Sudan: Independence and Civil War

Sudan: Independence and Civil War


By 1953, the British and Egypt were preparing to make Sudan an independent nation. Initially, Egypt wanted Sudan to be a part of Egypt, but the British wouldn’t allow it.

The territorial boundaries were created by the British with little regard for the cultural and ethnic divides within them.

While it’s easy to divide Sudan into north and south, the situation is much more complex than that. It is more complex than Arab and African and Muslim and Christian.

There are many African tribes that have accepted Islam, such as the people of Darfur. Their religion is the same as the Arab northerners, but they are often seen as dark southerners.

There are also several ethnic groups among the Africans in the south as well. Though they would unite to fight against the Arab northerners, they would quickly turn on each other once their common enemy was gone.

All of these ethnic problems can be seen in a mutiny that took place in 1955, the year before Sudan became independent.

The Beginnings of the Rebellion

It all started when a northern army officer shot one of his soldiers, who happened to be a southerner, for disobeying an order.

The other soldiers, who were mostly from the south also, mutinied and began to kill their northern officers. This mutiny quickly turned into mass murder as the rebellious soldiers began attacking and killing all northerners living in the area.

Eventually the government reestablished control, but by then it was too late. The seeds had been sown. Most of the southern rebels drifted into the countryside and wilderness of the south while the government occupied the major cities.

By the time Sudan became independent in 1956, the insurgency was very sporadic and weak.

There was no unity among the rebels, most of the country was celebrating its independence, and the civilian government left behind by the British was pretty strong.

Unfortunately, most of the good things about the new country only benefitted the north. Just as it had been during British and Egyptian rule, the south was mostly neglected.

The south was left out of governance as well. The vast majority of government posts during independence, were given to northerners.

After the excitement of independence, the realities of politics took over Sudan’s leaders.

Sudan’s Crazy Politics

International geopolitics, economic factors, internal discord led to severe problems for Abdallah Khalil, Sudan’s first Prime Minister.

Within the first year of Sudan’s independence, Khalil tried to create diplomatic ties with the United States. This angered and alienated Gamal Abdel Nasser, the socialist, pro-USSR President of Egypt.

In retaliation, Gamal Abdel Nasser placed a trade embargo on Sudan and supported Khalil’s political opponents. Pretty soon, there were rumors the military was planning to overthrow Abdallah Khalil.

Khalil then did something very shocking. He colluded with certain generals within the military to overthrow his own government.

In 1958, Khalil quietly stepped aside and allowed the military’s top general, Ibrahim Abboud, to take over the country.

Ibrahim Abboud’s military government was successful in reestablish good relations with Egypt, reviving the economy, and bringing stability to the government.

But Abboud did very little to settle the problems in the south. In fact, he actually made things worse.

Abboud’s military government tried to enact of policy of imposing Islamic and Arabic culture on the south.

Since the military was in charge, there were no local elections or local chosen leaders. It was a top-down democracy and the military imposed whatever orders came out of Khartoum regardless of how the civilian population felt.

From Insignificant Rebellion to Serious Civil War

Abboud had also disbanded parliament, so there was no way for the southerners to complain on a federal level either. And when southern Sudanese protested Abboud’s regime, they were met with forceful, heavy-handed measures.

This forced many southerners to flee the cities and join, or at least sympathize, with the rebels.

Up to this time, the southern insurgency was very weak and disorganized. But with Abboud’s bungling, it gained new recruits and popularity in the south.

They also became more organized and began making connections with foreign interests.

Soon the rebellion movement, called Anyanya after a poisonous substance found in Sudan, was receiving military aid from Israel, Ethiopia, and Uganda.

With fresh recruits, modern weapons, and a defined enemy, the feeble rebellion turned into a full-scale civil war.

By 1963, Abboud realized the situation in the south was bad and wasn’t getting any better. Abboud called for a national discussion on the problems in the south.

These discussions turned into platforms to speak out against the Abboud government as a whole. These led to massive student protests and Khartoum University.

The government responded by cracking down on the protests which completely ruined Abboud’s popularity and support even among the northern Sudanese. By 1964, Abboud had been forced out and Sudan was once again under civilian rule.

But being under civilian rule did not end Sudan’s problems. The rebellion in the south had intensified to the point that polling places could not be set up for the 1965 elections. And there was still massive factionalism and distrust among the northern politicians.

The new Sudanese government that was formed in 1965 was determined to end the problems in the south. They embarked on a massive military campaign that inflicted heavy losses and casualties on the southern provinces.

The military operations were brutal, unpopular, and unsuccessful. It only served to further the determination of the southerners to break away from the north.

By 1966, the recently elected government in Khartoum was voted out and a new government took over.

Over the next three years, political unrest and instability continued to hinder Sudan. Muslims, communists, secularists, and others all vied for power and were unable to unite for very long.

In 1969 there was another military coup, and this time Colonel Gaafar Nimeiry would come out on top as the Sudanese President.

Movements Toward Peace

Nimeiry had personal ties with some of the southern rebel leaders who used to serve in the Sudanese army.

He eventually began a dialogue with the main rebel leader Joseph Lagu, who had founded the Southern Sudan Liberation Movement, a coalition of rebel groups.

This led to peace talks between the two sides which concluded with the Addis Ababa accords. This agreement gave broad autonomy to the southern provinces.

The south would be free to conduct their own affairs internally. However, the federal Sudanese government would still administer things such as national defense, international relations, and the currency.

Nimeiry also promised freedom of religion and southern representation in the national parliament.

This would usher in ten years of peace within Sudan.

Run-up To The Second Sudanese Civil War

However, the agreement did not fix the underlying problems in Sudan. The south was still marginalized by the north. And there was still inherent mistrust between the Arab north and the African south.

And the people of the south still felt they were second-class citizens when traveling or living in the north.

Furthermore, Nimeiry was a politician above all. He has been at times a communist, other times an Arab nationalist, and then an Islamist depending on the political climate.

And in 1983, under pressure from Islamists in parliament, Nimeiry terminated the Addis Ababa agreement and proclaimed the entire nation was under Shariah, or Islamic law.

Nimeiry was now an Islamist. He stopped wearing military and civilian clothes and began dressing in traditional Sudanese Islamic garb.

He brought student leader Hassan Al-Turabi out of exile and made him the Sudanese Attorney General.

Hassan Al-Turabi would go on to become one of the most famous and controversial figures in Sudanese politics. He would remain involved in Sudanese politics until his death in March 2016.

Nimeiry and the northern government tried to persuade the south that their rights would be respected but it did no good. Especially since he ended the South’s autonomy from the Addis Ababa accords.

Show Notes

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Here are some links related to this episode:

Podcast: Sudan – Part 1

Podcast: History of Islam Law

Article: Fiqh vs Shariah (Explaining what Islamic Law really is and isn’t)

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