Sudan History


Sudan was a collection of small, independent states from the beginning of the Christian era until 1820-21, when Egypt conquered and unified the northern portion of the country. Although Egypt claimed all of present Sudan during most of the 19th century, it was unable to establish effective control of southern Sudan, which remained an area of fragmented tribes subject to frequent attacksby slave raiders.

In 1881, a religious leader named Muhammad Ahmed ibn Abdalla proclaimed himself the Mahdi, or "expected one," and began to unify tribes in western and central Sudan. His followers took on the name "Ansars," which they continue to use today. Taking advantage 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 Anglo-Egyptian force under Kitchener in 1898. Sudan was proclaimed a condominium in 1899 under British-Egyptian administration. While maintaining the appearance of joint administration, the British formulated policies, and supplied most of the top administrators.Independence In February 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. With the 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 recognizethe new state.

The National Unionist Party (NUP), under Prime Minister Ismail el- 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.

The Abboud regime was followed by a provisional civilian government until parliamentary 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 ethnic dissidence.

Dissatisfaction culminated in a second military coup on May 25, 1969. The coup leader, Col. Gaafar Muhhamad Nimeiri, became prime minister, and the new regime abolished parliament and outlawed all political parties.

Disputes 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 power.

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 the Shari'a (Islamic law) into the penal code. This was controversial even among Muslim groups. After questioning Nimeiri's credentials to Islamicize Sudanese society, Ansar leader Sadiq al-Mahdi was placed under house arrest. On April 26, 1984, 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.

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 of 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, 1985, senior military officers led by Gen. Suwar el Dahab mounted a coup. Among the first acts of the new government was to suspend the 1983 constitution and disband Nimeiri's Sudan Socialist Union. A 15-member transitional military council was named, chaired by Gen. Suwar el 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. El Gizouli Defalla.

Elections were held in April 1986, and the 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, 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 economy continued to deteriorate. When prices of basic goods were increased in 1988, riots ensued, and the price increases were cancelled. The civil war in the south was particularly divisive (see "Civil Strife" below). When Sadiq refused to approve a peace plan reached by the DUP and the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) in November 1988, the DUP left the government. The new government consisted essentially of the Umma and the Islamic fundamentalist National Islamic Front (NIF).

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-Colonel Omar al Bashir 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 is president and chief of state, prime minister and chief of the armed forces.

In March of 1991, a new penal code, the Criminal Act of 1991, instituted harsh punishments nationwide, including amputation 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 non-Muslim judges from the south to the north, replacing them with Muslim judges.

Civil Strife

In 1955, southern resentment of northern 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 secession. This chronic state of insurgency against the central government was suspended early 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 dividing the south into three regions 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. 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 laws, 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 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 stated 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 of 1991, opponents of Colonel Garang's leadership of the SPLA form the so- called Nasir faction of the rebel army. In September of 1992, William Nyuon Bany formed a second rebel faction and in February of 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. Since 1991, the factions have clashed occasionally and thus, the rebels have lost all credibility in the West. Since late 1993, the leaders of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda have pursued a peace initiative for Sudan under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD) but results have been mixed.

The ongoing civil war has displaced over 2 million southerners. Some fled into southern cities, such as Juba; others trekked as far north as Khartoum and even on into Ethiopia. These people were unable to grow food or earn money to feed themselves, and malnutrition and starvation became widespread.

Following an international outcry, the Sadiq al Mahdi government in March 1989 agreed with the UN and donor nations (including the US) 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 in southern Sudan, and widespread starvation was averted. OLS was suspended when the informal cease-fire broke down in late 1989. Following prolonged negotiations, Phase II of OLS to cover 1990 was approved by both the government and the SPLA in March of 1990. In 1991, Sudan faced a food shortage across the entire country because of two consecutive years of drought. The US, the UN, and other donors attempted to mount a coordinated international relief effort in both northern and southern Sudan in order to avert a catastrophe. However, due to Sudan's human rights abuses and its pro-Iraqi stance during the Persian Gulf War, many donors have cut much of their aid to Sudan.

source: U.S. State Department Background Notes 1995

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