Sudanese Civil Wars

Sudanese Civil Wars
Sudanese Civil Wars

The Sudan has been the theater for several major intercommunal conflicts since the 1950s. During the British administration of the Sudan under the Condominium Agreement, North and South Sudan had been administered separately. The north, with historic ties to Egypt, was predominantly Muslim and Arabic speaking.

The population in the south was primarily black and a mixture of Christians and animists, speaking a variety of African languages. The British restricted Sudanese living north of the 10th parallel from traveling farther south, and the Sudanese living below the 8th parallel from traveling north. This helped sow the seeds of future conflicts.

The first Sudanese civil war broke out shortly before Sudanese independence in 1956 and lasted until 1972. The Addis Ababa Agreement was signed in 1972, ending hostilities and giving the southern Sudan considerable self-rule and autonomy.


The peace held until President Jaafar Muhammad Numeiri broke the agreement in 1983 by trying to create a federated Sudan. President Numeiri moved to implement Islamic sharia law over all of the Sudan, including the Christian population.

Newly discovered oil reserves in the southern territory also provided a motive for more northern interference in the region. Led by Colonel John Garang, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) launched an all-out war against northern domination, further weakening Numeiri.

The Numeiri regime was overthrown in a military-led coup in 1985, but the civil war continued as Islamist forces gained power in Khartoum. Negotiations for a cease-fire ended in 1986 when SPLA forces shot down a civilian aircraft.

The National Islamic Front (NIF) then joined the northern forces to ensure that Islamic law was retained. This endangered hopes for future peace talks because one of the primary demands of those in the south had been the repeal of Islamic law.

Southern forces retained control over most of the southern countryside, and in 1989 further negotiations collapsed over the issue of Islamic law. In 1991 the tide changed when the Ethiopian government was deposed, depriving the south of its main ally and arms supplier. Inter-rival fighting among groups in the south further weakened the resistance against the north.

As almost all of the fighting had occurred in southern provinces, the region had experienced massive population dislocation, food shortages, and destruction. Throughout the 1990s, the south was torn apart by inter-tribal warfare as well as numerous offensives from the north.

With substantial international pressure, the 2003 peace talks made progress, and the two sides signed the Naivasha Treaty on January 9, 2005. The treaty guaranteed autonomy for southern Sudan for six years, after which a referendum was to be held regarding complete independence. Monies from oil reserves were to be divided equally between the north and south, and both north and south armies were allowed to remain in place.

The peace treaty was imperiled after John Garang, the new co-vice president, was killed in a helicopter crash. Riots broke out in the south, where many believed the regime in Khartoum had been responsible for Garang’s death. However, a tentative peace held, and Salva Kiir Mayardit became the new SPLA leader and Sudanese vice president.

The United Nations (UN) established the UN Mission to Sudan under UN Security Council Resolution 1590 in March 2005; the mission was to protect and promote human rights in southern Sudan and to help to maintain the peace. However, an uprising in the western Darfur region put the mission and Sudanese unity in danger.

The Darfur region, predominantly Muslim, rebelled in 2003, accusing the government of neglect; it used this as a basis for secessionist claims. The central government launched a brutal campaign of scorched earth against Darfur and aligned itself with Arab militias known as the Janjaweed.

Many in Darfur fled into neighboring Chad, thereby creating an international crisis. By 2006 the government in Khartoum claimed victory and signed the Darfur Peace Agreement supervised by the African Union Mission in Sudan, but this failed to halt hostilities, and the conflict continues.

These ongoing civil wars have decimated large sectors of the Sudanese economy. The fluctuating price of cotton, the primary cash crop, has further weakened Sudan’s economic prospects. The discovery of small oil reserves raised hopes, but with the ongoing violence, it is difficult to gauge the positive effects of this resource.

Severe labor shortages and the emigration of large portions of the educated elite in both the north and south have also had negative impacts on Sudan’s recovery. Therefore it seems likely that the Sudan will remain a volatile and unstable region for the foreseeable future.