Sudan: A short history
Understanding the issues at stake in Sudan with a look at the past.
Sudan is the largest country in Africa at two and a half million square kilometers and has resources including oil, copper, zinc, silver, and gold. Under British rule in the 19th century, Sudan split into two administrative zones in the north and south. In the 1930s and 40s, the British made southern Sudan a “Closed District” and barred northerners from the region unless they had British permits.
“The Southern Policy” was meant to advocate economic self-reliance in the south. However, the south became increasingly marginalized. The British controlled education, and mainly taught English and Christianity in the south, while northerners received an Islamic education. The British also neglected Darfur, enabling tribal structures to dominate and the region to become underdeveloped in relation to the north.
In 1947, a conference in Juba informed the chiefs of southern Sudan that the northern government and the British would seize control of southern governance, to the exclusion of the southern Sudanese. This led to further hostility. By the mid-1950s, Sudan was on its way to independence from British rule. The south feared this would not be the end of colonialism: the Arab Sudanese were a willing substitute for British rule. In 1955, the Southern Sudan Liberation Movement hoped to liberate the south and create a secular, culturally diverse nation. The war raged for 17 years until the central government in the north signed the Addis Ababa Accord in 1972, which gave the south relative control over its resources and territories.
The accord turned southern Sudan into a democratic society, and the north and south lived in relative peace. The south’s control of its oil and minerals brought newfound autonomy to the region and curtailed the central government’s influence in the south. In 1980, the military government redrew the borders of the northern and southern provinces, putting the oilfields of the south in the hands of the north.
Shari’a Islamic law was also invoked in non- Muslim, southern communities, triggering further tension. Practices such as amputations and public floggings angered the communities of the South and in 1983 war broke out again.
After 1983, Sudan underwent intense Islamization and the north began to label Sudan’s civil war a “holy war” or Jihad.
In 1989, northern civilians were mobilized for the first time, and public sector workers and students trained for war. The government financially rewarded the casualties’ families, and the “martyrs” of the war were publicly honoured. Non-Arab groups in the south, west, and east, including the people of Darfur, reacted by joining the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) to fight against their marginalization.
In January 2003, a number of “confused clashes” on the Chadian-Darfur border alerted the Government of Sudan (GOS) to trouble in the region. In February, the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) attacked GOS soldiers—the GOS and Janjaweed militias’ retaliation escalated the violence, leading to a situation many have labeled genocide, though the UN has not defined the situation as one. The government’s support of the militias in the region created a war economy that led to ongoing conflict.
The conflict officially ended January 9, 2005 when the GOS and SPLM/A signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). It called for a permanent ceasefire between north and south and a military standstill. The agreement is based on wealth-sharing, self-determination, and secure governments. The GOS and the SPLM came together to form a Government of National Unity.
According to the CPA, a referendum vote will take place in the south in 2011 to determine whether the south will separate from the north. Human Rights Watch has stated that over 90% of southerners will vote for separation, a move that could create further conflict given the north’s economic interests in the south.
Although northern and southern leaders signed the peace agreement, armed conflicts continued, particularly in Darfur and other pockets in the south and east. Drought, famine, and tribal conflicts brought the region further poverty and turmoil.