Sudan Civil War
Sudan had two distinct major cultures -- Arab and Black African -- with hundreds of ethnic and tribal divisions and language groups, which makes effective collaboration among them a major problem. The northern states cover most of the Sudan and include most of the urban centers. Most of the 22 million Sudanese who live in this region are Arabic speaking Muslims, though the majority also use a traditional non-Arabic mother tongue (i.e., Nubian, Beja, Fur, Nuban, Ingessana, etc.).
Among these are several distinct tribal groups; the Kababish of northern Kordofan, a camel-raising people; the Ja'alin and Shaigiyya groups of settled tribes along the rivers; the seminomadic Baggara of Kordofan and Darfur; the Hamitic Beja in the Red Sea area and Nubians of the northern Nile areas, some of whom have been resettled on the Atbara River; and the Negroid Nuba of southern Kordofan and Fur in the western reaches of the country.
The southern region, which eventually achieved independence as South Sudan, has a population of around 6 million and a predominantly rural, subsistence economy. This region had been negatively affected by war for all but 10 years of the independence period (1956), resulting in serious neglect, lack of infrastructure development, and major destruction and displacement. More than 2 million people died, and more than 4 million were internally displaced or become refugees as a result of the civil war and war-related impacts. Here the Sudanese practice mainly indigenous traditional beliefs, although Christian missionaries have converted some. The south also contains many tribal groups and uses many more languages than in the north. The Dinka (pop. est. more than 1 million) is the largest of the many Black African tribes of the Sudan. Along with the Shilluk and the Nuer, they are among the Nilotic tribes. The Azande, Bor, and Jo Luo are "Sudanic" tribes in the west, and the Acholi and Lotuhu live in the extreme south, extending into Uganda.
Sudan was a collection of small, independent kingdoms and principalities from the beginning of the Christian era until 1820-21, when Egypt conquered and unified the northern portion of the country. Historically, the pestilential swamps of the Suud discouraged expansion into the deeper south of the country. Although Egypt claimed all of the present Sudan during most of the 19th century, it was unable to establish effective control over southern Sudan, which remained an area of fragmented tribes subject to frequent attacks by slave raiders.
There is little documentation for the history of the southern Sudanese provinces until the introduction of the Turkiyah in the north in the early 1820s and the subsequent extension of slave raiding into the south. Information about their peoples before that time is based largely on oral history. According to these traditions, the Nilotic peoples -- the Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk, and others -- first entered southern Sudan sometime before the tenth century. During the period from the fifteenth century to the nineteenth century, tribal migrations, largely from the area of Bahr al Ghazal, brought these peoples to their modern locations.
Some, like the Shilluk, developed a centralized monarchical tradition that enabled them to preserve their tribal integrity in the face of external pressures in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The non-Nilotic Azande people, who entered southern Sudan in the sixteenth century, established the region's largest state. In the eighteenth century, the militaristic Avungara people entered and quickly imposed their authority over the poorly organized and weaker Azande. Avungara power remained largely unchallenged until the arrival of the British at the end of the nineteenth century. Geographic barriers protected the southerners from Islam's advance, enabling them to retain their social and cultural heritage and their political and religious institutions. During the nineteenth century, the slave trade brought southerners into closer contact with Sudanese Arabs and resulted in a deep hatred for the northerners.
Until its gradual suppression in the 1860s, the slave trade was the most profitable undertaking in Sudan and was the focus of Egyptian interests in the country. The government encouraged economic development through state monopolies that had exported slaves, ivory, and gum arabic. In some areas, tribal land, which had been held in common, became the private property of the shaykhs and was sometimes sold to buyers outside the tribe.
Slavery had been an institution of Sudanese life throughout history, but southern Sudan, where slavery flourished particularly, was originally considered an area beyond Cairo's control. Because Sudan had access to Middle East slave markets, the slave trade in the south intensified in the nineteenth century and continued after the British had suppressed slavery in much of sub-Saharan Africa. Annual raids resulted in the capture of countless thousands of southern Sudanese, and the destruction of the region's stability and economy. The horrors associated with the slave trade generated European interest in Sudan.
In 1881, a religious leader named Muhammad ibn Abdalla proclaimed himself the Mahdi, or the "expected one," and began a religious crusade to unify the tribes in western and central Sudan. His followers took on the name "Ansars" (the followers) which they continue to use today and are associated with the single largest political grouping, the Umma Party, led by the descendant of the Mahdi, Sadiq al Mahdi. Taking advantage of conditions resulting from Ottoman-Egyptian exploitation and maladministration, the Mahdi led a nationalist revolt culminating in the fall of Khartoum in 1885. The Mahdi died shortly thereafter, but his state survived until overwhelmed by an Ango-Egyptian force under Lord Kitchener in 1898. Sudan was proclaimed a condominium in 1899 under British-Egyptian administration. While maintaining the appearance of joint administration, the British Empire formulated policies, and supplied most of the top administrators.
The civil war in Sudans displaced more than 4 million southerners. Some fled into southern cities, such as Juba; others trekked 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. 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 little prospects for productive employment in the small and weak economies of the south or the north.
The SPLA, and its NDA allies received political, military and logistical support primarily from Ethiopia, Uganda and Eritrea. These states were firmly behind efforts to overthrow the Sudan Government and install in its place Sudanese opposition groups, operating under the umbrella of a coalition known as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). From the outset, the SPLA had the support of the Government of Ethiopia. Uganda provided the SPLA with access to arms and permission to train its forces within its territory. Eritrea allowed the SAF to use its territory for training, and supports its activities. They received indirect support from the United States. The US allocated $20 million in "non-lethal" military assistance to SPLA supporters (Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia) in February 1998 for defense against opposition groups in their countries backed by Sudan. Sudan has long accused Eritrea, which has a hostile relationship with Khartoum, of providing training facilities and arms to the SPLA in the south, to rebel forces in Darfur, and another rebel group called Beja Congress in the east.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|