History of Sudan

Published on 3rd August 2005

Man has lived in the Sudan for at least nine million years and the valley of the Nile which wanders more than 4,000 miles from the lakes of Central Africa to the Mediterranean may well be the cradle of civilisation rather than the Euphrates. About four centuries before Christ the ox-driven water wheel which still plays a vital role in the country\'s economy, was introduced in Sudan. At the same time came camels, brought by the Persians when Cambyses invaded Egypt in 525 BC.

Homer knew that Sudan and his countrymen visited it, to barter cloth, wine and trinkets for gum arabic, spices and slaves. Nero sent a reconnaissance expedition far up the river but the commander\'s experience with the \"sudd\" (Arabic for obstruction), a vast and impenetrable papyrus swamp in the southern Sudan, dissuaded the emperor from any thought of conquest. During the reign of Justinian, many Sudanese kingdoms were converted to Christianity and churches dotted the sweep of the Nile until the spread of Islam in the 26th century.

Modern Sudanese history owes much to Napoleon. It was the victory in 1797, at the battle of the Pyramids which shook the power of the Mamelukes, the Caucasian ruling class of Egypt, and paved the way for the rise to power of the Albenian soldier of fortune Muhammad Mi. He sent his third son Ismail at the head of 10,000 men across the desert and, by 1821, all of north and central Sudan was his. For the first time, Sudan began to take shape as a political entity.

Salvation was to come from the desert. Muhammad Ahmad, the son of a Dongola boat-builder, was born in 1844. He grew into a soft-spoken mystic and soon retired to Aba Island, 150 miles south of Khartoum, to live the life of a religious recluse, proclaiming himself in 1881 to be the Mahdi, the second great prophet. The tribes of the west rallied to the Mahdi\'s call for a war against the infidels and despots and, early in 1884, the Mahdi was master of all Sudan save Khartoum.

Britain, who meanwhile had moved into Egypt, resolved that the Sudan could not be held, and sent General Charles Gordon to evacuate Khartoum. No man could have been more ill-fitted for the job, and after 317 days the Mahdi\'s dervish hordes overran the city\'s defences and razed Khartoum.

Five months after the fall of Khartoum, the Mahdi died of typhus; he was succeeded by Khalifa Abdallah. Hardly had he come to power when Sudan was plunged in a series of civil wars. In September 1898 the Anglo-Egyptian force led by General Herbert Kitchener met the Khalifa\'s 60,000 warriors on an open plain outside Omdurman, the new Sudanese city built across the Nile.

On January 19, 1899 Britain and Egypt signed a condominium agreement under which Sudan was to be administered jointly. In the twelve ensuing years, Sudan\'s revenue had increased seventeen fold, its expenditure tripled, and its budget reached a balanced state which was to be maintained until 1960.

After the Anglo-Egyptian \"entente\" of 1936 a few Egyptians were allowed to return to the country in minor posts. But the signing of the 1936 agreement stimulated Sudanese nationalists who objected both to the return of the Egyptians and to the fact that other nations were deciding their destiny. Expression of this feeling was seen in the formation of the Graduates\' Congress, under the leadership of Ismail al-Azhari.

By 1945, two political parties had emerged. The National Unionist Party led by al-Azhari, demanded and the Umma Party, backed by Sayed Sir Abdur-Rahman al-Mahdi. On February 12, 1953, Britain and Egypt signed an accord ending the condominium arrangement and agreeing to grant Sudan self government within three years. The elections, which were held during November and December 1953, resulted in victory for the NUP, and its leader, Ismail al-Aihari, became the Sudan\'s first Prime Minister in January 1954.

On December 19, 1955, the Parliament voted unanimously that Sudan should become \"a fully independent sovereign state.\" British and Egyptian troops left the country on January 1, 1956. The same day a five-man Council of State was appointed to take over the powers of the governor general until a new constitution was agreed.

Two years, later, on 17 November 1958 a bloodless army coup led by General Ibrahim Abboud toppled the Government of al-Azhari. On assuming power, General Abboud declared that he would rule through a thirteen member army junta and that democracy was being suspended in Sudan in the name of \"honesty and integrity\".

In 1966, Sadik al-Mahdi, the 30 year old president of the Umma party, took over as Prime Minister. Internally the security situation in the southern Sudan continued to cause anxiety. The Ministry for Southern Affairs sought to restore normal life parts of the southern provinces under government control, but there was little or no security in Equatoria Province. In October 1970 the armed forces launched a major offensive against the rebel camps.

The war ended officially in March 1972, when Colonel Numeiry signed a peace pact with Major-General Lagu, the Leader of the Anya-Nya rebels in the south. In July 1976, President Numeiry survived the most serious threat in his eight-year-old regime. On June 16, President Numeiry ordered the security forces to arrest the \"saboteurs\" responsible for the strike and decreed new measures to ban work stoppages and to bring all trade unions under the closer \"supervision\" of the SSU (Sudan Socialist Union).

Since 1971 Sudan has moved from close friendship with the USSR towards firmer lies with the West and the Arab world. This new direction in external relations has been matched by a change in internal economic policy. Nationalization of private and foreign-owned businesses was reversed in 1973 with many confiscated businesses being returned to private ownership.

President Jaafer Mohammed al-Numeiry announced on Sept.8, 1983 that the penal code had been revised in order to link it \"organically and spiritually\" with Islamic Law (Sharia). Theft, adultery, murder and related offences would hence forth be judged according to the Koran, and alcohol and gambling were both prohibited; non-Moslems, however, would be exempt from Koranic penalties except when convicted of murder or theft.

When a rising tide of refugees briefly provoked rioting in the city of Port Sudan in 1982, Sudanese President Gaafar Numeiry came under mounting pressure from some members of his government to close his nation\'s borders. Numeiry would have none of it. During a climatic Cabinet debate on the issue, he dramatically invoked the ancient Arab tradition of hospitality toward strangers. “They are the guests of Sudan\", he said. By February 1985 there were about 1 million refugees in the country, and their number could swell beyond 2 million, in 1986, according to relief officials. A spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees has described the situation as rapidly becoming \"a disaster of major proportions\".

Sudan has in four years gone from being an exporter to an importer of its sorghum, a grain like staple crop. Through a combination of bad weather and overgrazing of arable land production fell from 3.4 million tons in 1981 to 1.3 million tons in 1984. The result has been bread shortages throughout the country, even in the capital of Khartoum.

In early 1985 discontent with Numeiry\'s regime had been growing and in April while in visit to the USA, he was deposed in a military coup led by Lt. Gen. Swar Al Dahab, who after a period, passed the reigns of government to civilian rule, headed by Sadiq Al Mahdi. Again in 1988 and early 1989 following farther discontent in the country and within the military, another bloodless coup d\'etat took place on June 30, 1989 led by Brig. Omar Hassan \'Ahmed El Bashir who formed a 15 member Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation. Head of State, Prime Minister and Minister of Defence, he quickly dismantled civilian rule, constitution was suspended, and the National Assembly and all political institutions were dissolved. In mid October 1993 Brig. Omar Hassan Ahmed El Bashir dissolved the Revolutionary Command Council; and on October 30 announced the formation of a new government. Further changes took place until the last reshuffle in the Cabinet in December 1996. In 1997, the government signed a series of agreements with rebel factions, led by former Garang lieutenant Riek Machar, under the banner of “Peace from Within.”  

In July 2000, the Libyan/Egyptian Joint Initiative on the Sudan was mooted, calling for the establishment of an interim government, powersharing, constitutional reform, and new elections. Southern critics objected to the joint initiative because it neglected to address issues of the relationship between religion and the state and failed to mention the right of self-determination.

In September 2001, former Senator John Danforth was designated Presidential Envoy for Peace in the Sudan. His role aimed to explore the prospects that the U.S. could play a useful catalytic role in the search for a just end to the civil war, and enhance humanitarian services delivery that could help reduce the suffering of the Sudanese people stemming from war-related effects. 

In July 2002, the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army reached a historic agreement on the role of state and religion and the right of southern Sudan to self-determination. This agreement, known as the Machakos Protocol and named after the town in Kenya where the peace talks were held, concluded the first round of talks sponsored by the Inter governmental Authority on Development. In August and November, both sides entered negotiations on other issues, including power and wealth sharing. In October 2002, both sides signed a memorandum of understanding that called for a cessation of hostilities and unimpeded humanitarian access to all areas of the country, and which both parties largely have respected. Peace talks resumed and continued during 2003, with discussions regarding wealth sharing and three contested areas. At the end of 2003 and in early 2004, humanitarian access to the Darfur region was restricted due to the conflict, prompting the U.S. and others in the world community to ask the parties to establish a cease-fire. 

In January 2005, a peace deal was signed between SPLA and the government of Omar Bashir of Sudan. On July 9th 2005 Garang was sworn as the first vice president of Sudan. On 1st August Garang was declared dead when a Ugandan military helicopter he was traveling in crashed.

Below is an analysis of Sudan according to the 2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal


Rank: Suspended

Score: n/a

Category: n/a

Population: 31,694,590

Total Area: 2,505,810 sq. km

GDP: $ 10.4 billion

GDP growth rate:  6.9%

GDP per capita: $328

Major exports:  crude oil, cotton, sesame, livestock

Exports of goods and services: $1.5 billion

Major export trading partners: China 42.3%, Japan 14.1%, Saudi Arabia 7.4%, South Korea 4.9%

Major imports: machinery and equipment, manufactured goods, petroleum, transport equipment

Imports of goods and services: $1.8 million

Major import trading partner: China 11.9%, Saudi Arabia 8.8%, Germany 8.1%, UK 7.2%

Foreign direct investment (net): $514.7 million






2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal




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