Sudan is a country located in Northern Africa. With the capital city of Khartoum, Sudan has a population of 43,849,271 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. Since Sudan gained independence from British colonial power in 1956, the country was governed mainly by a Muslim, Arab central government in the north. Tensions between the regime and black Christian groups in the south led to civil war in two stages: 1955–1972 and 1983–2005. The war caused great suffering to the civilian population – up to 2.5 million dead and over four million in flight – before dividing the country into Sudan and South Sudan in 2011.
At the time of independence, a civil war was raging in the south and the country’s economy was in crisis due to falling cotton prices. Weak governments succeeded each other and in 1958 a military junta took power. The military’s corruption and unwillingness to end the war led to a popular revolt in 1964, and a communist-led major strike drove the junta away. The following five years were marked by the fragmentation of the civil parties. All attempts to make peace with the guerrilla Anya Nya (Snake poison) in southern Sudan failed, and the economy eroded.
- ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Sudan. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
In 1969, militants, led by Colonel Gaafar al-Numeiri, seized power in a communist-backed coup. Al-Numeiri used the support of the left to fight Islamists and large landowners. Thousands of Mahdists (see Ancient History) were killed in a massacre in 1970 and their leader Sadiq al-Mahdi was exiled. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Sudan.
In the ruling revolutionary council, however, there was a divide between al-Numeiri’s Arab-nationalist group and a leftist party. Numeiri began to persecute and imprison leading Communists. In 1971, al-Numeiri was deposed in a Communist-controlled military coup but managed to regain power after a few days. Later that year he was elected president. The Revolutionary Council was dissolved and al-Numeiri’s party the Sudanese Socialist Union became the only one allowed.
Politically strengthened, al-Numeiri ended the war in the south, which demanded approximately 400,000 lives. In 1972, a peace agreement was signed with the guerrillas, and the South was promised self-government in a number of areas.
Communists are replaced by Islamists
Exiled leaders returned to government posts and high government services as al-Numeiri’s policies began to turn right. However, the economy deteriorated drastically, partly because Sudan received a million refugees from the civil wars in Ethiopia, Uganda and Chad. Price increases triggered riots in 1979, giving al-Numeiri a pretext to finally crush the Communists. After the recent election to Parliament, Islamists were taken into the government.
The government’s relationship with the south deteriorated again. One reason was the strong resistance in the south to the Jonglei Canal (see Agriculture and Fisheries), which al-Numeiri began to build through the Suds in collaboration with Egypt. When al-Numeiri introduced Islamic sharia laws in 1983, South Sudanese took up arms again. They did not trust the regime’s promises that Sharia would only apply to Muslims. A Christian Dinka, John Garang, formed the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) with the military branch SPLA. Civil war broke out again after eleven years’ hiatus.
Even in the north, dissatisfaction with the regime grew due to deteriorating living conditions and Sharia. Claims broke out when al-Numeiri in 1985 abolished subsidies on basic commodities and gasoline. In a coup, a group of militants deposed al-Numeiri and dissolved his party. The Military Council toned down the application of Sharia and offered the South some self-government. However, the SPLM / SPLA demanded immediate transition to civilian rule and that the Sharia should be completely abolished. After a brief truce, the war continued.
During Numeiri’s time in power, the national debt had become unmanageable. In 1986, the IMF stopped all new loans to Sudan. Following parliamentary elections that same year, three years of unstable coalition governments, led by the Umma Party with Sadiq al-Mahdi as prime minister, followed.
Al-Bashir military coup to power
In June 1989, a group of militants seized power under the leadership of Colonel Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir. The coup took place just a day before the government voted to repeal Sharia law and hold a peace meeting with SPLM.
The military government dissolved Parliament, parties and unions, and the Provisional Constitution of 1985 was repealed. The National Islamic Front, later renamed the National Congress Party (NCP), became the only allowed party. Al-Bashir became head of state and government. The courts were ordered to re-apply sharia except for southern Sudan. In 1993, the ruling junta was replaced by a civil-military government and al-Bashir formally assumed the title of president.
Many opposition politicians were exiled during the 1990s. In 1996, presidential and parliamentary elections were held, boycotted by the opposition. Al-Bashir was elected president for a five-year term, but his role became almost symbolic. Hassan al-Turabi, NCP Secretary-General and Sudan’s real ruler at this time, became President of Parliament. He was about to further strengthen his position when al-Bashir, as a countermeasure, introduced a state of emergency and dissolved Parliament in December 1999.
In January 2000, al-Bashir assumed the post of chairman of the NCP. Al-Turabi was excluded and formed a new party, the National People’s Congress (PNC or PCP).
Al-Bashir’s victory in the power struggle with al-Turabi led to an ideological course change. The emphasis was shifted from Muslim fundamentalism to Arab nationalism. Al-Bashir won the presidential election in 2000, but the election was boycotted by the opposition and was widely considered manipulated. In the parliamentary elections that year, Bashir faithful members won 355 of the 360 seats. All Turabi supporters were elected and al-Turabi imprisoned but released in 2003. South Sudan did not participate in the elections and again boycotted the entire opposition boycott.
Rebellion in Darfur, peace agreement in the south
In 2003, most of the fighting between the government in the capital Khartoum and the SPLM / SPLA guerrillas in the south ended. Large oil discoveries had then given both sides financial reasons to try to end the conflict. Northern Sudan wanted to put a stop to the sabotage of the newly built oil industry, southern Sudan wanted to share in oil revenues. The neighboring countries were also keen to see an end to the conflict, which caused large streams of refugees across borders.
While the situation stabilized in the south, a new uprising broke out in Darfur in western Sudan (read on in Conflicts in Sudan).
In 2004, there were also at least two alleged coup attempts. An unknown number of opposition politicians and military commanders were arrested, among them Hassan al-Turabi, who was now accused of supporting the JEM rebel movement in Darfur. Al-Turabi was released again in the summer of 2005.
In January 2005, after many trips, al-Bashir’s government and SPLM / SPLA signed a peace agreement between northern and southern Sudan. As a result, Africa’s most protracted war was over.
Since the war began in 1983, according to some sources, over two million people had died as a result of the fighting or hardship that the war led to. Over four million had fled. Both sides had recruited child soldiers, assaulted civilians, deployed land mines and used starvation as a weapon by stopping foreign aid missions.
Under the peace agreement, Sudan would be a federation between the northern and southern parts during a six-year transition period. Towards the end of this period, South Sudanese residents would decide in a referendum whether they would remain in the federation or form an independent state after the transition period.
Peace process with obstacles
In August 2005, Sudan’s new federal parliament met. The federal unification government became clear in September. Politicians from the north took care of the most important items, with the exception of the Foreign Minister post which went to the SPLM. In the fall, the South Sudanese in Juba formed their own, state government and adopted their own constitution.
In July 2005, SPLM’s founder, John Garang, died in an air crash. Garang had just been appointed first vice president in Sudan just before. He had advocated self-government for the south, within a federation with northern Sudan, and his death gave greater leeway to those who wanted southern Sudan to become fully independent. Salva Kiir Mayardit succeeded Garang as leader of the SPLM, President of Southern Sudan and First Vice President of Sudan.
Soon there were difficulties in implementing the agreement. Two years after signing, no federal military force had been formed. Khartoum accused the south side of withdrawing from the joint work. A conflict over the Abyei border district remained unsolved. It was also disputed how the crisis in Darfur would be handled.
The south side accused Khartoum of delaying the census that would precede the planned general elections and of not dragging its soldiers out of the south. For a short time, the SPLM boycotted the federal unification government.
In 2008, with great difficulty, the census was carried out throughout the country, which would form the basis for a future distribution of resources between north and south. When the figures were reported, the leaders of the southern regime accused them of wanting to make the South Sudanese appear fewer than they were (compare Population and Language). A series of outbreaks of violence in southern Sudan sparked unrest. The general elections that were to be carried out before the southern referendum on independence were postponed several times.
Contested and complicated choices
In April 2010, the United Nations described the events as one of the most complicated events ever, and the preparations were not the best. The press was censored, the parties did not run any public campaigns, and the media did not inform the public about the elections. The US-based human rights organization Human Rights Watch described harassment, demonstration bans and other human rights violations that authorities have committed in both northern and southern Sudan.
In large areas of Darfur, no elections would be conducted, and hundreds of thousands of refugees in Darfur had not even been registered as voters.
After problems with delays, hassles with voting lengths and reports of cheating and harassment, the elections ranged from three to five days. After nearly two weeks of voting, it was announced that President al-Bashir had been re-elected with just over 68 percent of the vote. SPLM’s candidate Yasir Arman, a secular Muslim who led the party’s northern branch, got about 22 percent despite withdrawing his candidacy after suspicions of planned cheating.
At the same time, elections were held by a president in southern Sudan, where Salva Kiir received 93 percent of the vote. Former Foreign Minister Lam Akol, who broke with the SPLM and formed a new party, gained 7 percent.
Parallel to the presidential elections, elections were also held for the federal parliament and southern Sudan’s regional parliament as well as governor elections throughout the country. In the north, NCP’s dominance was total and in the south almost all places went to SPLM. In the new federal government, NCP received 24 ministerial posts and SPLM 8. Three smaller parties were appointed each minister.
The border crossing through the district of Abyei, one of the issues of the possible division of the country, had been referred to the Permanent Arbitration Court in The Hague, and both sides had said they would respect the ruling. The court’s opinion came in July 2009 and provided, among other things, the most important oil field in the area to northern Sudan. Disagreement continued, and in July 2010 al-Bashir said that the entire border demarcation must be resolved before the referendum in the south.
The land is divided
While the preparations for the referendum continued at a slow pace, the number of armed paratroopers in the border area increased and the military exchanged mutual accusations of attacks.
Despite a number of problems, the referendum in the south could be carried out for a week in January 2011. Mostly everything went smoothly, but in Abyei, unrest was reported to have required at least 30 lives. The planned separate referendum on Abyei’s future status had already forced the parties to postpone early.
More than 80 percent of voters participated in the election and almost 99 percent voted in favor of independence. President al-Bashir declared that he accepted the election results, but in Northern Sudan, the disappointment was great that the country would be divided. There was also dissatisfaction with high living costs and limited political freedoms. Inspired by the rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt, residents of Khartoum and other big cities tried to demonstrate with demands for the regime’s departure, but protests were turned down by riot police. Several universities were closed and several people were arrested.
After a period of unrest in the south, in May 2011, the north side army entered Abyei and expelled the south side, and a few weeks later fierce fighting broke out in the neighboring state of South Kurdufan as well. New streams of refugees arose, and unrest was great for a new large-scale conflict when only weeks remained for the intended partition of Sudan. In early July, just days before South Sudan’s Declaration of Independence, the two governments agreed to put Abyei and other unresolved issues of conflict on ice for the time being and continue negotiations after the new state’s creation.
President al-Bashir participated in the celebration when in July 2011 South Sudan declared itself independent in the new capital Juba. Despite previous threats, Sudan was one of the first states to recognize South Sudan diplomatically.
Economic downturn and social unrest
A few days after South Sudan’s independence, the Khartoum Parliament passed a law that deprived South Sudanese residents of the north of their Sudanese citizenship. Earlier, South Sudanese public sector employees in the north had been laid off. The South Sudanese, which numbered between half a million and one million people, were given a nine-month deadline to obtain a residence permit or leave the country.
The government also implemented a comprehensive economic crisis package to try to compensate for the large loss of income caused by the split when many oil sources went to South Sudan. The Finance Minister estimated that the state’s revenue would shrink by 36 percent. Government spending would thus be reduced and tax collection improved. A new currency, the new Sudanese pound, was introduced in an attempt to curb rising inflation.
In 2012, al-Bashir was shaken by regime-critical demonstrations, but at the end of the year protests erupted after a series of opposition leaders were arrested. However, dissatisfaction with the regime increased as the country’s economy deteriorated. When new protests against increased fuel prices in the fall of 2013 led to dozens of deaths (the task varies in different sources) in confrontations with the police, it triggered a crisis within the NCP. Party members critical of the actions of the police – and the government – chose to break away and form a new party, called the Movement for Reform Now. The outbreak was labeled as the most serious domestic political crisis for al-Bashir and his immediate circle in a long time.
Despite NCP’s internal teardown, al-Bashir won 94 percent of the vote in the April 2015 presidential election and NCP took home as many as 323 of the 426 parliamentary seats. The regime could thus continue to rule Sudan for another five years.
Subsequently, Sudan’s policy was increasingly characterized by financial problems for the state: too low oil revenues, a weak currency and a lack of foreign capital. Rapidly rising food and fuel prices led to new popular demonstrations. In September 2018, al-Bashir slammed his government from 31 to 21 ministers to cut costs.