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Sudan at the Crossroads - Between Consolidation and a Failing State

Studienarbeit 2008 32 Seiten

VWL - Fallstudien, Länderstudien


Table Of Contents


1. Introduction
1.1 Scientific Approach

2. Historic Background
2.1 From Independence to Civil War 1955 - 1972
2.2 Rebellion in the South: Anya-Nya I
2.3 The Second Civil War 1983-2005
2.4 Darfur Crisis 2003 - Present time

3. Actors and Strategies
3.1 The Comprehensive Peace Agreement
3.2 John Garang and the SPLM/A
3.3 Salva Kiir
3.4 Omar al-Bashir and the National Islamic Front
3.5 Peace efforts by IGAD
3.6 Strategic interests
3.7 United Nations
3.8 Internal opposition in the North and South

4. Sudan at the Crossroads
4.1 Consolidating Peace in the South
4.2 Peace Enforcement in Darfur

5. Conclusion



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1. Introduction

The recent Darfur crisis and the humanitarian catastrophe have put some public view on the Sudan. Voices to intervene have been raised and quick connections to the massacres in Rwanda in 1994 are made. The fact that the Sudanese people have been suffering from almost 40 years of intermitted civil war seems to play at best an inferior role. Despite the neglect by a vast majority of the public the southern regions are just recovering from devastating civil war and peace is still fragile. The transition to a democratic system is far from being realized, droughts have increased nutrition problems in the South and the revenues from economic growth are distributed very unevenly.[1] In addition to these problems, neighbouring states are either dictatorships with rivalling interests, in a period of uncertain transition[2] or former stable states such as Chad and Kenya which are tumbling towards domestically crisis.

Nevertheless to understand the aims of the opposing actors and how these conflicts were able to develop it is necessary to have a close look on Sudan’s recent past. The essay covers Sudan’s way from a British colony to its independence, followed and accompanied by two severe civil wars and their reasons up to the Darfur crisis today.

In the second part the author analyses the aims of the different, local, national and international actors and assesses reasonable strategies for a lasting peace in Sudan. The leading thoughts in this essay are expressed by the main questions: How did the Sudanese civil wars, which culminated in the recent Darfur crisis, evolve? What would be a reasonable strategy to secure a stable peace in Sudan?

The author wants to emphasize the necessity to bring Sudan to a stable peace. As the biggest country in Africa this could contribute to stability in the whole eastern African region, preventing humanitarian crisis and agony. Hasty decision derived from compassion and quick accusations without the necessary background may lead to false directions. This analysis shall provide objective evidence about the current situation and is intended to contribute to a wider comprehension among students of international politics.

1.1 Scientific Approach

In the first part of the analysis, the authors focus lies on the historic background. It is based on historic facts and indicates some of the diverse problems Sudan is facing today. It starts with Sudan’s independence and concentrates on inner conflicts, omitting border disputes and external crisis. Special advertence is credited to the historic development concerning the South.

The second part of the essay analyses the different actors and their strategies today and elicits chances for a lasting peace, respectively what measures have to be undertaken by the involved actors in order to install a stable peace in Sudan. Again a special attention is drawn to the conflicts in the South. The analyses are founded by the political theory of state building and human security especially Mary Kaldor’s cosmopolitan approach (c.f.: Kaldor 2006). It indicates that the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force and the rule of law, are essential requirements for assuring a state to develop in a peaceful manner with implications on democratic principals, a culture of constructive controversy, social justice and the ability to control affective behaviour.[3] In the conclusion the actors’ strategies are critically assessed. Since it can be anticipated that Sudan’s conflicts serve in certain criteria as an example of “New Wars” (Kaldor 2006, preface) adjusted directions are given to match Kaldor’s postulations in order to secure a sustainable peace in Sudan.

The line of argument is based on publications in scientific journals, a variety of books[4] on political science and publications by contemporary witnesses of the development in Sudan.

Names and places with Arab or African origin are written in their English translation.

2. Historic Background

2.1 From Independence to Civil War 1955 – 1972

At the beginning of the second half of the 20th century vast regions of Africa were under sovereignty of Great Britain. Especially Egypt played a critical role for the British Condominium in northern Africa. Despite the formal end of occupation of Egypt in 1936, the King of Egypt, who insisted on a single Egyptian-Sudanese state, was de facto under British reign. Sudan however resided under direct occupation by British forces. Sudanese politicians were therefore facing to major impediments to overcome on their way to independence: “First to eject the British and then to resist union with Egypt” (Woodward 1990, p. 92).

The Egyptian revolution in 1952 proved to be a lucky coincidence to dispose Sudan of the Egyptian claim to power and paved the way for a Sudanese independence. The new leaders of Egypt calculated that by abandoning claims of sovereignty over Sudan, British troops and dominion were obsolete (cf.: Woodward 1990, p. 86). Insofar the appraisal proved to be right as Great Britain granted independence to Sudan on January 1st 1956.

The transition from a colonial status to multiparty democracy after Westminster model started before the formal independence in 1956. In the elections for the new House of Representatives in 1954 the NUP (National Unionist Party) gained the majority of votes and Ismail al-Azhari was assigned as interim prime minister. Already during this period one major problem with devastating implications as will be shown later occurred. The ruling class was composed exclusively of Arabs and the South, with about 2.7 million inhabitants (cf.: O’Ballance 2000, p. 2), was not sufficiently incorporated into the political system. During the transition period al-Azhari was to form a commission to consider the southern demand for a federal constitution. But it appeared that the interim minister was backing away from commitments to give the South substantial autonomy and rather consolidate his own position. This proved to be unsuccessful as big portions of his NUP defected and formed a new party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), defeating al-Azhari in a vote of confident. The successor as prime minister was Abdullah Khalil, who perpetuated rejection “of the possibility of Sudan becoming a federal state” (O’Ballance 2000, p 15).

On November 17th 1958 the democratic system was overthrown in a military coup under the command of General Ibrahim Abboud who dissolved all political parties and suspended the constitution.

Despite these severe actions he was able to introduce economic reforms which led to industrialization and an increase in GDP growth.[5] Though he was failing by calming the South and further to unite the old elites in the north. In 1964 after fatally rioting took place in Khartoum he caved to the public pressure by dissolving the government and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The 1956 Transitional Constitution was reinstated and a “fifteen member cabinet” (Woodward 1990, p. 110) including two southerners, which was thought to ease the escalating conflicts in the south by containing them. Sirr Al-Khatim Al-Khalifa was elected prime minister but was succeeded after the elections of 1965 by Muhammad Ahmad Mahjoub. Between 1966 and 1969, Sudan was ruled by different coalitions and governments that proved unable either to agree on a permanent constitution or to face economic stagnation and the insurgency in the south.

Dissatisfaction culminated in a second coup d'état in May 1969. The coup leader Gaafar Nimeiri was declared prime minister and instantly abolished the parliament interdicted all political parties and therefore handing the political power back in the hands of the SDF. The transition into a democratic state with viable institutions and an incorporation of the marginalized South had failed

2.2 Rebellion in the South: Anya-Nya I

As mentioned above political issues concerning the South were mainly rejected or ignored by the ruling parties and politicians. To add another line of conflict to the absence of political co-determination President Abboud“launched a controversial effort to accelerate Islamisation of the South” (ICG Africa Report 2002, p. 9), which cumulated in repressions and displacements in the South. On the one hand this led to formation of the Sudan African National Union (SANU) as a political voice and on the other hand a guerrilla movement, the Anya-Nya. In the early years of the insurgency the different groups of the Anya-Nya were mainly occupied with “survival” (O’Ballance 2000, p.18) meaning there inability to appeal to the population as an actor of political awakening. Rather the movement was characterized by a lack of military structure, discipline and “no comprehension of real guerrilla warfare” (O’Ballance 2000, p.18). Ironically the rigorous steps that were taken by Abboud to counter the insurgency turned out to be counterproductive. Loyal troops of the Sudanese Defence Force (SDF) were ravaging through Equatoria region to quell the opposition inflicting what would be later described with the euphemism of ‘collateral damage’. Therefore Abbouds reaction doubtlessly served as a spoiler for the rebellion. Until 1963 the war intensified and even the SANU who had condemned the Anya-Nya tactics before flocked to the insurgency due to the fact that the government still “refused to acknowledge [...] the lack of southern political and economic power” (ICG Africa Report 2002, p. 9). Woodward emphasizes the fact that the movement was at no point “under the control of SANU (Woodward 1990, p. 107)” but rather a pool of insurgents of differing or worse, rivalling interests.[6]

By 1966 the Anya-Nya were controlling much of the rural areas. As O’Ballance stated the movement “had begun to develop its own military framework and administration” (O’Ballance 2000, p. 43) adding to the rebellion the touch of a political movement, although they were still locally diverse and lacking a strong structure and potent leader. Nevertheless the SDF was not able to restore order and moreover international interests as well as neighbouring states fuelled the conflict by supporting either the government or the Anya-Nya.[7] Even the reinforcement of the SDF with massive Soviet help did not bring the anticipated results. In several campaigns during the years 1967 to 1971 the diverse governments in Khartoum could not bring the insurgency to a stall.

During the same period the SDF upgraded and expanded their abilities the Anya-Nya insurgency movement was united under the command of the regional leader Joseph Lagu and his South Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM). By forming the Anya-Nya High Command Council the movement was not only able to coordinate military actions but also to “administer the civilian population under Anya-Nya control or influence” (O’Ballance 2000, p. 79). In addition to cohesion, this created a first opportunity for peace negotiations since the government in Khartoum had been on the hand not willing and on the other have had no contact person to address within the Anya-Nya, due to the complicated and diverse power structure.

With the unsuccessful coup against President Nimeiri by the communist party in 1971 and major SDF offensives proved to be unsuccessful a more pragmatic way of dealing with the South was established. The International Crisis Group stated that “Nimeiri came to see peace as more attractive than fighting an unpopular war backed by a weak army” (ICG Africa Report 2002, p. 11), and therefore paved the way for peace negotiations and sustainable southern autonomy. Despite heavy fighting the two opposing delegations met in Addis Ababa and reached an agreement on February 26th 1972. The cornerstones of the agreement granted a substantial political, religious as well as economic autonomy[8] to the southern regions and inaugurated the way into a relatively peaceful era. A provisional Council was installed quickly and furthermore to consolidate the ceasefire it was agreed upon fusing the ANAF with the SDF.

According to Cecil Eprile the autonomy was paid by approximately 500,000 people killed in the 17 years of war (cf.: Eprile 1972, p.86), not to mention the countless displaced persons, a generation of uneducated children and deeply ingrained traumas. The original conflict about misrepresentation had sparked a widespread civil war that was intensified by cleavages about Islamic sense of mission and southern identity.

2.3 The Second Civil War 1983-2005

The time between the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972 and the outbreak of the Second Civil War in 1983 is best described by the absence of war than by a stable peace. Despite the promising agreement in 1972 mutual trust did not develop. Even worse the agreement was undermined by religious and economic problems. This was not only due to Nimeiri’s “radicalism” (Woodward 1990, p. 197) as Woodward states but also to a demanding northern opposition which had to be satisfied in their demands for national integrity and the spread of Islamic law (cf.: ICG Africa Report 2002, p. 12). On the other hand Joseph Lagu’s decision, the ANAF leader in the South, was subject to controversy because people angered the decision “to forego the struggle for [full] independence and accept autonomy for the south” (Young 2005, p. 538). On June 5th 1983 Nimeiri de facto abrogated the Addis Ababa Agreement by returning regional powers back to the central government. Tensions further intensified as Nimeiri had changed his major ideological initiative from a socialist to promoting Islam, which peaked on September 8th 1983 with the introduction of Sharia law in the whole country. As Tetzlaff accurately concludes the development of a cooperative federalism was doomed to fail due to Nimeiri’s claim to autarchy (cf.: Tetzlaff 1993b, p. 154).

With the two key elements of the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972 falling into pieces, political autonomy and religious freedom, Southerners were pressed to either resist or accept northern dominance. The situation quickly turned into a separatist movement similar to the Anya-Nya in 1955 but with a different objective and right from the beginning a strong cohesion of the military and political wing under the command of John Garang.[9]

In 1985 serious shortages in fuel and groceries led to massive demonstrations throughout the country and especially in Khartoum. A group of senior officers under the command of Abdul Rahman Suwar ad-Dahhab mounted a coup to suspend the government and Nimeiri. A transitional military council was established and the power was put in the hands of the SDF. As promised by the transitional government elections were held in April 1986 which brought back “liberal democracy in principle” (Woodward 1990, p.206) and inaugurated Sadiq al-Mahdi of the Umma Party as prime minister.

While the government in Khartoum was in transition the SDF was facing heavy fighting in the South. As Woodward states “it remained clear [to the government] that the SPLA was more than a match for the Sudan army, with estimates of its numbers rising between 20,000 and 40,000” (Woodward 1990, p. 205). By the end of 1985 the SPLA controlled the whole southern region except a few besieged cities. The desperate situation for the SDF in the South, severe economical problems and an even more severe humanitarian crisis including hundreds of thousand refugees from neighbouring states and 2 million internal refugees (cf.: Woodward 1990, p. 228) lead to unstable coalitions with varying prime ministers and a government always at the edge of being overthrown.

As an almost logical consequence the government was overthrown by General al-Bashir on June 30th 1989. He instantly replaced the government with the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation (RCC), a board comprised of 15 military officers.[10] With the rise of the al-Bashir regime, fighting in the South again intensified due to new armament supplies for the SDF from China and Iran. Despite rearmament and an endangered cohesion within the SPLM/A the SDF could not gain the momentum and end the war by military victory. Peace negotiations in the 1990s by international actors such as IGADD/IGAD backed by the USA lead to direct talks between the government, SPLM/A and certain rebel fractions but failed to achieve a substantial ceasefire not to mention a peace treaty. The greatest woes had thereby to be borne by civilians. Daly suspects that part of the government’s strategy was based on starving its own population to death and to dominate the country by depopulating it (c.f.: Daly 2007, p.286). An allegation which also accords with reports and motives.[11]


[1] Based on Pennsylvania World Data Table;, last visited, March 1st 2008.

[2] E.g. The Democratic Republic of Kongo or Uganda.

[3] Compare also: Dieter Senghaas: „das zivilisatorische Hexagon“ (Senghaas 1995).

[4] Mainly Tetzlaff, Rainer: Staatswerdung im Sudan (Tetzlaff 1993b) and O’Ballance, Edgar: Civil War and Terrorism, 1956-99 (O’Ballance 2000).

[5] Based on Pennsylvania World Data Table;, last visited February 28th 2008.

[6] Some authors therefore see 1963 as the beginning of the First Civil War.

[7] Israel became a key fancier of the Anya Nya after the Six-Day War of June 1967; Soviet Union was the main financier of the government in Khartoum, providing tanks, aircraft and attack helicopters.

[8] Especially the economic and religious independence is remarkable since Nimeiri and his SSU had a strong affinity towards central planned economy after Soviet example and, what would arise much later, strong ties towards a state-led Islamic revival. For further reading also see Woodward 1990.

[9] Objectives and strategies of the SPLM/A and John Garang are elicited in chapter 3.2: John Garang and the SPLM/A.

[10] Objectives and Strategies of al Bashir are elicited in chapter 3.4.

[11] See also chapter 3.4.


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Institution / Hochschule
Helmut-Schmidt-Universität - Universität der Bundeswehr Hamburg – Fakultät für Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaften
Sudan Darfur Darfour Failing State Civil War SPLM SPLA John Garang Salva Kiir Omar al-Bashir Peace Enforcement Strategic Interest Africa Afrika Anya Nya IGAD United Nations



Titel: Sudan at the Crossroads - Between Consolidation and a Failing State