Sudan Infographic

Total Population (as of November 4, 2013)- 34,847,910, mainly black-Arab (about 70%) Muslims (97%)

South Sudan

South Sudan

Total Population (as of November 4, 2013)- 11,090,104, mainly black Christians (60.5%) of tribal descent

A Turbulent History of Colonialism: Introduction

Until 2011, Sudan and South Sudan were a single country, Africa’s largest. However, the two regions have little in common and had what continues to be a tumultuous relationship. Sudan and South Sudan have been plagued by oppressive foreign control, decades of civil war and border disputes in the name of religion, race, economy, and political power since the early days of its colonial occupation. Despite the northern African countries’ disparate histories, the two cultures were ruled as a single British colony during the Anglo-Egyptian occupation from 1899 to 1956.  This colonial period stunted the development of Southern Sudanese potential for sovereignty and bolstered North Sudanese power on the basis of economic advancement and perceived ethnic superiority.  Despite recognizing that the Northern and Southern Sudanese were very different and separate cultural and ethnic entities (northern Sudan are mostly black-Arab Muslims and southern Sudanese are mostly black Christians), colonial powers administered policies affecting the traditions and sovereignty of each, resulting in over a half-decade of conflict following the ill-planned independence of Sudan. The ongoing conflict resulted in South Sudan gaining its independence on July 9, 2011. Though the separation was widely supported, with nearly 99% approval from the South Sudanese people, the countries’ conflicts continue, primarily along the newly formed border.

The Start of Colonialism in Sudan

In the nineteenth century, the world’s gaze turned to Africa for its wealth of resources. Sudan felt the immense effects of colonialism beginning in 1821 with the Turco-Egyptian invasion. However, it was the Anglo-Egyptian condominium rule that left the biggest imprint on Sudanese culture and exacerbated the tensions between the northern and southern regions.

As a result of Turkish influence, Islam had taken a hold, though hardly a centralized one, in the northern part of the Sudan, while southern Sudan would remain neither Islamicized nor Christianized until the mid 20th century (Barnard). Great Britain hoped to capitalize on the country’s wealth of resources (the Nile River and oil) as well as the already booming slave trade operations run out of northern Sudan. Through this system, northern Sudanese captured and exported southern Sudanese to the new world. When Great Britain halted these operations, the region’s most lucrative source of revenue, uprisings ensued. To regain control, Great Britain established a joint authority rule with Egypt, though the British had significantly more power over the region. This British colonization, masqueraded as equal rule with Egypt, was largely positive for the northern Sudanese. The British granted them political and administrative control, put leaders of Muslim sects in control, and provided assistance in building infrastructure and education. This developmental assistance from the British in northern Sudan prepared the country for eminent independence and authority over the southern region.

What is now South Sudan remained largely tribal and indigenous until colonization. The cultural traditions of the region and the influence of neighboring countries such as Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya, hardly meshed well with the changes that came with colonization. Rule from its northern counterpart left a sour taste in the mouths of the south Sudanese, who had no experience with formal government, much less one that ran their region as a slave trade business venture and enforced policy that strongly deviated from tradition. The British ordered missionaries into southern Sudan in 1898 and ordered a halt to Islamic missionary work (Breidlid). They later went a step further, making English the official language and discouraging the use of Arabic. The British tried to incorporate tribal and indigenous practices into their control of the region with the “Native Administration” policy. This idea relied on tribal chiefs within southern Sudan to administer local law. Though indigenous leaders now had power, this sort of hybrid, indirect government made a mockery of tribal rule, for chiefs were made to uphold laws imposed by the British rather than the values of their communities.

It is through this indirect rule that the northern and southern regions of Sudan became increasingly polarized. The goal of Native Administration Policy (indirect rule policy) was to “build up a series of self-contained tribal units with structure and organization based upon indigenous customs, traditional usage and beliefs” (Heleta). However, it became so cumbersome to integrate colonial control into tribal and traditional practices that Great Britain eventually resorted to a minimalist approach to colonial activity in the region, withdrawing their influence in a way that equated to neglect. The regions were essentially sealed off from one another with the 1922 Passports and Permits Ordinance which removed all northern administers, revoked northern trader licenses, and required permits for northerners to travel to southern Sudan.

Preparations for Independence and Post-Colonialism

Great Britain’s preferential treatment of northern Sudan and its neglect of the southern region became increasingly blatant toward the end of its rule. Much of the current conflict in the region can be traced to the animosity that developed as a result of Great Britain’s reign. Further strengthening the separation between northern and southern Sudan, Great Britain established the North Sudan Advisory Council in 1943. The NSAC was a means for the British to prepare Sudan for independence, but particularly give power to northern Sudan, as the council name suggests. In fact, rather than putting a similar council in place for the governance of southern Sudan following independence (since it had essentially been treated like a separate country), the British instead encouraged and established steps for the colonization of southern Sudan by the northern Sudanese . The feelings of betrayal in southern Sudan culminated in the 1947 Juba Conference, in which the south Sudanese were informed of an irreversible decision: southern and northern Sudan constituted a single country. Additionally, southern Sudan had been excluded from the decision-making process due to their lack of political structures and organizations. Of course, the irony here is that Great Britain made little effort to establish such organizations and structures, allegedly because of the insurmountable influence of tribal traditions and customs in the southern region. Thus, the notion that the conflict over the past half-decade is solely religious or ethnic is a conclusion drawn to cover the neglect of the colonizing powers. Though there is truth in the idea that religion and ethnicity are the source of some identity-based conflict between the now separate countries, it is more so the combination of economic and political policy exacerbated by the shared territory of two disparate cultural entities.

Sudan gained its independence from Great Britain in 1956. Though the north was somewhat prepared for independent rule, the lack of unity across the two major regions caused chaos in the coming years. Two civil wars plagued both regions for decades to come. The first lasted for 17 years (1955-1972), but the second proved far more devastating. In 1983, (after more than 10 years of relative peace) the Sudanese president Gaafar Nimeiri sought to expand northern Sudan by redrawing boundaries to include oil rich areas and divert Nile water from southern Sudan into the northern region. These plans were met with outrage from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). Though religion’s role in the second civil war is less clear than its evident presence in the first, this war was arguably more the result of scarce resources divided unequally between different cultural, ethnic, and religious groups. The conflict lasted until 2005, making it the longest civil war in history (22 years). The battle for resources however endured even after the war’s end.

South Sudanese Independence: A Messy Divorce

The Second Sudanese Civil War ended after 22 years in January of 2005. Negotiation between southern and northern Sudan, facilitated by the United Nations, culminated in the signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) included six protocols that, among other things, began to give South Sudan autonomous power separate from Northern Sudan administration. This included a six year interim period (2005-2011) after which southern Sudan would either remain a part of Sudan as a whole, or form its own country. Having established basic governmental elements such as legislative, executive and judicial institutions as a result of the CPA, South Sudan chose independence and became the world’s newest country on July 9, 2011 (Zapata). Despite the success of the CPA in ending the Second Sudanese Civil War and establishing South Sudan as its own country, there are elements of the Agreement that have not yet been implemented. Sudan and South Sudan have yet to resolve the issue of shared resources and national boundaries in the Abyei region and the town of Heglig. Though the 22-year war finally came to a close, both countries had to face, and continue to deal with, major concerns about the segmentation of one country and the formation of another.

Despite independence, Sudan and South Sudan are still conflicting and colonialism’s impact is still discernible today. Regions along the border are still disputed, showing Sudan’s resentment to let go of the South and South Sudan’s struggle to reclaim lands and prove their independence. This has manifested itself in what is known as the Heglig Crisis along the border between Sudan and South Sudan.

Heglig Region

(courtesy of AFP)

(courtesy of AFP)