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  • Date :
  • 11/8/2003


Military regimes favoring Islamic-oriented governments have dominated national politics since independence from the UK in 1956. Sudan has been embroiled in a civil war for all but 10 years of this period (1972-82). The wars are rooted in northern economic, political, and social domination of non-Muslim, non-Arab southern Sudanese. Since 1983, the war and war- and famine-related effects have led to more than 2 million deaths and over 4 million people displaced. The ruling regime is a mixture of military elite and an Islamist party that came to power in a 1989 coup. Some northern opposition parties have made common cause with the southern rebels and entered the war as a part of an anti-government alliance. Peace talks gained momentum in 2002-03 with the signing of several accords, including a cease-fire agreement.


Location Northern Africa, bordering the Red Sea, between Egypt and Eritrea

Geographic coordinates: 15 00 N, 30 00 E

Area: total: 2,505,810 sq km
water: 129,810 sq km
land: 2.376 million sq km

Climate: tropical in south; arid desert in north; rainy season varies by region (April to November)

Coastline: 853 km


Population: 38,114,160 (July 2003 est.)

Population growth rate: 2.71% (2003 est.)

Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 1.23 male(s)/female
total population: 1.03 male(s)/female (2003 est.)

Noun: Sudanese (singular and plural)
adjective: Sudanese

Ethnic groups: black 52%, Arab 39%, Beja 6%, foreigners 2%, other 1%

Languages: Arabic (official), Nubian, Ta Bedawie, diverse dialects of Nilotic, Nilo-Hamitic, Sudanic languages, English
note: program of "Arabization" in process


Sudan has turned around a struggling economy with sound economic policies and infrastructure investments, but it still faces formidable economic problems, notably the low level of per capita output. From 1997 to date,Sudan has been implementing IMF macroeconomic reforms. In 1999 Sudan began exporting crude oil and in the last quarter of 1999 recorded its first trade surplus, which, along with monetary policy, has stabilized the exchange rate. Increased oil production, revived light industry, and expanded export processing zones helped maintain GDP growth at 5.1% in 2002. Agriculture production remains Sudan's most important sector, employing 80% of the work force and contributing 43% of GDP, but most farms remain rain-fed and susceptible to drought. Chronic domestic instability, lagging reforms, adverse weather, and weak world agricultural prices - but, above all, the low starting point - ensure that much of the population will remain at or below the poverty line for years.

Industries: oil, cotton ginning, textiles, cement, edible oils, sugar, soap distilling, shoes, petroleum refining, pharmaceuticals, armaments, automobile/light truck assembly

Agriculture products: cotton, groundnuts (peanuts), sorghum, millet, wheat, gum arabic, sugarcane, cassava (tapioca), mangos, papaya, bananas, sweet potatoes, sesame; sheep, livestock


Telephones main lines in use: 400,000 (2000)

Telephones - mobile cellular: 20,000 (2000)

Television broadcast stations: 3 (1997)

Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 2 (2002)

Internet users: 56,000 (2002)


Railways: total: 5,978 km
narrow gauge: 4,578 km 1.067-m gauge; 1,400 km 0.600-m gauge plantation line (2002)

Highways: total: 11,900 km
paved: 4,320 km
unpaved: 7,580 km (1996)

Waterways: 5,310 km

Airports: 63 (2002)


Conventional long form:Republic of theSudan
Conventional short form: Sudan
local short form:As-Sudan
local long form: Jumhuriyat as-Sudan
former: Anglo-Egyptian Sudan
Government type: authoritarian regime - ruling military junta took power in 1989; government is run by an alliance of the military and the National Congress Party (NCP), formerly the National Islamic Front (NIF), which espouses an Islamist platform


Administrative divisions:26 states (wilayat, singular - wilayah); A'ali an Nil, Al Bahr al Ahmar, Al Buhayrat, Al Jazirah, Al Khartum, Al Qadarif, Al Wahdah, An Nil al Abyad, An Nil al Azraq, Ash Shamaliyah, Bahr al Jabal, Gharb al Istiwa'iyah, Gharb Bahr al Ghazal, Gharb Darfur, Gharb Kurdufan, Janub Darfur, Janub Kurdufan, Junqali, Kassala, Nahr an Nil, Shamal Bahr al Ghazal, Shamal Darfur, Shamal Kurdufan, Sharq al Istiwa'iyah, Sinnar, Warab

Independence:1 January 1956 (from Egypt and UK)

Constitution:12 April 1973, suspended following coup of 6 April 1985; interim constitution of 10 October 1985 suspended following coup of 30 June 1989; new constitution implemented on 30 June 1998 partially suspended 12 December 1999 by President BASHIR

Legal system:based on English common law and Islamic law; as of 20 January 1991, the now defunct Revolutionary Command Council imposed Islamic law in the northern states; Islamic law applies to all residents of the northern states regardless of their religion; some separate religious courts; accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction, with reservations

Executive branch:

chief of state: President Lt. Gen. Umar Hasan Ahmad al-BASHIR (since 16 October 1993); First Vice President Ali Uthman Muhammad TAHA (since 17 February 1998), Second Vice President Moses MACHAR (since 12 February 2001); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government
elections: president elected by popular vote for a five-year term; election last held 13-23 December 2000 (next to be held NA 2005)
note: Lt. Gen. al-BASHIR assumed supreme executive power in 1989 and retained it through several transitional governments in the early and mid-1990s before being popularly elected for the first time in March 1996
election results: Lt. Gen. Umar Hasan Ahmad al-BASHIR reelected president; percent of vote - Umar Hasan Ahmad al-BASHIR 86.5%, Ja'afar Muhammed NUMAYRI 9.6%, three other candidates received a combined vote of 3.9%; election widely viewed as rigged; all popular opposition parties boycotted elections because of a lack of guarantees for a free and fair election
cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president; note - the National Congress Party or NCP (formerly the National Islamic Front or NIF) dominates al-BASHIR's cabinet
head of government: President Lt. Gen. Umar Hasan Ahmad al-BASHIR (since 16 October 1993); First Vice President Ali Uthman Muhammad TAHA (since 17 February 1998), Second Vice President Moses MACHAR (since 12 February 2001); note - the president is both the chief of state and head of government

Judicial branch:Supreme Court; Special Revolutionary Courts

Political parties and leaders:the government allows political "associations" under a 1998 law revised in 2000; to obtain government approval parties must accept the constitution and refrain from advocating or using violence against the regime; approved parties include the National Congress Party or NCP [Ibrahim Ahmed UMAR], Popular National Congress or PNC [Hassan al-TURABI], and over 20 minor, pro-government parties


Sunni Muslim 70% (in north), indigenous beliefs 25%, Christian 5% (mostly in south andKhartoum)



Tombs in the north at Meroe of kings who ruled ca. 300-200 B.C. Temple of Naqa, southwest of Meroe
Courtesy Robert O. Collins

Tombs in the north at Meroe of kings who ruled ca. 300-200 B.C. Temple of Naqa, southwest of Meroe
Courtesy Robert O. Collins

Archaeological excavation of sites on theNile aboveAswan has confirmed human habitation in the river valley during the Paleolithic period that spanned more than 60,000 years of Sudanese history. By the eighth millennium B.C., people of a Neolithic culture had settled into a sedentary way of life there in fortified mud-brick villages, where they supplemented hunting and fishing on the Nile with grain gathering and cattle herding. Contact with Egypt probably occurred at a formative stage in the culture's development because of the steady movement of population along theNileRiver. Skeletal remains suggest a blending of negroid and Mediterranean populations during the Neolithic period (eighth to third millenia B.C.) that has remained relatively stable until the present, despite gradual infiltration by other elements.


The coming of Islam eventually changed the nature of Sudanese society and facilitated the division of the country into north and south. Islam also fostered political unity, economic growth, and educational development among its adherents; however, these benefits were restricted largely to urban and commercial centers.

The spread of Islam began shortly after the Prophet Muhammad's death in 632. By that time, he and his followers had converted most of Arabia's tribes and towns to Islam (literally, submission), which Muslims maintained united the individual believer, the state, and society under God's will. Islamic rulers, therefore, exercised temporal and religious authority. Islamic law ( sharia--see Glossary), which was derived primarily from the Quran, encompassed all aspects of the lives of believers, who were called Muslims ("those who submit" to God's will).

Within a generation of Muhammad's death, Arab armies had carried Islam north and east from Arabia into North Africa. Muslims imposed political control over conquered territories in the name of the caliph (the Prophet's successor as supreme earthly leader of Islam). The Islamic armies won their first North African victory in 643 inTripoli (in modern Libya). However, the Muslim subjugation of all of North Africa took about seventy-five years. The Arabs invaded Nubia in 642 and again in 652, when they laid siege to the city ofDunqulah and destroyed its cathedral. The Nubians put up a stout defense, however, causing the Arabs to accept an armistice and withdraw their forces.


Portrait of Herbert Kitchener, commander of the AngloEgyptian army that reconquered Sudan in the 1890s
Courtesy Robert O. Collins

In January 1899, an Anglo-Egyptian agreement restored Egyptian rule in Sudan but as part of a condominium, or joint authority, exercised by Britain and Egypt. The agreement designated territory south of the twenty-second parallel as the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. Although it emphasized Egypt's indebtedness to Britain for its participation in the reconquest, the agreement failed to clarify the juridical relationship between the two condominium powers in Sudan or to provide a legal basis for continued British presence in the south. Britain assumed responsibility for governing the territory on behalf of the khedive.

Article II of the agreement specified that "the supreme military and civil command in Sudan shall be vested in one officer, termed the Governor-General of Sudan. He shall be appointed by Khedival Decree on the recommendation of Her Britannic Majesty's Government and shall be removed only by Khedival Decree with the consent of Her Britannic Majesty's Government." The British governor general, who was a military officer, reported to the Foreign Office through its resident agent in Cairo. In practice, however, he exercised extraordinary powers and directed the condominium government from Khartoum as if it were a colonial administration. Sir Reginald Wingate succeeded Kitchener as governor general in 1899. In each province, two inspectors and several district commissioners aided the British governor (mudir). Initially, nearly all administrative personnel were British army officers attached to the

The mainstream of political development, however, occurred among local leaders and among Khartoum's educated elite. In their view, indirect rule prevented the country's unification, exacerbated tribalism in the north, and served in the south to buttress a less-advanced society against Arab influence. Indirect rule also implied government decentralization, which alarmed the educated elite who had careers in the central administration and envisioned an eventual transfer of power from British colonial authorities to their class. Although nationalists and the Khatmiyyah opposed indirect rule, the Ansar, many of whom enjoyed positions of local authority, supported the concept.

Interested readers may consult several books for a better understanding of Sudan's history. Useful surveys include P.M. Holt's and M.W. Daly's,A History of the Sudan; Peter Woodward's,Sudan, 1898-1989; and Kenneth Henderson'sSudan Republic. Richard Hill'sEgypt in the Sudan, 1820-1881 assesses Egypt's nineteenth century conquest and occupation of Sudan. For an excellent analysis of the British period, see M.W. Daly'sEmpire on the Nile andImperial Sudan. The postindependence period is discussed in Mansour Khalid'sThe Government They Deserve; and Gabriel Warburg'sIslam, Nationalism, and Communism in a Traditional Society. Apart from these books, theSudan Notes and Records journal is essential for studying Sudan's historical development.

Over the past few years, there has been an increase in the literature about southern Sudan. Many of Robert Collins's studies are particularly useful, includingLand Beyond the Rivers;Shadows in the Grass; andThe Waters of the Nile. Two sympathetic assessments of southern Sudan's relationship to Khartoum are Dunstan M. Wai's,The African-Arab Conflict in the Sudan and Abel Alier's,Southern Sudan. For an Arab viewpoint, Mohamed Omer Beshir'sThe Southern Sudan: Background to Conflict andThe Southern Sudan: From Conflict to Peace are pertinent.

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