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Gaafar Muhammad Nimeiry - 1969-1985

Gaafar Muhammad an-Nimeiry (also seen as Ga'far Muhammad Numayri, Jaafar Nimeiry, Dzafar Nimeiri, Gaafar Nimeiry or similar formations) was an army colonel who took over Sudan in a 1969 coup and, by taking a constantly swerving political course, held on to the presidency until a bloodless coup ousted him in 1985. He proved a skilled dictator, surviving numerous coups, intriguing constantly with political forces, building pretensions of rule by consent through novel political institutions (the single party Sudanese Socialist Union).

On May 25, 1969, several young officers, calling themselves the Free Officers' Movement, seized power. At the conspiracy's core were nine officers led by Colonel Jaafar an Nimeiri, who had been implicated in plots against the Abbud regime. Nimeiri's coup preempted plots by other groups, most of which involved army factions supported by the SCP, Arab nationalists, or conservative religious groups. He justified the coup on the grounds that civilian politicians had paralyzed the decision-making process, had failed to deal with the country's economic and regional problems, and had left Sudan without a permanent constitution.

The coup leaders, joined by Awadallah, the former chief justice who had been privy to the coup, constituted themselves as the ten-member Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), which posssessed collective executive authority under Nimeiri's chairmanship. On assuming control, the RCC proclaimed the establishment of a "democratic republic" dedicated to advancing independent "Sudanese socialism." The RCC's first acts included the suspension of the Transitional Constitution, the abolition of all government institutions, and the banning of political parties. The RCC also nationalized many industries, businesses, and banks. Furthermore, Nimeiri ordered the arrest of sixty-three civilian politicians and forcibly retired senior army officers.

Awadallah, appointed prime minister to form a new government to implement RCC policy directives, wanted to dispel the notion that the coup had installed a military dictatorship. He presided over a twenty-one-member cabinet that included only three officers from the RCC, among them its chairman, Nimeiri, who was also defense minister. The cabinet's other military members held the portfolios for internal security and communications. Nine members of the Awadallah regime were allegedly communists, including one of the two southerners in the cabinet, John Garang, minister of supply and later minister for southern affairs. Others identified themselves as Marxists. Since the RCC lacked political and administrative experience, the communists played a significant role in shaping government policies and programs. Despite the influence of individual SCP members, the RCC claimed that its cooperation with the party was a matter of convenience.

In November 1969, after he claimed the regime could not survive without communist assistance, Awadallah lost the prime ministership. Nimeiri, who became head of a largely civilian government in addition to being chief of state, succeeded him. Awadallah retained his position as RCC deputy chairman and remained in the government as foreign minister and as an important link with leftist elements.

Conservative forces, led by the Ansar, posed the greatest threat to the RCC. Imam Al Hadi al Mahdi had withdrawn to his Aba Island stronghold (in the Nile, near Khartoum) in the belief that the government had decided to strike at the Ansar movement. The imam had demanded a return to democratic government, the exclusion of communists from power, and an end to RCC rule. In March 1970, hostile Ansar crowds prevented Nimeiri from visiting the island for talks with the imam. Fighting subsequently erupted between government forces and as many as 30,000 Ansar. When the Ansar ignored an ultimatum to surrender, army units with air support assaulted Aba Island. About 3,000 people died during the battle. The imam escaped only to be killed while attempting to cross the border into Ethiopia. The government exiled Sadiq al Mahdi to Egypt, where Nasser promised to keep him under guard to prevent him from succeeding his uncle as head of the Ansar movement.

After neutralizing this conservative opposition, the RCC concentrated on consolidating its political organization to phase out communist participation in the government. This strategy prompted an internal debate within the SCP. The orthodox wing, led by party secretary general Abd al Khaliq Mahjub, demanded a popular front government with communists participating as equal partners. The National Communist wing, on the other hand, supported cooperation with the government.

Soon after the army had crushed the Ansar at Aba Island, Nimeiri moved against the SCP. He ordered the deportation of Abd al Khaliq Mahjub. Then, when the SCP secretary general returned to Sudan illegally after several months abroad, Nimeiri placed him under house arrest. In March 1971, Nimeiri indicated that trade unions, a traditional communist stronghold, would be placed under government control. The RCC also banned communistaffiliated student, women's, and professional organizations. Additionally, Nimeiri announced the planned formation of a national political movement called the Sudan Socialist Union (SSU), which would assume control of all political parties, including the SCP. After this speech, the government arrested the SCP's central committee and other leading communists.

The SCP, however, retained a covert organization that was not damaged in the sweep. Before further action could be taken against the party, the SCP launched a coup against Nimeiri. The coup occurred on July 19, 1971, when one of the plotters, Major Hisham al Atta, surprised Nimeiri and the RCC meeting in the presidential palace and seized them along with a number of proNimeiri officers. Atta named a seven-member revolutionary council, in which communists ranked prominently, to serve as the national government. Three days after the coup, however, loyal army units stormed the palace, rescued Nimeiri, and arrested Atta and his confederates. Nimeiri, who blamed the SCP for the coup, ordered the arrest of hundreds of communists and dissident military officers. The government subsequently executed some of these individuals and imprisoned many others.

Having survived the SCP-inspired coup, Nimeiri reaffirmed his commitment to establishing a socialist state. A provisional constitution, published in August 1971, described Sudan as a "socialist democracy" and provided for a presidential form of government to replace the RCC. A plebiscite the following month elected Nimeiri to a six-year term as president.

Despite his political problems, Nimeiri remained committed to ending the southern insurgency. He believed he could stop the fighting and stabilize the region by granting regional selfgovernment and undertaking economic development in the south. The two sides signed the Addis Ababa accords on March 27, 1972, which was thereafter celebrated as National Unity Day. The Addis Ababa accords guaranteed autonomy for a southern region.

After the settlement in the south, Nimeiri attempted to mend fences with northern Muslim religious groups. The government undertook administrative decentralization, popular with the Ansar, that favored rural over urban areas, where leftist activism was most evident. Khartoum also reaffirmed Islam's special position in the country, recognized the sharia as the source of all legislation, and released some members of religious orders who had been incarcerated. However, a reconciliation with conservative groups, which had organized outside Sudan under Sadiq al Mahdi's leadership and were later known as the National Front, eluded Nimeiri.

In August 1972, Nimeiri sought to consolidate his position by creating a Constituent Assembly to draft a permanent constitution. He then asked for the government's resignation to allow him to appoint a cabinet whose members were drawn from the Constituent Assembly. Nimeiri excluded individuals who had opposed the southern settlement or who had been identified with the SSU's pro-Egyptian faction.

In May 1973, the Constitutent Assembly promulgated a draft constitution. This document provided for a continuation of presidential government, recognized the SSU as the only authorized political organization, and supported regional autonomy for the south. The constitution also stipulated that voters were to choose members for the 250-seat People's Assembly from an SSU-approved slate. Although it cited Islam as Sudan's official religion, the constitution admitted Christianity as the faith of a large number of Sudanese citizens (see Christianity , ch. 2). In May 1974, voters selected 125 members for the assembly; SSU-affiliated occupational and professional groups named 100; and the president appointed the remaining 25.

Discontent with Nimeiri's policies and the increased military role in government escalated as a result of food shortages and the southern settlement, which many Muslim conservatives regarded as surrender. In 1973 and 1974 there were unsuccessful coup attempts against Nimeiri. Muslims and leftist students also staged strikes against the government. In September 1974, Nimeiri responded to this unrest by declaring a state of emergency, purging the SSU, and arresting large numbers of dissidents. Nimeiri also replaced some cabinet members with military personnel loyal to him.

Conservative opposition to Nimeiri coalesced in the National Front, formed in 1974. The National Front included people from Sadiq's wing of Umma; the NUP; and the Islamic Charter Front, then the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic activist movement. Their activity crystallized in a July 1976 Ansar-inspired coup attempt. Government soldiers quickly restored order by killing more than 700 rebels in Khartoum and arresting scores of dissidents, including many prominent religious leaders. Despite this unrest, in 1977 Sudanese voters reelected Nimeiri for a second six-year term as president.

Following the 1976 coup attempt, Nimeiri and his opponents adopted more conciliatory policies. In early 1977, government officials met with the National Front in London, and arranged for a conference between Nimeiri and Sadiq al Mahdi in Port Sudan. In what became known as the "national reconciliation," the two leaders signed an eight-point agreement that readmitted the opposition to national life in return for the dissolution of the National Front. The agreement also restored civil liberties, freed political prisoners, reaffirmed Sudan's nonaligned foreign policy, and promised to reform local government. As a result of the reconciliation, the government released about 1,000 detainees and granted an amnesty to Sadiq al Mahdi. The SSU also admitted former supporters of the National Front to its ranks. Sadiq renounced multiparty politics and urged his followers to work within the regime's one-party system.

The first test of national reconciliation occurred during the February 1978 People's Assembly elections. Nimeiri authorized returning exiles who had been associated with the old Umma Party, the DUP, and the Muslim Brotherhood to stand for election as independent candidates. These independents won 140 of 304 seats, leading many observers to applaud Nimeiri's efforts to democratize Sudan's political system. However, the People's Assembly elections marked the beginning of further political decline. The SSU's failure to sponsor official candidates weakened party discipline and prompted many assembly deputies who also were SSU members to claim that the party had betrayed them. As a result, an increasing number of assembly deputies used their offices to advance personal rather than national interests.

The end of the SSU's political monopoly, coupled with rampant corruption at all levels of government, cast increasing doubt on Nimeiri's ability to govern Sudan. To preserve his regime, Nimeiri adopted a more dictatorial leadership style. He ordered the State Security Organisation to imprison without trial thousands of opponents and dissidents. Nimeiri also dismissed or transferred any minister or senior military officer who appeared to be developing his own power base. Nimeiri selected replacements based on their loyalty to him rather than on their abilities. This strategy caused the president to lose touch with popular feeling and the country's deteriorated political situation.

On June 5, 1983, Nimeiri sought to counter the south's growing political power by redividing the Southern Region into the three old provinces of Bahr al Ghazal, Al Istiwai, and Aali an Nil; he had suspended the Southern Regional Assembly almost two years earlier. The southern-based Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and its military wing, the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which emerged in mid-1983, unsuccessfully opposed this redivision and called for the creation of a new united Sudan.

Within a few months, in September 1983 Nimeiri proclaimed the sharia as the basis of the Sudanese legal system. Nimeiri's decrees, which became known as the September Laws, were bitterly resented both by secularized Muslims and by the predominantly non-Muslim southerners. The SPLM denounced the sharia and the executions and amputations ordered by religious courts. Meanwhile, the security situation in the south had deteriorated so much that by the end of 1983 it amounted to a resumption of the civil war.

In early 1985, antigovernment discontent resulted in a general strike in Khartoum. Demonstrators opposed rising food, gasoline, and transport costs. The general strike paralyzed the country. Nimeiri, who was on a visit to the United States, was unable to suppress the rapidly growing demonstrations against his regime. The combination of the south's redivision, the introduction throughout the country of the sharia, the renewed civil war, and growing economic problems eventually contributed to Nimeiri's downfall. On April 6, 1985, a group of military officers, led by Lieutenant General Abd ar Rahman Siwar adh Dhahab, overthrew Nimeiri, who took refuge in Egypt.

Gaafar al-Nimeiry died in Sudan on May 30. He was 79. The death was announced by SUNA, the state news agency, which did not give a cause.





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