SPLA Soldiers. Photo by Timothy Mckulka/UNMIS. 

Sudan gained independence on January 1, 1956. The establishment of a provisional constitution failed to settle two critical issues for many Sudanese: whether the state would be secular or Islamic, and whether the country would be unified or operate under a federalist system—issues that continue to cause conflict within Sudan today.

The First Sudanese Civil War (1955-1972)

Sudan’s first civil war was fought between the Arab-led Khartoum government in the north and rebels in the largely Christian and animist south. Southern rebels were fighting for regional autonomy and representation in the government.
After a succession of governments, that were never able to address the problems of factionalism, economic stagnation, and ethnic division, a group of communist and socialist officers led by Colonel Gaafar al-Nimeiry took over power in a coup in 1969. Nimeiry made attempts to bring factions within Sudan together, including the southern Sudanese. A peace agreement was signed in 1972 that granted semi-autonomy to the south.

The Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005)

Facing pressure from Islamists in Sudan, in 1983 President Nimeiry made the decision to abolish the south’s semi-autonomous government, consolidate power in Khartoum, declare Arabic the official language, and institute Sharia law throughout the country (even the primarily Christian and animist south). In response, Dr. John Garang de Mabior, a career soldier and economist trained and educated in the United States, headed the rebel movement known as the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) in an uprising against Khartoum, kicking off the Second Sudanese Civil War.

John Garang & Omar-al-Bashir - UN Photo/Evan Schneider

John Garang & Omar-al-Bashir. Photo by Evan Schneider/UN.

The grievances of the second civil war were similar to the first, and the SPLA/M was fighting against the Islamic state, Islamic law, and centralized power that Nimeiry instituted. Garang believed in a united Sudan without the stark ethnic factional divides that had plagued the country for decades. Nimeiry was ousted from power in 1985, but the war continued.

In 1989, Colonel Omar al-Bashir led a group of army officers in a bloodless military coup. Over the years, under Bashir’s leadership he ruled by repression, expanded the influence of Islam in government, and supported radical Islamic groups throughout the region. Khartoum hosted and provided a safe haven to a number of radicals and radical groups, including Osama Bin Laden’s al Qaeda. In 1993, Bashir appointed himself President of Sudan, a position he has held ever since. Three years later, Bashir established the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and created a single-party totalitarian state.

Throughout this time, until the early 2000s, Khartoum committed crimes against humanity, war crimes, and potentially even genocidal attacks on civilian populations in southern Sudan. The government conducted a widespread ‘scorched-earth campaign’–destroying crops, homes, and killing livestock–using food as a weapon of war, in addition to aerial bombardments and military/militia attacks from the ground.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)

With support and pressure from regional and western governments, peace talks began in the early 2000s. The talks led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and largely supported by the United States government, culminated with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on January 9, 2005, effectively ending the civil war.

**It’s important to note that while a lot of international attention was being paid to ending the North/South civil war and negotiations, the rebellion and subsequent genocide in Darfur was just beginning.**

The CPA established a Government of National Unity between the NCP and the SPLA/M that included: wealth sharing, power-sharing, security sector reform between the two parties, and establishing Garang as Sudan’s First Vice President. On July 30, 2005, the charismatic leader of the SPLA/M, John Garang, died in a helicopter crash. Garang’s deputy, Salva Kiir Mayardit was immediately named his successor and appointed as Sudan’s First Vice President.

A critical piece of the CPA was the provision for a referendum vote that allowed southern Sudanese to decide whether to secede from Sudan or remain one country. On January 9, 2011, the people of southern Sudan overwhelmingly voted to secede from Sudan, with almost 99% of the population voting for independence. On July 9, 2011 South Sudan celebrated its independence day and became the world’s newest country with Salva Kiir the country’s first president. Click here for more information on South Sudan.

Despite South Sudan’s independence, there are a number of outstanding issues the CPA never fully resolved. A referendum for the contested oil-rich area of Abyei (which borders Sudan and South Sudan) to decide if the region would join South Sudan or remain with Sudan has never happened. The southern Sudanese states South Kordofan and Blue Nile, two regions that border South Sudan and with populations that had historically fought alongside South Sudan, were supposed to have popular consultations. These consultations would allow the population to voice their opinions of how the regions fit into the new Sudan, however, the consultations have never been fully implemented.

Sudan/South Sudan Border Demarcation Line

Click here for more information on the ongoing conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile (the two areas).