suud discouraged expansion
into the deeper south of the country.
Although Egypt claimed all of
the present Sudan during most of the 19th century, it was unable to establish
effective control over southern Sudan, which remained an area of fragmented tribes
subject to frequent attacks by slave raiders.
In 1881, a religious leader named
Muhammad ibn Abdalla proclaimed himself the Mahdi, or the “expected one,” and
began a religious crusade to unify the tribes in western and central Sudan. His
followers took on the name “Ansars” (the followers) which they continue to use
today and are associated with the single largest political grouping, the Umma
Party, led by the descendant of the Mahdi, Sadiq al Mahdi.
of conditions resulting from Ottoman-Egyptian exploitation and maladministration,
the Mahdi led a nationalist revolt culminating in the fall of Khartoum in 1885.
The Mahdi died shortly thereafter, but his state survived until overwhelmed by
an Ango-Egyptian force under Lord Kitchener in 1898.
Sudan was proclaimed
a condominium in 1899 under British-Egyptian administration. While maintaining
the appearance of joint administration, the British Empire formulated policies,
and supplied most of the top administrators.
1953, the United Kingdom and Egypt concluded an agreement providing for Sudanese
self-government and self-determination. The transitional period toward independence
began with the inauguration of the first parliament in 1954.
consent of the British and Egyptian Governments, Sudan achieved independence on
January 1, 1956, under a provisional constitution. The United States was among
the first foreign powers to recognize the new state.
However, the Arab-led
Khartoum government reneged on promises to southerners to create a federal system,
which led to a mutiny by southern army officers that sparked 17 years of civil
The National Unionist Party (NUP), under Prime Minister Ismail
al-Azhari, dominated the first cabinet, which was soon replaced by a coalition
of conservative political forces. In 1958, following a period of economic difficulties
and political maneuvering that paralyzed public administration, Chief of Staff
Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Abboud overthrew the parliamentary regime in a bloodless coup.
Gen. Abboud did not carry out his promises to return Sudan to civilian government,
however, and popular resentment against army rule led to a wave of riots and strikes
in late October 1964 that forced the military to relinquish power.
regime was followed by a provisional government until parliament elections in
April 1965 led to a coalition government of the Umma and National Unionist Parties
under Prime Minister Muhammad Ahmad Mahjoub.
Between 1966 and 1969, Sudan
had a series of governments that proved unable either to agree on a permanent
constitution or to cope with problems of factionalism, economic stagnation, and
The succession of early post-independence governments
were dominated by Arab Muslims who viewed Sudan as a Muslim Arab state. Indeed,
the Umma/NUP proposed 1968 constitution was arguable Sudan’s first Islamic-oriented
Dissatisfaction culminated in a second military coup on May 25,
1969. The coup leader, Col. Gaafar Muhammad Nimeiri, became prime minister, and
the new regime abolished parliament and outlawed all political parties.
between Marxist and non-Marxist elements within the ruling military coalition
resulted in a briefly successful coup in July 1971, led by the Sudanese Communist
Party. Several days later, anti-communist military elements restored Nimeiri to
In 1972, the Addis Ababa agreement led to a cessation of the north-south
civil war and a period of cessation of the civil was and a degree of self-rule.
This led to a period of ten years of hiatus in the civil war.
In 1976, the
Ansars mounted a bloody but unsuccessful coup attempt. In July 1977, President
Nimeiri met with Ansar leader Sadiq al-Mahdi, opening the way for reconciliation.
Hundreds of political prisoners were released, and in August a general amnesty
was announced for all opponents of Nimeiri’s government.
In September 1983,
as part of an Islamicization campaign, President Nimeiri announced his decision
to incorporate traditional Islamic punishments drawn from Shari’a (Islamic Law)
into the penal code. This was controversial even among Muslim groups. After questioning
Nimeiri’s credentials to Islamicize Sudan’s society, Ansar leader Sadiq al-Mahdi
was placed under house arrest. On April 26, 1983, President Nimeiri declared a
state of emergency, in part to ensure that Shari’a was applied more broadly.
Most constitutionally guaranteed rights were suspended. In the north, emergency
courts, later known as “decisive justice courts,” were established, with summary
jurisdiction over criminal cases. Amputations for theft and public lashings for
alcohol possession were common during the state of emergency. Southerners and
other non-Muslims living in the north were also subjected to these punishments.
These events, and other longstanding grievances, in part led to a resumption
of the civil war that was held in abeyance since 1972, and the war continues until
In September 1984, President Nimeiri announced the end of the state
of emergency and dismantled the emergency courts but soon promulgated a new judiciary
act, which continued many of the practices of the emergency courts. Despite Nimeiri’s
public assurances that the rights on non-Muslims would be respected, southerners
and other non-Muslims remained deeply suspicious.
Early 1985 saw serious shortages
of fuel and bread in Khartoum, a growing insurgency in the south, drought and
famine, and an increasingly difficult refugee burden. In early April, during Nimeiri’s
absence from the country, massive demonstrations, first triggered by price increases
on bread and other staples, broke out in Khartoum.
On April 6, senior military
officers led by Gen. Suwar al-Dahab mounted a coup. Among the first acts of the
new government was to suspend the 1983 constitution and disband Nimeiri’s Sudan
A 15-member transitional military council was named,
chaired by Gen. Suwar al-Dahab. In consultation with an informal conference of
political parties, unions, and professional organizations known as the “Gathering,”
the council appointed an interim civilian cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Dr.
Al Gizouli Defalla.
Elections were held in April 1986, and a transitional military
council turned over power to a civilian government as promised. The government,
headed by Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi of the Umma Party, consisted of a coalition
of the Umma, DUP (formerly NUP), the National Islamic Front (Hassan al-Turabi’s
NIF) and several southern parties.
This coalition dissolved and reformed
several times over the next few years, with Sadiq al-Mahdi and his Umma party
always in a central role.
During this period, the civil war intensified in
lethality and the economy continued to deteriorate. When prices of basic goods
were increased in 1988, riots ensued, and the price increases were cancelled.
The civil war was particularly divisive (see “Civil Strife” below).
When Sadiq al-Mahdi refused to approve a peace plan reached by the DUP and the
Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) in November 1988, the DUP left the government.
The new government consisted essentially of the Umma and the Islamic fundamentalist
In February 1989, the army presented Sadiq with an ultimatum: he could
move toward peace or be thrown out. He formed a new government with the DUP and
approved the SPLA/DUP agreement. On June 30, 1989, however, military officers
under then-Col. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, with NIF instigation and support, replaced
the government with the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation (RCC),
a junta comprised of 15 (reduced to 12 in 1991) military officers assisted by
a civilian cabinet. General al-Bashir became president and chief of state, prime
minister and chief of the armed forces. Twelve years later, he continues to hold
executive authority over the Khartoum government.
In March 1991, a new penal
code, the Criminal Act of 1991, instituted harsh punishments nationwide, including
amputations and stoning. Although the southern states are “officially” exempt
from these Islamic prohibitions and penalties, the 1991 act provides for a possible
future application of Islamic Law (Shari’a) in the south. In 1993, the government
transferred all Muslim non-Muslim judges from the south to the north, replacing
them with Muslim Judges. The introduction of Public Order Police to enforce Shari’a
law resulted in the arrest and treatment under Shari’a law of southerners and
other non-Muslims living in the north.
In 1955, southern
resentment of northern Muslim Arab domination culminated in a mutiny among southern
troops in Equatoria Province. For the next 17 years, the southern region experienced
civil strife, and various southern leaders agitated for regional autonomy or outright
This chronic state of insurgency against the central government
was suspended in 1972 after the signing of the Addis Ababa Accords granting southern
Sudan wide regional autonomy on internal matters. But a 1983 decree by President
Nimeiri that declared his intention to transform Sudan into a Muslin Arab state,
and divided the south into three regions and instituted Shari’a law, revived southern
opposition and militant insurgency.
After the 1985 coup, the new government
rescinded this decree and made other significant overtures aimed at reconciling
north and south but did nor rescind the so-called September Laws of the Nimeiri
regime instituting Shari’a Law. In May 1986, the Sadiq al-Mahdi government began
peace negotiations with the SPLA, led by Col. John Garang de Mabior.
In that year the SPLA and a number of Sudanese political parties met in Ethiopia
and agreed to the “Koka Dam” declaration, which called for abolishing Islamic
law and convening a constitutional conference. In 1988, the SPLA and the DUP agreed
on a peace plan calling for the abolition of military pacts with Egypt and Libya,
freezing of Islamic law, an end to the state of emergency, and a cease-fire. A
constitutional conference would then be convened.
Following an ultimatum from
the armed forces in February 1989, the Sadiq al-Mahdi government approved this
peace plan and engaged in several rounds of talks with the SPLA. A constitutional
conference was tentatively planned for September 1989. The military government,
which took over on June 30, 1989, however, repudiated the DUP/SPLA agreement and
state it wished to negotiate with the SPLA without preconditions. Negotiating
sessions in August and December 1989 brought little progress.
The SPLA is in
control of large areas of Equatoria, Bahr al Ghazal, and Upper Nile provinces
and also operates in the southern portions of Darfur, Kordofan, and Blue Nile
provinces. The government controls a number of the major southern towns and cities,
including Juba, Wau, and Malakal. An informal cease-fire in May broke down in
October 1989, and fighting has continued since then.
In August 1991, internal
dissention among the rebels led opponents of Colonel Garang’s leadership of the
SPLA to form the so-called Nasir faction of the rebel army. In September 1992,
William Nyuon Bany formed a second rebel faction, and in February 1993, Kerubino
Kwanyin Bol formed a third rebel faction. On April 5, 1993, the three dissident
rebel factions announced a coalition of their groups called SPLA United at a press
conference in Nairobi, Kenya. After 1991, the factions clashed occasionally and
thus, the rebels lost much of their credibility with the West.
the leaders of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya have pursued a peace initiative
for the Sudan under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development
(IGAD), but results have been mixed. Despite that record, the IGAD initiative
promulgated the 1994 Declaration of Principles (DOP) that aimed to identify the
essential elements necessary to a just and comprehensive peace settlement; i.e.,
the relationship between religion and the state, powersharing, wealthsharing,
and the right of self-determination for the south. The Sudanese Government did
not sign the DOP until 1997 after major battle field losses to the SPLA.
1995, a coalition of internal and exiled opposition parties in the north and the
south created the National Democratic Alliance as an anti-government umbrella
group. This development opened a northeastern front to the civil war, making it
more than before a center-periphery rather than simply a north-south conflict.
The SPLA, DUP, and Umma Parties were the key groups forming the NDA, along with
several smaller parties and northern ethnic groups.
Also in 1997, the government
signed a series of agreements with rebel factions, led by former Garang Lieutenant
Riek Machar, under the banner of “Peace from Within.” These included the Khartoum,
Nuba Mountains, and Fashoda agreements that ended military conflict between the
government and significant rebel factions. Many of those leaders then moved to
Khartoum where they assumed marginal roles in the central government, or collaborated
with the government in military engagements against the SPLA. These three agreements
paralleled the terms and conditions of the IGAD agreement, calling for a degree
of autonomy for the south and the right of self-determination.
In July 2000,
the Libyan/Egyptian Joint Initiative on the Sudan was mooted, calling for the
establishment of an interim government, powersharing, constitutional reform, and
new elections. Southern critics objected to the joint initiative because it neglected
to address issues of the relationship between religion and the state and failed
to mention the right of self-determination. It is unclear to what extent this
initiative will have a significant impact on the search for peace, as some critics
view it as more aimed at a resolution among northern political parties and protecting
the perceived security interests of Egypt in favor of the unity of the Sudan.
In September 2001, former Senator John Danforth was designated Presidential
Envoy for Peace in the Sudan. His role is to explore the prospects that the U.S.
could play a useful catalytic role in the search for a just end to the civil war,
and enhance humanitarian services delivery that can help reduce the suffering
of the Sudanese people stemming from war related effects.
The ongoing civil
war has displaced more than 4 million southerners. Some fled into southern cities,
such as Juba; others trekked as far north as Khartoum and even into Ethiopia,
Kenya, Uganda, Egypt, and other neighboring countries. These people were unable
to grow food or earn money to feed themselves, and malnutrition and starvation
became widespread. The lack of investment in the south resulted as well in what
international humanitarian organizations call a “lost generation” who lack educational
opportunities, access to basic health care services, and little prospects for
productive employment in the small and weak economies of the south or the north.
Following an internal outcry, the Sadiq al-Mahdi government in March 1989 agreed
with the UN and donor nations (including the U.S.) on a plan called Operation
Lifeline Sudan (OLS), under which some 100,000 tons of food was moved into both
government and SPLA-held areas of the Sudan, and widespread starvation was averted.
Phase II of OLS to cover 1990 was approved by both the government and the SPLA
in March 1990. In 1991, Sudan faced a 2-year drought and food shortage across
the entire country. The U.S., UN, and other donors attempted to mount a coordinated
international relief effort in both north and south Sudan to prevent a catastrophe.
However, due to Sudan’s human rights abuses and its pro-Iraqi stance during the
Gulf War, many donors cut much of their aid to the Sudan. In a similar drought
in 2000-01, the U.S. and the international community again responded to avert
mass starvation in the Sudan. The U.S. and other donors continue to provide large
amounts of humanitarian aid to all parts of the Sudan.