The Abbud government

On the night of Nov. 16-17, 1958, the commander in chief of the Sudanese army, General Ibrahim Abbud, carried out a bloodless coup d'état, dissolving all political parties, prohibiting assemblies, and temporarily suspending newspapers. A Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, consisting of 12 senior officers, was set up, and army rule brought rapid economic improvements. The Abbud government at once abolished the fixed price on cotton and sold all the Sudanese cotton, rebuilding the nation's foreign reserves.

On Nov. 8, 1959, the government concluded an agreement with Egypt on the Nile waters, by which Egypt not only recognized but also appeared to be reconciled to an independent Sudan. In the southern Sudan, Abbud's policies were less successful. In the name of national unity the army officers introduced many measures designed to facilitate the spread of Islam and the Arabic language. Important positions in the administration and police were staffed by northern Sudanese. Education was shifted from the English curriculum of the Christian missionaries, who had long been solely responsible for education in the south, to an Arabic, Islamic orientation. Foreign Christian missionaries were expelled between 1962 and 1964.

In the southern Sudan itself, the measures of the central government met ever-increasing resistance. In October 1962 a widespread strike in southern schools resulted in antigovernment demonstrations followed by a general flight of students and others over the border. In September 1963 rebellion erupted in eastern Al-Istiwa'iyah (Equatoria) and in the A'ali An-Nil (Upper Nile) province led by the Anya Nya, a southern Sudanese guerrilla organization that believed that only violent resistance would make the government of General Abbud seek a solution acceptable to the southerners. In return the generals in Khartoum increased repression.

Although the northern Sudanese had little sympathy for their countrymen in the south, the intelligentsia was able to use the government's failure there to assail authoritarian rule in the north and to revive demands for democratic government. By 1962, numerous urban elements, including the intelligentsia, the trade unions, and the civil service, as well as the powerful religious brotherhoods, had become alienated from the military regime. Moreover, the tribal masses and growing proletariat had become increasingly apathetic toward the government. In the end the regime was overwhelmed by boredom and overthrown by the reaction to its lassitude. The means of its overthrow was the southern problem.

In October 1964, students at the University of Khartoum held a meeting, in defiance of a government prohibition, in order to condemn government action in the southern Sudan and to denounce the regime. Demonstrations followed, and, with most of its forces committed in the southern Sudan, the military regime was unable to maintain control. The disorders soon spread, and General Abbud resigned as head of state; a transitional government was appointed to serve under the provisional constitution of 1956.

The Sudan since 1964

Under the leadership of Sirr al-Khatim al-Khalifah, the transitional government held elections in April and May 1965 to form a representative government. A coalition government headed by a leading Ummah politician, Muhammad Ahmad Mahjub, was formed in June 1965. As before, parliamentary government was characterized by factional disputes. On the one hand, Mahjub enjoyed the support of the traditionalists within the Ummah Party, represented by the Imam al-Hadi, the spiritual successor to the Mahdi, while on the other he was challenged by Sayyid Sadiq al-Mahdi, the young great-grandson of the Mahdi, who led the more progressive forces within the Ummah.

Unable to find common objectives, Parliament failed to deal with the economic, social, and constitutional problems in The Sudan. Moreover, the earlier hopes expressed by the transitional government of cooperation with the southerners soon vanished. Conflict continued in the south, with little hope of resolution. A group of young officers led by Colonel Gaafar Mohamed el-Nimeiri--tired of having no workable constitution, a stagnant economy, a political system torn by sectarian interests, and a continuing civil conflict in the south--seized the government on May 25, 1969.

The early Nimeiri regime

When Nimeiri and his young officers assumed power they were confronted by threats from communists on the left and the Ummah on the right. Nimeiri disbanded the Sudanese Communist Party, which went underground, and in his government's struggles with the Ummah Party under Imam al-Hadi, the latter was killed and his supporters dispersed. An abortive coup by the resilient communists in July 1971 collapsed after popular and foreign support held steadfast for the reinstallation of Nimeiri. The abortive coup had a profound effect on Nimeiri. He promised a permanent constitution and National Assembly, established himself as president of the state, and instituted the Sudanese Socialist Union (SSU) as the country's only party. The affair also produced the incentive to press for a resolution to the southern rebellion.

The Addis Ababa Agreement

In 1971 the southern Sudanese rebels, who had theretofore consisted of several independent commands, were united under General Joseph Lagu, who combined under his authority both the fighting units of the Anya Nya and its political wing, the Southern Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM). Thereafter, throughout 1971 the SSLM, representing General Lagu, maintained a dialogue with the Sudanese government over proposals for regional autonomy and the ending of hostilities. These talks culminated in the signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement on Feb. 27, 1972. The agreement ended the 17-year conflict between the Anya Nya and the Sudanese army and ushered in autonomy for the southern region, which would no longer be divided into the three provinces of Al-Istiwa'iyah (Equatoria), Bahr Al-Ghazal, and A'ali An-Nil (Upper Nile). The region's affairs would be controlled by a separate legislature and executive body, and the soldiers of the Anya Nya would be integrated into the Sudanese army and police. The Addis Ababa Agreement brought Nimeiri both prestige abroad and popularity at home.

Economic development

The signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement enabled economic development in The Sudan to proceed using funds that had previously been allocated for the civil war. This diversion of government resources to peaceful projects coincided with the dramatic growth of petroleum revenues in the Persian Gulf, and the Arab states there began investing large sums in The Sudan in order to transform it into the "breadbasket" of the Arab world. The resulting spate of development projects in the 1970s was followed by investments from private multinational corporations and generous loans from the International Monetary Fund. The highest priority was placed on expanding The Sudan's production of sugar, wheat, and cotton in order to provide foreign exchange. The new projects were accompanied by efforts to expand the national infrastructure and to construct the Junqali (Jonglei) Canal through the great swamps of As-Sudd.

Though these projects were laudable in conception, their flawed implementation plunged The Sudan into a severe economic crisis by 1980 from which it had yet to recover in the 1990s. Few projects were completed on time, and those that were never met their production targets. The steady decline of The Sudan's gross domestic output from 1977 left the country in a cycle of increasing debt, severe inflation, and an ever-diminishing standard of living.

There were two fundamental causes for the failure of The Sudan's economic development. First, planning was deficient, and decisions were increasingly precipitous and mercurial. There was no overall control, so individual ministries negotiated external loans for projects without the approval of the central planning authority. The result was not only incompetent management but also innumerable opportunities for corruption. The second cause of economic failure lay in external events over which The Sudan had no control. Rising oil prices dramatically increased The Sudan's bill for petroleum products, while the concomitant development projects in the Persian Gulf siphoned off from The Sudan its best professional and skilled workers, who were lured by high wages abroad only to create a "brain drain" at home. Neither the Nimeiri regime nor its successors proved successful in breaking this cycle of persistent economic decline.

The Rise of Muslim fundamentalism

In the elections of 1965, the Islamic Charter Front, a political party that espoused the principles of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan Al-Muslimin), received only an insignificant portion of the popular vote. But the election roughly coincided with the return from France of Hassan at-Turabi, who assumed the leadership of the party, now known as the Islamic National Front (NIF).

Turabi methodically charted the Brotherhood and the NIF on a course of action designed to seize control of the Sudanese government despite the Muslim fundamentalists' lack of popularity with the majority of the Sudanese people. Tightly disciplined, superbly organized, and inspired by the resurgence of Islam in the Middle East, the Muslim Brotherhood consciously sought to recruit disciples from the country's youth. It was relentlessly successful, and by the 1980s the Muslim Brotherhood and the NIF had successfully infiltrated the country's officer corps, the civil service, and the ranks of secondary-school teachers.

Despite its relatively small size, the Muslim Brotherhood began to exert its influence, a fact not unnoticed by President Nimeiri. The Sudanese Socialist Union, which he had established as the sole political party in The Sudan, had failed to galvanize popular support. In the face of deteriorating relations with both the southern Sudanese and the traditionalists of the Ummah-Mahdi grouping, Nimeiri turned increasingly to the Muslim Brotherhood for support. He appointed Turabi attorney general and did not object to the latter's designs for a new constitution based partly on Islamic law. In September 1983 Nimeiri modified the nation's legal codes to bring them into accord with Islamic law, the Shari'ah. This measure was bound to be resisted by the Christians and animists of the southern Sudan. Moreover, Nimeiri was coming to accept the arguments of the Muslim Brotherhood and other northern political groups that the Addis Ababa Agreement had been a mistake. In June 1983 Nimeiri unilaterally divided the southern region again into three provinces, thereby effectively abrogating the Addis Ababa Agreement.

Southern reaction

Even before the official demise of the agreement, the civil war between the African Christians of the south and the Muslim Arabs of the north had resumed with even greater ferocity than before. There had been sporadic uprisings in the south since the signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972, but they had been quickly suppressed. In May 1983, however, an army battalion stationed at Bor mutinied and fled into the bush under the leadership of Colonel John Garang de Mabior. The rebels had become disenchanted with Nimeiri and his government, which was riddled with corruption and was contemptuous of southerners. Led by Garang, the ranks of the Bor garrison, which had taken up sanctuary in Ethiopia, were soon swollen by discontented southerners determined to redress their grievances by force of arms under the banner of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and its political wing, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).

Nimeiri's overthrow and its aftermath

Although Nimeiri at first sought to crush the rebels by military force, his deployment of the Sudanese army only succeeded in disrupting the distribution of food, which, when coupled with drought and diminished harvests, created widespread famine in the southern Sudan. Without popular support, Nimeiri found himself facing a successful armed rebellion in the south and growing criticism in the north over the rigour with which he sought to carry out the brutal corporal punishments prescribed under the Shari'ah.

In response, Nimeiri softened his hard-line policies; he annulled the state of emergency that he had invoked five months earlier, he rescinded the tripartite division of the south, and he suspended the more brutal aspects of the Islamic courts. But these futile gestures were too late. Nimeiri was overthrown in a bloodless coup in April 1985 by his chief of staff, General 'Abd ar-Rahman Siwar ad-Dahab.

Although the new military government held elections in 1986 that returned Sadiq al-Mahdi as prime minister, the next three years were characterized by political instability, indecisive leadership, party manipulations resulting in short-lived coalitions, and abortive attempts to reach a peaceful settlement with the SPLA. These years of indecision came to an end on June 30, 1989, when a Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation led by Lieutenant General 'Umar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir seized power.

The emergence of the National Islamic Front

The Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) was in fact the vehicle for the NIF, the political party of the Muslim Brotherhood. Bashir and his colleagues realized that, as a minority with little popular support, they would have to resort to harsh measures to curtail the educated elites who had been instrumental in organizing populist revolutions in the past. With a ruthlessness to which the Sudanese were unaccustomed, the RCC imprisoned hundreds of political opponents, banned trade unions and political parties, silenced the press, and dismantled the judiciary. It sought to prosecute the war in the south with vigour, inhibited only by the deterioration of the national economy. With the support of the NIF, the Muslim Brotherhood, and a ruthless and efficient security system, the most unpopular government in the modern history of The Sudan remained firmly in power as the country entered the last decade of the 20th century.

The confidence of the RCC and its supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood enabled President Bashir to reintroduce Islamic law (Shari'ah), including corporal punishment, in March 1991, and emboldened the government to support Iraq in the Persian Gulf War.

Both these acts isolated The Sudan not only from the West but from its Arab neighbours as well (although the Libyan government was supportive). The economy continued to deteriorate, precipitated by this isolation and also by civil war in the south, fallen productivity, and rampant inflation. There were widespread shortages of basic commodities, particularly in the sensitive urban areas, creating disturbances which were ruthlessly suppressed. In the south the army continued to lose towns to the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA), but it managed to hold the three provincial capitals of Malakal, Waw, and Juba.

Unable to defeat the SPLA on the field of battle, the government armed and unleashed an Arab militia (mujahideen) against their traditional African rivals, principally the Dinka.

Moreover, it consistently ignored pleas for food and obstructed the efforts of Western humanitarian relief agencies to provide food aid. Caught between two armies, plundered by the Arab militia, and scourged by a persistent drought, countless Africans fled to northern towns and cities or sought sanctuary in Ethiopia.

Thousands perished fleeing the endemic East African famine, or in the camps for the displaced where they received no relief from the Khartoum government, which was determined to crush the SPLA as the initial step in a policy to Islamize the non-Muslims of the southern Sudan.

- Encyclopedia Britannica


Rare Nubian King Statues Uncovered in Sudan National Geographic - March 2003

Black pharaoh trove uncovered in north Sudan BBC - January 2003 Artefacts represent kings Taharqa, Tanutamon, last of black pharaohs as well as two monarchs who all lived about 600 years BC. The Nubian kings ruled 2,500 years ago.

Royal Nubia lies under sand April 2002 - National Post - Canadian archaeologists in Sudan, using magnetometers, have found a 2,000-year-old palace in the heart of the ancient black civilization