Sudan: How It Came To Be

The conflict in Sudan is a particularly complex one, involving a plethora of incidents and high profile figures which have had varying levels of influence across different parts of the country. The below report aims to give a brief overview of some of the factors that have lcontributed to the situation leading up to the referendum for secession of Southern Sudan.


After gaining independence from Egypt and the UK in 1956, Sudan suffered 17 years of civil war during 1955 - 1972 followed by ethnic, religious and economic conflicts which led to the second civil war from 1983 - 2005. The origins of war lay in colonially initiated policies of separate administrative rule and unequal development which allowed the predominantly Muslim North to become a lower middle income market economy whilst the rest of the country remained underdeveloped. In 1955, in anticipation of independence and fear of Northern domination, Southern army officers mutinied. Military regimes continued into 1969 when General Nimeiri led a successful coup. The South was eventually granted autonomous status under the Addis Ababa Agreement.

In 1983, President Nimeiri attempted to create a federated Sudan including states in Southern Sudan, thereby violating the Addis Ababa Agreement. Inspired by Hasan Turabi's vision of an Islamist Sudan, Nimeiri imposed Islamic law, which was bitterly resented by predominantly non-Muslim Southerners. The conflict between central government forces and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) was reignited. After widespread popular unrest, Nimeiri was overthrown in 1985.

Omar al-Bashir was brought to power after a coup in 1989. Under Bashir's leadership, political parties were banned and Islamic legal code was introduced on a national level. Bashir transformed Sudan into an Islamic totalitarian single-party state and created the National Congress Party (NCP) with a new parliament and government drawn solely from members of the NCP. NCP divided the unified Southern Sudanese government into provincial governments, undermining the power of the tribal clients of the old parties.

In July 2005, after 30 months of negotiations, the NCP-led government and the SLPM signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The CPA provided a political framework for a permanent ceasefire between the government's forces and the SPLM. It promised a new Government of National Unity in Khartoum including both the SPLM and the NCP, a semi-autonomous government for the South with a Southern constitution based on non-Islamic customary laws and values, exemption of non-Muslims from the Islamic penal code, and 50% of oil revenues to go to the South. It was hoped that these measures would make unity attractive to Southern Sudanese whilst reserving their right to vote for self-determination in a referendum in January 2011.

The CPA excluded the oil-rich province of Abyei - largely inhabited by Arabic nomads and African settlers; located on the border between the North and South - which was to have its own referendum to decide whether to join the North or the South. The CPA also ignored imbalances elsewhere in the country, including Eastern Sudan and the Darfur region of Western Sudan.


Even before it was signed, the CPA was overshadowed by the crisis in Darfur - longstanding tensions between African agrarian tribe settlers and Arab nomads that turned into a full-scale uprising in 2003. The dispute began when rebel groups including the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) comprising predominantly African agrarian tribe settlers, and the Justice & Equality Movement (JEM) comprising predominantly Arab nomads, took up arms against the government - claiming the region was being neglected. In 2006, the Minni Minawi faction of the SLM signed the Darfur Peace Agreement with the Central Government. Most other rebel groups refused to sign, vowing to fight on until the government agreed to share power and wealth in the region. In 2008, Djibril Bassolé was appointed as the Joint African Union-United Nations Chief Mediator for Darfur.

In 2010, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Bashir on charges of genocide. This followed the ICC's previous issue of an arrest warrant for Bashir on war crimes and crimes against humanity, on the basis that Bashir masterminded a plan to destroy 3 tribal groups in Darfur - the Fur, the Masalit, and the Zaghawa - because of their ethnicity.
The charges against Bashir have been strongly rejected by a number of prominent players in the Middle East. The Arab League condemned the warrant for undermining the unity and stability of Sudan, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference denounced the warrant as unwarranted and totally unacceptable.


In January 2011, the promised Referendum of the 2005 CPA went ahead. Official results were announced on 7 February 2011; almost 99% of registered Southern Sudanese voted for secession. Secession is due to be implemented at the end of the CPA on 9 July 2011. President Bashir signed a decree confirming his government's acceptance of the results as the legitimate expression of the will of the people of South Sudan. A senior official from the NCP also reported that Bashir will not seek re-election.

Special Representative of the UN Secretary General, Haile Menkerios, described the Referendum as "probably the single most important foundation for the future of peace and stability of Sudan and of the entire region". Nonetheless, unresolved CPA issues remain including the Abyei Referendum, border demarcation, border management, citizenship arrangements, and wealth sharing - particularly regarding oil reserves and revenues. 82% of the total oil is located in the South, but Khartoum in the North owns the pipelines that carry it to ports.
Since the Referendum, hundreds have been left dead as a result of a surge in bloody clashes in South Sudan between the army and rebel forces loyal to General Athor -previously a senior member of the SPLM during the war against the north, but turned renegade since losing the election for Governor of Jonglei in April 2010. Following attacks by Athor's forces on the town of Malakal, the SPLM announced they would suspend all talks and contacts with the NCP, accusing the North of arming rebels in the South in an attempt to destabilise the emerging independent state of South Sudan. SPLM also unveiled confidential documents detailing NCP's alleged plot to overthrow the Southern government by arming, training and financing militias. Bashir's advisers denied SPLM's allegations, and claimed the SPLM was seeking a scapegoat for a Southern problem.

Thao Mbeki, former South African President and Chairman of the African Union High-Level Panel on Sudan, appealed to Southern President Salva Kiir to resume negotiations. An emergency meeting was chaired by Mbeki, at which both Kiir and Bashir agreed to examine the documents offered as proof that NCP was backing rebel militias. The UK provided funding to the AU High Level Implementation Panel in support of President Mbeki's efforts to facilitate agreement on post-referendum issues.


Of course there are many more factors which have significantly contributed to the situation in Sudan, that have not been outlined here. This report does not claim to cover all of them but intends to offer a condensed version of the main events in some of the more high profile areas. Further comments and contributions are most welcome.