Sudan: Struggles of an Independent Nation

Struggles of an Independent Nation

In spite of the continuing revolt in the south, Sudan achieved independence as a parliamentary republic in 1956, as planned. In 1958, Gen. Ibrahim Abboud led a military coup that ended the parliamentary system. Unable to improve the country's weak economy or to end the southern revolt, Abboud in 1964 agreed to the reestablishment of civilian government. The new regime also had little success in coping with the country's problems.

In 1969, Col. Muhammed Jaafar al-Nimeiri staged a successful coup. He banned all political parties and subsequently nationalized banks and numerous industries. The bloody civil war was ended by an agreement between the government and the Southern Sudan Liberation Front (whose military arm was known as Anya Nya) signed (Feb., 1972) at Addis Ababa. Under the agreement S Sudan was granted considerable autonomy. Also in 1972, the Sudanese Socialist Union, the country's only political organization, elected a “people's assembly” to draw up a new constitution for the country, which was adopted in 1973. Nimeiri's regime became the target of criticism at home because of worsening economic conditions and for its support of Egypt's part in the Camp David accords with Israel; in the late 1970s, Nimeiri dismissed his cabinet and closed universities in an attempt to quell opposition.

During the 1980s, political instability in S Sudan increased, with renewed fighting by the largely Christian and animist Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). Motivated at least partly by a desire to shore up his popularity in the largely Muslim north, Nimeiri in 1983 instituted strict Islamic law, further inflaming opposition in the south. Having survived numerous earlier coup attempts, he was overthrown in 1985, and Gen. Abdul Rahman Swaredahab was installed as leader of a transitional military government. Elections were held in 1986 and a civilian government led by Sadiq al-Mahdi ruled until it was overthrown in a bloodless coup in 1989.

The new military regime under Lt. Gen. Omar Hassam Ahmed al-Bashir strengthened ties with Libya, Iran, and Iraq; reinforced Islamic law; banned opposition parties; and continued to pursue the war with the south, diverting relief aid (primarily food) from the famine-stricken south to the Muslim north. In 1990 the United States halted relief efforts to Sudan; ties between the two nations were further strained when Sudan supported Iraq in the Persian Gulf War. Bashir officially became president in 1993, but significant political power was held by the National Islamic Front, a fundamentalist political organization formed from the Muslim Brotherhood and led by Hassan al-Turabi, who became speaker of parliament. In 1996, Bashir won a presidential election that was boycotted by most opposition groups; a multiparty system was restored in 1999.

In Aug., 1998, U.S. missiles destroyed a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum that was suspected of manufacturing chemical-weapons compounds to be used in terrorist activities; however, international investigators were unable to find evidence to support the charges. Civil war continued through the 1990s, by which time it had reportedly resulted in nearly 2 million deaths (mostly from war-related starvation and disease) and had left the economy crippled. Sudan was cited by the UN Human Rights Commission for human-rights violations (including alleged widespread slavery and forced labor), condemned for supporting terrorism abroad, and accused by human-rights groups of “ethnic cleansing” in its offensive against the south. A cease-fire was declared in July, 1998, in order to allow food shipments to be delivered, but there were violations. In July, 1999, peace talks in Nairobi, Kenya, broke down as the warring sides failed to renew the cease-fire.

During 1999 the parliament increased Turabi's powers and moved to limit those of the president. In response, Bashir declared a state of emergency in December and dissolved parliament; the next month he appointed a new cabinet. Bashir also improved his position in the ruling National Congress party. In May, 2000, Turabi's position as secretary-general of the party was frozen, and Turabi subsequently formed his own party, the Popular National Congress party.

Meanwhile, Bashir's government worked to improve its foreign relations, and, in December, Bashir was reelected president. The opposition boycotted the vote, and the concurrent parliamentary elections were swept by the National Congress party (NCP). In Feb., 2001, Turabi was placed under house arrest after signing a memorandum of understanding with the southern rebels in which they called for joint peaceful resistance to Bashir's government, and subsequently other members of Turabi's political party were arrested; Turabi was not released until Oct., 2003. In Jan., 2002, a cease-fire was declared in the ongoing civil war in the Nuba Mts. to allow relief aid to be distributed in the drought-stricken south-central region, but fighting continued elsewhere. The same month two rebels groups, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and Sudan People's Defense Force, established a formal alliance.

The government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM, the SPLA's political arm) agreed to a framework for peace in July, 2002; however, three regions of central Sudan claimed by the rebels were not covered by the agreement. A broad truce was agreed to in Oct., 2002. Despite some violations of the cease-fire, talks continued in 2003. In Sept., 2003, an accord between the two sides called for the withdrawal of government troops from the south, rebel forces from the north, and the establishment of a joint government-rebel force in the south and in two central regions, and talks continued. Additional protocols were signed in May, 2004.

In 2003 a separate rebellion broke out in the Darfur region of W Sudan; it involved a group linked to an opposition party. A cease-fire was signed in Sept., 2003, but fighting continued. The Darfur rebels subsequently agreed to form alliance with the Beja rebels in NE Sudan (around Kasala and the Eritrean border) if they were not included in any settlement with the government. The Beja group had been expected to be part of the negotiations with the southern rebels, but talks with the Beja rebels were not fruitful until 2006, when a cease-fire and a peace agreement were signed.

Militias allied with the government in Darfur (and the government itself) were accused of ethnic cleansing, and many Sudanese were displaced by the fighting, some of them fleeing to Chad. A new cease-fire was signed in Apr., 2004, but it too did not hold. Also in April, Turabi and members of his party were again arrested by the government, which accused them of plotting against it. In September the government asserted that a new coup plot involving the jailed Turabi had been uncovered, but Turabi was ultimately released (June, 2005). Turabi, who remained a the most prominent northern critic of Bashir, was arrested again on several occasions in subsequent years.

There was increasing pressure in mid-2004 from the United Nations, United States, and European Union on Sudan to end the attacks in Darfur, and in July, 2004, Bashir's government promised the United Nations that it would disarm the militias. A lack of significant progress in ending the fighting and disarming the militias led to UN Security Council resolutions against Sudan in July and September. The latter resolution called for an investigation into whether the attacks were genocide, as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell had charged; investigating commission ultimately termed various attacks war crimes and crimes against humanity but not genocide. In August, the African Union began sending peacekeepers into Sudan, and subsequently expanded the force. An African Union–sponsored peace accord in Nov., 2004, failed to hold when a new offensive was sparked by a rebel attack later the same month, and fighting continued into 2005, at times spilling over into Chad. By early 2005 it was estimated that 2 million had been displaced by the conflict in Darfur. Lawlessness worsened there in 2005, and the area also became a base for Chadian rebel attacks against Chad, souring relations between Sudan and its neighbor. Meanwhile, there were attacks against Sudanese in the south by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group, leading both southern Sudanese rebels and government-allied militias to mount a drive against the LRA. LRA attacks in S Sudan continued sporadically in subsequent years; in late 2008 South Sudanese forces joined Ugandan and Congolese troops in a coordinated attack against LRA bases in NE Congo. Uganda continued to mount small-scale operations against the LRA in Sudan in subsequent years.

Additional protocols relating to peace with the SPLM were signed in early in Jan., 2005, and shortly thereafter a final peace agreement was sealed. The deal called for Islamic law to be restricted to the north, for the south to be autonomous and hold a vote on independence in 2011, and for central government power and southern oil revenues to be shared. Later in January the government signed a preliminary peace agreement with the National Democratic Alliance, an umbrella organization embracing more than a dozen opposition groups, including the SPLM.

In July, 2005, SPLM leader John Garang became Sudan's vice president, and the state of emergency in force since 1999 was lifted (except in Darfur and two provinces in E Sudan). Northern opposition parties, however, criticized the interim power-sharing constitution because of the limits it placed on their and southern opposition groups' participation in the government. Garang was killed in a helicopter crash in late July, sparking several days of riots in Khartoum. Salva Kiir was chosen to succeed Garang as head of SPLM and as vice president, and subsequently thousands of refugees from the south began returning there. Sudan's power-sharing government was finalized in September, and a government for autonomous S Sudan was established in Juba in Oct., 2005. Since then, however, there has been fighting in S Sudan between the SPLA and other rebels who have refused to be integrated into the SPLA, and between other Sudanese forces and the SPLA.

Attempts to invigorate the much violated AU-monitored peace accord in Darfur progressed slowly in 2006. The African Union failed to win an agreement on a new cease-fire for Darfur, and Sudan objected to replacing the AU monitors with UN peacekeepers. A failed drive by Chadian rebels that reached Ndjamena, Chad's capital, in Apr., 2006, led to a break in diplomatic relations with Chad, which accused Sudan of supporting the rebels. A peace agreement was reached with one faction of Darfur rebels in May, but subsequently there was fighting among ethnically based rebel factions as well as with government forces.

An Aug., 2006, UN Security Council resolution establishing a UN peacekeeping force for Darfur was rejected by Sudan, and the AU agreed in September to extend its forces' mandate until the end of 2006. In Oct., 2006, Chad again accused Sudan of backing a Chadian rebel incursion, and said Sudan's air force had bombed several E Chadian towns. In early 2007 there was fighting between Chadian and Sudanese forces after Chad's military pursued rebels into Sudanese territory.

Meanwhile, negotiations between the United Nations and Sudan appeared to be making some progress in late 2006 on establishing a mixed AU-UN peacekeeping force for Darfur, but there was no final agreement. In Jan., 2007, both sides in Darfur were reported to have agreed to a 60-day cease-fire and a peace summit, but it was breached, apparently by both sides, later the same month. In March, the International Criminal Court accused Ahmed Haroun, a member of the Sudanese government who was responsible for Darfur in 2003–4, of war crimes; the ICC said it had evidence that the Sudanese government had orchestrated militia attacks. The following month, after pressure from China, Sudan agreed to allow some 3,000 UN peacekeepers to join the AU force, and in June it agreed to a larger joint UN-AU peacekeeping force that would be put in place later. In Dec., 2007, the joint UN-AU operation officially began, but Sudan moved slowly in approving the components of the peacekeeping force.

In the second half of 2007 the conflict in Darfur degenerated as a peace conference scheduled to begin in October approached. Some of the Arab militias battled among themselves, a rebel force attacked AU peacekeepers, and government and militia forces attacked the rebel faction that had signed a peace agreement in 2006. A cease-fire was declared by the government at the beginning of the peace conference, but several major factions boycotted the conference, and two rebel groups that did not attend reported that they had been attacked. The conference did resolve the conflict, and fighting continued continued in Darfur through 2008.

Also in Oct., 2007, the southern Sudanese withdrew from the national government, accusing it of not honoring the peace accord; after negotiations, the south rejoined the government in December, and by Jan., 2008, all government forces finally were withdrawn from the south. However, in Dec., 2007, fighting broke out in the disputed, oil-rich Abyei region between SPLM forces and nomadic Arabs aligned with the government; the conflict, which originally erupted over passage for grazing, continued sporadically into 2008. In May the significant fighting again broke out in Abyei; in June, 2008, after negotiations, a joint north-south force was deployed in the region.

Darfurian rebels mounted an attack against Omdurman, across the Nile from Khartoum, in May, 2008. The rebels were unable to hold Omdurman, but the attack surprised the Sudanese government, which for six months broke off ties with Chad, accusing it of helping the rebels involved in the operation. (The attack was reminiscent of an assault on the Chadian capital by Chadian rebels in Feb., 2008.) Subsequent accords failed to ease Sudanese-Chadian tensions, and in May, 2009, after rebels attacks against Chad, Chadian forces launched attacks against rebel bases in Sudan. In early 2010, however, there were new talks between the two countries.

In July, 2008, the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor accused President Bashir of war crimes in connection with the conflict in Darfur; the ICC issued a warrant for Bashir's arrest for war crimes and other charges in Mar., 2009. (The ICC has investigated leaders on both sides in the conflict with respect to possible war crimes.) Sudan ordered international aid agencies to leave Darfur and other parts of the country in retaliation. Some 300,000 are estimated to have died (directly or indirectly) as a result of the Darfur conflict; some 2.7 million have been displaced.

The census that began in Apr., 2009, was denounced by Kiir after it showed southern Sudanese to make up just over a fifth of the population. The S Sudan government believed the true proportion to be at least a third, and accused Khartoum of deliberately miscounting. In July a Sudanese opposition party and a Darfur rebel group jointly denounced the current power-sharing government as illegitimate and called for a new transitional government to be formed because the accord that created the current government called for new elections by mid-2009. Also in July, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague established the boundaries of the disputed Abyei region; although the region was reduced in size and lost some significant oilfields to N Sudan, the resulting population changes tied Abyei more closely ethnically to S Sudan. Nonetheless the region remained a source of ethnic tension and sporadic violence in subsequent months, and arrangements to include it in the Jan., 2011, referendum could not be worked out. An agreement resolving most remaining disputes concerning the S Sudan peace agreement was signed by both sides in Aug., 2009, but the two thorniest issues, the census and the law governing S Sudan's referendum on independence, were not included.

In Sept., 2009, fighting broke out in N Darfur as government forces moved to oust the rebels there, and it continued intermittently, at times worsening, into 2011. Increased ethnic fighting in the south, along with the unresolved issues, raised north-south tensions as 2009 ended. One of the main Darfur rebel groups signed a truce with the government in Feb., 2010. The agreement also established a framework for further negotiations toward a final peace treaty, but the rebels later withdrew from the talks. Other significant rebel groups were not party to that agreement, but Sudan began talks with another Darfur group in May. A draft peace was proposed a year later (Apr., 2011) in talks in Qatar, but rejected in part by one of the main rebel groups.

The presidential and other elections were finally held in Apr., 2010, but logistical problems, irregularities in both north and south, and, in the north, boycotts by many opposition parties resulted in serious flaws and guaranteed that there would be no significant political changes. Bashir was reelected president with more than two thirds of the vote, while Kiir was reelected as S Sudan's leader with more than 90% of the vote, and subsequently the SPLM again participated in Sudan's coalition government. Tensions between the central government and S Sudan increased, however, in subsequent months as the Jan., 2011, independence referendum neared. The voting was nonetheless largely peaceful and credible, though there were clashes in Abyei, which was not taking part. More than 98% voted in favor of independence.

The months after the vote were marked by ongoing unrest in Abyei and the rise of anti-SPLM militias in parts of S Sudan, particularly in non-Dinka, minority areas. In Feb., 2011, the NCP majority in parliament amended the constitution to immediately exclude representatives of the 10 S Sudanese states, a move that was protested by S Sudan. In July, the south became independent as South Sudan, but the question of Abyei remained unresolved. A full-scale conflict erupted there in May, as the Sudanese government seized control of the area; thousands fled south, and UN peacekeeping forces were deployed in Abyei in July. Another disputed region, Kafia Kingi, a mineral-rich area along the Central African Republic border with a mixed but relatively small population, is also occupied by Sudan.

There also was significant fighting in Southern Kurdufan and, later, Blue Nile states in the south as government forces attempted to crush non-Arab forces, the Sudan People's Liberation Army–North (SPLA-N), who had been allied with the southern rebels; government forces were again accused of ethnic cleansing. In November, the SPLA-N joined with Darfur rebel groups to form the Sudan Revolutionary Front. Fighting in the region continued in subsequent years. A dispute over oil transit fees charged by Sudan led South Sudan to halt oil production in early 2012. In March and April there were significant border clashes between the two nations, which led to an UN-AU ultimatum that called for an end to the fighting and an agreement on border issues. Both nations have been accused of arming each other's rebels.

Loss of oil revenue in Sudan led in June, 2012, to austerity measures that sparked antigovernment protests. An agreement on the resumption of oil shipments (but not border issues) was signed with South Sudan in Sept., 2012, and negotiations continued into 2013 on issues relating to the border and rebels, delaying the resumption of shipments, but in Apr., 2013, South Sudan resumed oil production. In Nov., 2012, the government accused the country's intelligence chief of plotting a coup. In Feb., 2013, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), one of the main Darfur rebel groups, signed a cease-fire agreement and committed itself to negotiations with Sudan; it was the second Darfur rebel group to do so. Subsequently, however, there has been resurgent fighting involving groups on both sides, and in 2016 Sudan was accused of using chemical weapons in Darfur, a charge it denied.

In Apr., 2015, Bashir was reelected president in a landslide. The main opposition parties boycotted the vote, and the turnout was said to be lower than the 46% reported by the government. Constitutional amendments adopted in Dec., 2016, reestablished the post of prime minister (abolished in 1989), and Bakri Hassan Saleh, a close ally of Bashir, became prime minister in Mar., 2017. Short-term truces with rebels eased fighting in the Blue Nile and Southern Kurdufan in 2016. The government unilaterally extended its cease-fire several times, eventually through 2018, and in Oct., 2017, the United States—in part due to the cease-fire—lifted sanctions it had imposed for two decades. Despite the end of U.S. sanctions, the country's economic difficulties continued. In Sept., 2018, Motazz Moussa was named prime minister, replacing Saleh.

Protests against price increases and shortages that began in Dec., 2018, soon focused on demanding that Bashir step down, and as the protests continued into 2019 Bashir declared (February) a state of emergency. Ongoing protests led to divisions among the military and security forces. In April Bashir was ousted and arrested, and a military council was formed to rule Sudan. Protests continued, seeking civilian rule, and at times there were deadly clashes with security forces. In July both sides agreed to a power-sharing deal that would establish a technocratic government and lead to elections in three years, and a constitutional declaration completing the deal was signed in August. A sovereign council, headed by Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who had headed the military council, was formed, and Abdalla Hamdok, a former UN official, was named transitional prime minister.

In Mar., 2020, there was an unsuccessful assassination attempt on the prime minister. Heavy rains in Ethiopia led to severe flooding along the Nile in Sudan in September. In October, a peace agreement was signed with a rebel coalition based in S Sudan, but several major rebel groups were not parties to the agreement. The joint UN-AU peacekeeping operation was ended by the United Nations in Dec., 2020. Also during that month, as Ethiopia fought rebels in Tigray, Sudan took control of territory it claimed that had been settled by Ethiopian farmers, leading to tensions with Ethiopian. Sudan normalized relations with Israel in Jan., 2021; as part of the agreement, the United States agreed to help Sudan pay money owed to the World Bank and enable Sudan to receive a $1 billion World Bank loan.

However, the joint civlian-military government was dissolved in October 2021 when the military staged a coup, arresting Prime Minister Hamdok and several civilian government officials. The military dissolved the council and announced it would rule until elections could be held in July 2023. A month later, the prime minister was reinstated but the military continued to crack down on protesters and eventually Hamdok resigned in January 2022 leaving the government totally in the hands of the military leaders. In early 2023, conflict between the military junta and security forces escalated to open battle in Khartoum and across the country. Despite several attempts at creating a cease-fire, the conflict in ongoing with official estimates of 3,000 people killed and 6,000 injured.

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