Sudanese civil war

From New World Encyclopedia

Second Sudanese Civil War
Sudan political map 2000.jpg
Map of Sudan at the time of the civil war.
Date 1983 - 2005
Location Southern Sudan
Result Southern autonomy with planned referendum on secession
Flag of Sudan.svg Sudanese Government (North Sudan) Flag of the SPLAM.svg Sudan People's Liberation Army
Eastern Front
Gaafar Nimeiry
Sadiq al-Mahdi
Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir
John Garang
Not Released 1.9 million (mostly civilians, due to starvation and drought)

The Second Sudanese Civil War started in 1983, largely a continuation of the First Sudanese Civil War of 1955 to 1972. Although it originated in southern Sudan, the civil war spread to the Nuba mountains and Blue Nile. It lasted for 22 years and is one of the longest civil wars on record. The war resulted in the independence of South Sudan six years after the war ended.

Roughly two million people died as a result of war, famine, and disease caused by the conflict. Four million people in southern Sudan were displaced at least once (and often repeatedly) during the war. The civilian death toll is one of the highest of any war since World War II and was marked by a large number of human rights violations, including slavery and mass killings. The conflict officially ended with the signing of a peace agreement in January 2005.

Background and causes

The war is usually characterized as a fight between the southern, non-Arab populations against the northern, Arab-dominated government. Kingdoms and great powers based along the Nile river have fought against the people of inland Sudan for centuries. Since at least the seventeenth century, central governments have attempted to regulate and exploit the cattle herders of southern and inland Sudan.[1]

When the British ran Sudan as a colony they administered the northern and southern provinces separately. The south was held to be more similar to the other east-African colonies—Kenya, Tanganyika, and Uganda—while northern Sudan was more similar to Arabic-speaking Egypt. Northerners were prevented from holding positions of power in the south, and trade was discouraged between the two areas.

However, in 1946 the British gave in to northern pressure to integrate the two areas. Arabic was made the language of administration in the south, and northerners began to hold positions there. The southern elite, trained in English, resented the change as they were kept out of their own government.[2] After decolonization, most power was given to the northern elites based in Khartoum, causing unrest in the south.

In 1955, southern resentment of northern Muslim Arab domination culminated in a mutiny among southern troops in Equatoria Province. These troops were upset that the Khartoum government had failed to deliver on its promises to Britain that it would create a federal system. For the next 17 years, the southern region experienced civil strife, and various southern leaders agitated for regional autonomy or outright secession.

Another factor in the Second war was the natural resources of Sudan, particularly in the south, where there are significant oil fields. Oil revenues make up about 70 percent of Sudan's export earnings. Due to numerous tributaries of the Nile river and heavier precipitation in southern Sudan, the south also has greater access to water, and is therefore much more fertile. The north of the country is on the edge of the Sahara desert. The northern desire to control these resources, and the southern desire to maintain control of them, contributed to the war.


Southern Sudan

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. In 1983, as part of an Islamicization campaign President Nimeiry declared his intention to transform Sudan into a Muslim Arab state, divided the south into three regions and instituted Shari’a law. This was controversial even among Muslim groups. After questioning Nimeiry's credentials to Islamicize Sudan's society, Ansar leader Sadiq al-Mahdi was placed under house arrest. al-Mahdi's ancestor, Ahmad Muhammmad known as the Mahdi of Sudan, famously defeated the British general, Charles George Gordon in 1885 and briefly ruled the Sudan.

On April 26, 1983, President Nimeiry 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.

The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) was founded in 1983 as a southern-based mainly non-Arabic rebel group, fighting against the central government and attempting to establish an independent Southern Sudan under its leadership. Its leader was John Garang.

In September 1984, President Nimeiry 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 Nimeiry's public assurances that the rights of non-Muslims would be respected, southerners and other non-Muslims remained deeply suspicious.

Arms Suppliers

Sudan relied on a variety of countries for its arms supplies. Following independence, the army was trained and supplied by the British. After the 1967 Six-Day War however, relations were cut off, as were relations with the United States and West Germany.

From 1968 to 1972, the Soviet Union and Eastern bloc nations sold large numbers of weapons and provided technical assistance and training to Sudan. At this time the army grew from a strength of 18,000 to roughly 50,000 men. Large numbers of tanks, aircraft, and artillery were acquired, and they dominated the army until the late 1980s.

Relations cooled between the two sides after the coup in 1972, and the Khartoum government sought to diversify its suppliers. The Soviet Union continued to supply weapons until 1977, when their support of Marxist elements in Ethiopia angered the Sudanese sufficiently to cancel their deals. The People's Republic of China was the main supplier in the late 1970s.

Egypt was the most important military partner in the 1970s, providing missiles, personnel carriers, and other military hardware. At the same time military cooperation between the two countries was important.

Western countries began supplying Sudan again in the mid-1970s. The United States began selling Sudan a great deal of equipment around 1976, hoping to counteract Soviet support of Marxist Ethiopians and Libyans. Military sales peaked in 1982 at 101 million (US). After the start of the second civil war, American assistance dropped, and was eventually canceled in 1987.[3]


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 Nimeiry'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 General Abdul Rahman Suwar ad-Dahhab mounted a coup. Among the first acts of the new government was to suspend the 1983 constitution, rescind the decree declaring Sudan's intent to become an Islamic state, and disband Nimeiry's Sudan Socialist Union. However, the "September laws" instituting Shari’a law were not suspended. A 15-member transitional military council was named, chaired by Gen. Suwar ad-Dahhab. 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-Jazuli Daf'allah.

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, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) (formerly the National Unionist Party, 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.

In May 1986, the Sadiq al-Mahdi government began peace negotiations with the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), led by Colonel John Garang. 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.

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 canceled. When Sadiq al-Mahdi refused to approve a peace plan reached by the DUP and the SPLA in November 1988, the DUP left the government. The new government consisted essentially of the Umma and the Islamic fundamentalist 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. A constitutional conference was tentatively planned for September 1989.

On June 30, 1989, however, military officers under then-Colonel 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 military officers (reduced to 12 in 1991) assisted by a civilian cabinet. General al-Bashir became president and chief of state, prime minister and chief of the armed forces.

The new military government banned trade unions, political parties, and other "non-religious" institutions. Seventy-eight-thousand members of the army, police, and civil administration were purged in order to reshape the 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 in the south. In 1993, the government transferred all 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.

Conduct of the war: 1991-2001

It is estimated that as many as 200,000 Southern Sudanese and Nuba children and women have been taken into slavery—mainly to North Sudan—during raids perpetrated in Southern Sudanese towns and villages. On the pretext of fighting Southern Sudanese rebels, the National Islamic government of the Sudan (GOS) has deployed its regular armed forces and militia notoriously known as the People's Defense Forces (PDF) to attack and raid villages in the South and the Nuba Mountains for slaves and cattle.[4]

The SPLA was 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 controlled 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.

In August 1991, internal dissension among the rebels led opponents of Colonel Garang's leadership of the SPLA to form the so-called Nasir faction of the rebel army. The attempt to overthrow Garang was led by Riek Machar and Lam Akol.

Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda organization moved to Sudan in 1991. Osama brought some wealth to Sudan while he directed some of his first terrorist attacks out of Sudan.

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.

In 1990-91 the Sudanese government supported Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War. This changed American attitudes toward the country. Bill Clinton's administration prohibited American investment in the country and supplied money to neighboring countries to repel Sudanese incursions. The US also began attempts to "isolate" Sudan and began referring to it as a rogue state.

Since 1993, the leaders of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya have pursued a peace initiative for the Sudan under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on 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, power-sharing, wealth-sharing, 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.

In 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.

In 1996, Osama bin Laden was expelled from Sudan, and he moved his organization to Afghanistan.

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, power sharing, 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.

Foreign interventions

In September 2001, former U.S. Senator John Danforth was designated Presidential Envoy for Peace in the Sudan. His role is to explore the prospects that the United States 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.

Following an internal outcry, the Sadiq al-Mahdi government in March 1989 agreed with the United Nations and donor nations (including the United States) 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 United States, United Nations, 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 2000-2001, the international community again responded to avert mass starvation in the Sudan. International donors continue to provide large amounts of humanitarian aid to all parts of the Sudan.

The United States government's Sudan Peace Act of October 21, 2002 accused Sudan of genocide for killing more than 2 million civilians in the south during the civil war since 1983.

Peace talks between the southern rebels and the government made substantial progress in 2003 and early 2004, although skirmishes in parts of the south have reportedly continued. The two sides have agreed that, following a final peace treaty, southern Sudan will enjoy autonomy for six years, and after the expiration of that period, the people of southern Sudan will be able to vote in a referendum on independence. Furthermore, oil revenues will be divided equally between the government and rebels during the six-year interim period. The ability or willingness of the government to fulfill these promises has been questioned by some observers, however, and the status of three central and eastern provinces was a point of contention in the negotiations. Some observers wondered whether hard line elements in the north would allow the treaty to proceed.

A final peace treaty was signed on January 9, 2005 in Nairobi. The terms of the peace treaty are as follows:

  • The south will have autonomy for six years, followed by a referendum on secession.
  • Both sides of the conflict will merge their armed forces into a 39,000-strong force after six years, if the secession referendum should turn out negative.
  • Income from oilfields is to be shared 50 to 50.
  • Jobs are to be split according to varying ratios (central administration: 70 to 30, Abyei/Blue Nile State/Nuba mountains: 55 to 45, both in favor of the government).
  • Islamic law is to remain in the north, while continued use of the sharia in the south is to be decided by the elected assembly.

Social effects

The civil war displaced more than 4 million southerners. Some fled into southern cities, such as Juba; others moved 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. Approximately 500,000 Sudanese are believed to have fled the country.

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 low prospects for productive employment in the small and weak economies of the south or the north. Slave trading has grown in the social chaos of the war. Some observers, including the U.S. government, have alleged that the Sudanese government actively encouraged Sudanese slave trading.

Religion and Ideology during the Conflict

The original Nimeiri coup in 1969 had the support of members of the Sudanese Communist Party. The new government, the Revolutionary Command Council, declared that it would advance Sundanese socialism. However, cooperation with the Communists was really a matter of convenience, not ideology. It is quite possible that without Marxist collaboration, the Nimeiri government would have collapsed. As soon as he has consolidated power, Nimeiri distanced himself from the communists establishing his own Sudanese Socialist Union. Members of the Communist Party were imprisoned at this time. Initially, Nimeiri enjoyed Soviet support but after a failed Communist coup in 1971, he turned towards the United States. The United States quickly assumed the role of supporting the regime, which by 1980 was the sixth-largest recipient of United States military aid [5]. This continued until 1990, when Sudan supported Iraq during the first Gulf War. Both sides provided arms at different times. Thus, although none of the parties claimed specific Marxist identity, the two super-powers nonetheless played out another proxy Cold War conflict in the ongoing civil war.

In 1983, as an attempt to gain more support from Muslim parties advocating that Sudan be transformed into an Islamic State, Nimeiri declared Shariah law. This not only further alienated Christians and other non-Muslims but provoked debate among Muslims as to how Shariah was to be interpreted. The popular Republican Brotherhood under its charismatic leader, Mahmoud Mohamed Taha opposed the imposition of what they considered unreformed Shariah, advocating a re-interpretation that, in their view, harmonized Shariah with international human rights. This interpretaion of Shariah would afford the same rights to all citizens, regardless of religion. Punishments regarded as inhumane would be replaced by alternatives in keeping with the spirit, not the letter, of the law. Taha was executed for treason. When al-Bashir seized power in 1989, the real leader of the new government was Sheikh Hassan al-Turabi, for whom Shariah and a totalitarian regime went hand in hand. It was al-Turabi who invited Osama bin-Laden to the Sudan. Islam was to be the solution to all problems, and applied by force if necessary. This approach to Islamic governance contrasts sharply with that of the Republican Brotherhood and also with that of other Sudanese political leaders and thinkers, including al-Mahdi and Abdelwahhab el-Affendi, both of whom have written in defense of democracy and An-Na'im, the foremost human rights scholar within the Muslim world[6]. The Civil War has stimulated some innovative and creative thinking among Sudanese Muslims on how Islam is to be understood, and applied within the political context, in the contemporary world.


  1. Review of Douglas Johnson, The Root Causes of Sudan’s Civil Wars. African Studies Quarterly, African Studies Quarterly, Volume 7, Issue 1, Spring 2003 (TOC). Retrieved July 7, 2007.
  2. What's happening in Sudan?, Sudanese Australian Integrated Learning (SAIL) Program. Retrieved July 7, 2007.
  3. Sudan - Foreign Military Assistance, Library of Congress Country Study (TOC), research completed June 1991. Retrieved July 7, 2007.
  4. War and Genocide in the Sudan, Retrieved July 7, 2007.
  5. Connell, Dan "Sudan" Foreign Policy in Focus, 2: 41, Augsut 1997 Sudan Retrieved August 22, 2007
  6. see al-Mahdi, al-Sadiq, "Islam - Society and Change," 230-240 in John L Esposito, Voices of Resurgent Islam New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. ISBN 978-0195033397; el-Affendi, Abdel wahhab Who Needs an Islamic State?, Malaysia Think Tank London, 2008. ISBN 978-1844264810; and An-Na'im, 'Abdullahi Ahmed Towards an Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights and International Law, New York: Syracuse University Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0815627067

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • An-Na'im, Abdullahi Ahmed. Toward An Islamic Reformation: Civil Liberties, Human Rights, and International Law. Syracuse University Press, 1996. ISBN 978-0815627067
  • Anderson, G. Norman. Sudan in crisis: the failure of democracy. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1999. ISBN 978-0813016719
  • El-Affendi, Abdelwahab. Who Needs An Islamic State? Malaysia Think Tank London, 2008. ISBN 978-1844264810
  • Eprile, Cecil. War and peace in the Sudan, 1955-1972. Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1974. ISBN 978-0715362211
  • Esposito, John L. Voices of Resurgent Islam. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. ISBN 978-0195033397
  • Iyob, Ruth, and Gilbert M. Khadiagala. Sudan: the elusive quest for peace. International Peace Academy occasional paper series. Boulder, Colo: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 2006. ISBN 978-1588263506
  • Jok, Jok Madut. War and slavery in Sudan. Ethnography of political violence. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. ISBN 978-0812235951

External links

All links retrieved February 26, 2023.


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