Sudan (06/95)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.


Republic of the Sudan

Area: 2.5 million sq. km. (967,500 sq. mi.); almost one-third size of continental U.S.
Cities: Capital--Khartoum. Other cities--Port Sudan, Kassala, Kosti, Juba (capital of southern region). No current accurate population statistics available.
Terrain: Generally flat with mountains in east and west.
Climate: Desert in north to tropical in south.

Nationality: Noun and adjective (sing. and pl.)--Sudanese.
Population (1994 est.): 28 million; 25% urban.
Annual growth rate (1993 est.): 3%.
Ethnic groups: Arab-African, black African.
Religions: Islam (official), indigenous beliefs (southern Sudan), Christianity.
Languages: Arabic (official), English, tribal languages.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Attendance--50%. Literacy--27%.
Health: Infant mortality rate--99/1,000. Life expectancy--52 yrs.
Work force (6 million, 1982): Agriculture--78%; industry and commerce--10%; government--6%.

Type: Military dictatorship.
Independence: January 1, 1956.
Constitution: 1985 provisional constitution amended, now suspended.
Branches: Executive authority is shared by the 12-member Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) and the cabinet. The chairman of the RCC is concurrently chief of state (president) and prime minister. Judicial--Supreme Court, attorney general, civil, shari'a (Islamic), special revolutionary courts, and tribal courts; investigative commissions.
Administrative subdivisions: 5 northern regions, 3 southern regions; each region, 2 or more provinces.
Political parties: All political parties banned following June 30, 1989, military coup.
Central government budget (1990 est.): $1.5 billion.
Defense (1990 est.): 30% of GNP.
Flag: Horizontal red, white, and black stripes with green triangle on staff side.

GDP (1988 est.): $9 billion.
GDP annual growth rate (1994 est.): -6.0.
Per capita income GDP (1990 est.): $300.
Avg. annual inflation rate (1993): 55.3%.
Natural resources: Modest reserves of oil, iron ore, copper, chrome, and other industrial metals.
Agriculture (40 percent of GNP): Products--cotton, peanuts, sorghum, sesame seeds, gum arabic, sugarcane, livestock.
Industry: Types--textiles, cement, cotton ginning, edible oil and sugar refining.
Trade (1994 est.): Exports--$165 million: cotton, sorghum, peanuts, gum arabic, sesame seeds. Major markets--Egypt, Persian Gulf states, Saudi Arabia. Imports--$600 million: oil and petroleum products, wheat, agricultural inputs and machinery, industrial inputs and manufactured goods. Major suppliers--Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Gulf states. Fiscal year: July 1-June 30.

In Sudan's 1981 census, the population was calculated at 21 million. Current estimates range to 25 million. The population of metropolitan Khartoum (including Khartoum, Omdurman, and Khartoum North) is growing, and ranges from 3-4 million, including over 1 million displaced persons from the southern war zone.

Sudan has two distinct cultures--Arab and black African--and effective collaboration between them is a major problem.

The five northern regions cover most of Sudan and include most urban centers. Most of the estimated 18 million Sudanese who live in this area are Arabic-speaking Muslims. Among these are several distinct tribal groups; the Kababish of northern Kordofan, a camel-raising people; the Jaalin and Shaigiyya groups of settled tribes living along rivers; the semi-nomadic Baggara of Kordofan and Darfur; the Hamitic Beja in the Red Sea area and Nubians of the northern Nile area, some of whom have been resettled on the Atbara River; and the Negroid Nuba of southern Kordofan and Fur in the western reaches of the country.

The southern region has a population of about 4-6 million and a predominantly rural, subsistence economy. Here the Sudanese practice mainly indigenous, traditional beliefs, although Christian missionaries have converted some. The south also contains many tribal groups and uses many more languages than the north. The Dinka (pop. 1 million or more) is the largest of the many black African tribes in Sudan. Along with the Shilluk and the Nuer, they are among the Nilotic tribes. The Azande, Bor, and Jo Luo are "Sudanic" tribes in the west, and the Acholi and Lotuhu live in the extreme south, extending into Uganda.

Sudan was a collection of small, independent states from the beginning of the Christian era until 1820-21, when Egypt conquered and unified the northern portion of the country. Although Egypt claimed all of present Sudan during most of the 19th century, it was unable to establish effective control of southern Sudan, which remained an area of fragmented tribes subject to frequent attacks by slave raiders.

In 1881, a religious leader named Muhammad Ahmed ibn Abdalla proclaimed himself the Mahdi, or "expected one," and began to unify tribes in western and central Sudan. His followers took on the name "Ansars," which they continue to use today. Taking advantage of conditions resulting from Ottoman-Egyptian exploitation and maladministration, the Mahdi led a nationalist revolt culminating in the fall of Khartoum in 1885. The Mahdi died shortly thereafter, but his state survived until overwhelmed by an Anglo-Egyptian force under Kitchener in 1898. Sudan was proclaimed a condominium in 1899 under British-Egyptian administration. While maintaining the appearance of joint administration, the British formulated policies, and supplied most of the top administrators.

In February 1953, the United Kingdom and Egypt concluded an agreement providing for Sudanese self-government and self- determination. The transitional period toward independence began with the inauguration of the first parliament in 1954. With the consent of the British and Egyptian governments, Sudan achieved independence on January 1, 1956, under a provisional constitution. The United States was among the first foreign powers to recognize the new state.

The National Unionist Party (NUP), under Prime Minister Ismail el- Azhari, dominated the first cabinet, which was soon replaced by a coalition of conservative political forces. In 1958, following a period of economic difficulties and political maneuvering that paralyzed public administration, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Abboud overthrew the parliamentary regime in a bloodless coup.

Gen. Abboud did not carry out his promises to return Sudan to civilian government, however, and popular resentment against army rule led to a wave of riots and strikes in late October 1964 that forced the military to relinquish power.

The Abboud regime was followed by a provisional civilian government until parliamentary elections in April 1965 led to a coalition government of the Umma and National Unionist Parties under Prime Minister Muhammad Ahmad Mahjoub. Between 1966 and 1969, Sudan had a series of governments that proved unable either to agree on a permanent constitution or to cope with problems of factionalism, economic stagnation, and ethnic dissidence.

Dissatisfaction culminated in a second military coup on May 25, 1969. The coup leader, Col. Gaafar Muhhamad Nimeiri, became prime minister, and the new regime abolished parliament and outlawed all political parties.

Disputes between Marxist and non-Marxist elements within the ruling military coalition resulted in a briefly successful coup in July 1971, led by the Sudanese Communist Party. Several days later, anti-communist military elements restored Nimeiri to power.

In 1976, the Ansars mounted a bloody but unsuccessful coup attempt. In July 1977, President Nimeiri met with Ansar leader Sadiq al-Mahdi, opening the way for reconciliation. Hundreds of political prisoners were released, and in August a general amnesty was announced for all opponents of Nimeiri's government.

In September 1983, as part of an Islamicization campaign, President Nimeiri announced his decision to incorporate traditional Islamic punishments drawn from the Shari'a (Islamic law) into the penal code. This was controversial even among Muslim groups. After questioning Nimeiri's credentials to Islamicize Sudanese society, Ansar leader Sadiq al-Mahdi was placed under house arrest. On April 26, 1984, President Nimeiri declared a state of emergency, in part to ensure that Shari'a was applied more broadly. Most constitutionally guaranteed rights were suspended. In the North, emergency courts later known as "decisive justice courts," were established, with summary jurisdiction over criminal cases. Amputations for theft and public lashings for alcohol possession were common during the state of emergency. Southerners and other non-Muslims living in the north were also subjected to these punishments.

In September 1984, President Nimeiri announced the end of the state of emergency and dismantled the emergency courts but soon promulgated a new judiciary act which continued many of the practices of the emergency courts. Despite Nimeiri's public assurances that the rights of non-Muslims would be respected, southerners and other non-Muslims remained deeply suspicious.

Early 1985 saw serious shortages of fuel and bread in Khartoum, a growing insurgency in the south, drought and famine, and an increasingly difficult refugee burden. In early April, during Nimeiri's absence from the country, massive demonstrations, first triggered by price increases on bread and other staples, broke out in Khartoum.

On April 6, 1985, senior military officers led by Gen. Suwar el Dahab mounted a coup. Among the first acts of the new government was to suspend the 1983 constitution and disband Nimeiri's Sudan Socialist Union. A 15-member transitional military council was named, chaired by Gen. Suwar el Dahab. In consultation with an informal conference of political parties, unions, and professional organizations known as the "Gathering," the council appointed an interim civilian cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Dr. El Gizouli Defalla.

Elections were held in April 1986, and the transitional military council turned over power to a civilian government as promised. The government, headed by Prime Minister Sadiq al Mahdi of the Umma party, consisted of a coalition of the Umma, DUP, and several southern parties. This coalition dissolved and reformed several times over the next few years, with Sadiq al Mahdi and his Umma party always in a central role.

During this period, the economy continued to deteriorate. When prices of basic goods were increased in 1988, riots ensued, and the price increases were cancelled. The civil war in the south was particularly divisive (see "Civil Strife" below). When Sadiq refused to approve a peace plan reached by the DUP and the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) in November 1988, the DUP left the government. The new government consisted essentially of the Umma and the Islamic fundamentalist National Islamic Front (NIF).

In February 1989, the army presented Sadiq with an ultimatum: he could move toward peace or be thrown out. He formed a new government with the DUP and approved the SPLA/DUP agreement. On June 30, 1989, however, military officers under then-Colonel Omar al Bashir replaced the government with the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation (RCC), a junta comprised of 15 (reduced to 12 in 1991) military officers assisted by a civilian cabinet. General al Bashir is president and chief of state, prime minister and chief of the armed forces.

In March of 1991, a new penal code, the Criminal Act of 1991, instituted harsh punishments nationwide, including amputation and stoning. Although the southern states are 'officially' exempt from these Islamic prohibitions and penalties, the 1991 act provides for a possible future application of Islamic law (Shari'a) in the south. In 1993, the government transferred all non-Muslim judges from the south to the north, replacing them with Muslim judges.

Civil Strife
In 1955, southern resentment of northern domination culminated in a mutiny among southern troops in Equatoria Province. For the next 17 years, the southern region experienced civil strife, and various southern leaders agitated for regional autonomy or outright secession.

This chronic state of insurgency against the central government was suspended early in 1972 after the signing of the Addis Ababa accords granting southern Sudan wide regional autonomy on internal matters, but a 1983 decree by President Nimeiri dividing the south into three regions revived southern opposition and militant insurgency. After the 1985 coup, the new government rescinded this decree and made other significant overtures aimed at reconciling north and south. In May 1986, the Sadiq al Mahdi government began peace negotiations with the SPLA, led by Col. John Garang de Mabior. In that year the SPLA and a number of Sudanese political parties met in Ethiopia and agreed to the "Koka Dam" declaration, which called for abolishing Islamic law and convening a constitutional conference. In 1988, the SPLA and the DUP agreed on a peace plan calling for the abolition of military pacts with Egypt and Libya, freezing of Islamic laws, an end to the state of emergency, and a cease-fire. A constitutional conference would then be convened.

Following an ultimatum from the armed forces in February 1989, the Sadiq government approved this peace plan and engaged in several rounds of talks with the SPLA. A constitutional conference was tentatively planned for September 1989. The military government which took over on June 30, 1989, however, repudiated the DUP- SPLA agreement and stated it wished to negotiate with the SPLA without preconditions. Negotiating sessions in August and December 1989 brought little progress.

The SPLA is in control of large areas of Equatoria, Bahr al Ghazal and Upper Nile provinces and also operates in the southern portions of Darfur, Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces. The government controls a number of the major southern towns and cities, including Juba, Wau, and Malakal. An informal cease-fire in May broke down in October 1989, and fighting has continued since then. In August of 1991, opponents of Colonel Garang's leadership of the SPLA form the so- called Nasir faction of the rebel army. In September of 1992, William Nyuon Bany formed a second rebel faction and in February of 1993, Kerubino Kwanyin Bol formed a third rebel faction. On April 5, 1993, the three dissident rebel factions announced a coalition of their groups called SPLA united at a press conference in Nairobi, Kenya. Since 1991, the factions have clashed occasionally and thus, the rebels have lost all credibility in the West. Since late 1993, the leaders of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda have pursued a peace initiative for Sudan under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD) but results have been mixed.

The ongoing civil war has displaced over 2 million southerners. Some fled into southern cities, such as Juba; others trekked as far north as Khartoum and even on into Ethiopia. These people were unable to grow food or earn money to feed themselves, and malnutrition and starvation became widespread.

Following an international outcry, the Sadiq al Mahdi government in March 1989 agreed with the UN and donor nations (including the US) on a plan called Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), under which some 100,000 tons of food was moved into both government and SPLA-held areas in southern Sudan, and widespread starvation was averted. OLS was suspended when the informal cease-fire broke down in late 1989. Following prolonged negotiations, Phase II of OLS to cover 1990 was approved by both the government and the SPLA in March of 1990. In 1991, Sudan faced a food shortage across the entire country because of two consecutive years of drought. The US, the UN, and other donors attempted to mount a coordinated international relief effort in both northern and southern Sudan in order to avert a catastrophe. However, due to Sudan's human rights abuses and its pro-Iraqi stance during the Persian Gulf War, many donors have cut much of their aid to Sudan.

Since 1983 Sudan has been divided into five regions in the north and three in the south, each headed by a governor. Since the 1985 coup, regional assemblies have been suspended. Each region is now under the control of a military governor. All regions have limited budgetary powers and depend on the central government for economic support. Khartoum province, comprising the capital and outlying districts, is administered by a special commissioner.

Principal Government Officials
President, Prime Minister, and Chairman of the Revolutionary
Command Council--Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan al Bashir
Deputy Prime Minister--Maj. Gen. al Zubeir Muhammad Salih
Foreign Affairs--Ali Sahloul
Ambassador to the United States--Ahmed Suliman
Ambassador to the United Nations--Ali Mohamed Osman Yassin

Sudan's primary resources are agricultural. Although the country is trying to diversify its cash crops, cotton accounts for nearly 50 percent of export earnings. Another large export crop is gum arabic, used in pharmaceuticals, food preparation, and printing, with Sudan producing four-fifths of the world's supply. Grain sorghum (dura) is the principal food crop, and wheat is grown for domestic consumption. Other crops such as sesame seeds and peanuts are cultivated for domestic consumption and increasingly for export. Livestock production has vast potential, and many animals, particularly camels and sheep, are exported to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab countries.

The inadequate transportation system and the high cost of hauling agricultural products over great distances are major hindrances to economic development. Sudan's only paved highways link Khartoum to Port Sudan and the capital to Kosti and the White Nile. Completed in mid-1980, the Khartoum-Port Sudan road has greatly increased commerce between these cities. Southern transportation is vulnerable to bad weather. Programs are underway to improve roads in southern and western Sudan.

At present, the country's transportation facilities consist of one 4,800-kilometer (2,784-mi.), single-track railroad with a feeder line, supplemented by river steamers, Sudan Airways, and about 1,900 km. (1,200 mi.) of paved or gravel roads.

Sudan has made large investments in growing cotton under various irrigation and pump plans, particularly the Gezira scheme, south of Khartoum between the White and Blue Niles. Rain-fed agriculture, primarily millet, sesame seeds, peanuts, and short-staple cotton, has had uneven success; there is progress in developing the rain-fed areas for mechanized agriculture. These lands are promising, provided the problems of transportation and irrigation to supplement rainfall can be resolved.

Sudan's limited industrial development consists principally of agricultural processing and various light industries located at Khartoum North. Although Sudan is reputed to have great mineral resources, exploration has been quite limited, and the country's real potential is unknown. Small quantities of asbestos, chromium, and mica are exploited commercially. Extensive petroleum exploration began in the mid-1970s and might eventually produce all of Sudan's needs. Significant finds were made in the Upper Nile region, but the ongoing civil war in that area has forced suspension of exploration and development activity there.

Sudan has an installed electrical generating capacity of 300 megawatts (MW), of which 180 MW is hydroelectric and the rest, thermal. More than 70 percent of the hydropower comes from the Roseires Dam on the Blue Nile grid. Various projects are underway for expanding Roseires power station and for developing thermal and other sources of energy.

The United States, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) nations traditionally have supplied most of Sudan's economic assistance. Sudan's role as an economic link between Arab and African countries is demonstrated by the location in Khartoum of the Arab Bank for African Economic Development. The World Bank has been the largest source of development loans.

Sudan will require extraordinary levels of program assistance and debt relief to manage a foreign debt exceeding dollars 13 billion, more than the country's entire annual GDP. Since the late 1970s, the IMF, World Bank, and key donors have worked closely to promote reforms to counter the effect of inefficient economic policies and practices. By mid-1984 a combination of factors-including drought, inflation, and confused application of Islamic law-reduced donor disbursements, and capital flight led to a serious foreign-exchange crisis and increasing shortages of imported inputs and commodities.

The government fell out of compliance with the IMF standby program and accumulated substantial arrearages on repurchase obligations to the IMF. A 4-year economic reform plan was announced by the Sadiq government in 1988 but was not pursued. The government of General Omar al Bashir announced its own economic reform plan in 1989 and began implementing a 3-year economic restructuring program on July 1, 1990, designed to reduce the public sector deficit, end subsidies, privatize state enterprises, and encourage new foreign and domestic investment. Sudan remains the world's largest debtor to the IMF, with accumulated arrears of over $1.3 billion. In August of 1993, the IMF suspended Sudan's voting rights. In September of 1993, the World Bank suspended Sudan's right to make withdrawals under effective and fully disbursed loans and credits.

Sudan continues to suffer from a severe shortage of foreign exchange, as imports exceed exports by more than two to one. In October of 1993, the government reimposed currency controls, making it illegal to possess foreign exchange without prior approval. Exports are largely stagnant. The small industrial sector remains in the doldrums, and Sudan's inadequate and declining infrastructure inhibits economic recovery. Foreign exchange rate policies discourage remittances from Sudanese working abroad.

The Sudanese People's Armed Forces is a 60,000-member army supported by a small air force and navy. It is a defensive force, having the additional duty of maintaining internal security. Some rebels currently fighting in the south are former army members. Sudan's military services are hampered by limited and outdated equipment. In the 1980's, the US worked with the Sudanese government to upgrade equipment with special emphasis on airlift capacity and logistics. All US military assistance was terminated following the military coup of June 30, 1989. Sudan has most recently received military assistance from Iraq, China, and Libya.

Sudan in recent years has tried to steer a nonaligned course, courting western aid and seeking rapprochement with Arab states, while maintaining cooperative ties with Libya, Iran, the Comoros islands, and Iraq.

Solidarity with other Arab countries has been a feature of Sudan's foreign policy. When the Arab-Israeli war began in June 1967, Sudan declared war on Israel. However, in the early and mid-1970s, Sudan gradually shifted its stance and was supportive of the Camp David process.

Relations between Sudan and Libya deteriorated in the early 1970s and reached a low in October 1981, when Libya's leader began a policy of cross-border raids into western Sudan. After the 1985 coup, the military government resumed diplomatic relations with Libya, as part of a policy of improving relations with neighboring and Arab states. In early 1990, Libya and Sudan announced that they would seek "unity." It is not clear how or when this unity will be implemented.

Sudan broke diplomatic ties with the United States in June 1967, following the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli war. Relations improved after July 1971, when the Sudanese Communist Party attempted to overthrow President Nimeiri, and Nimeiri suspected Soviet involvement. US assistance for resettlement of refugees following the February 1972 peace settlement in the south added further impetus to the improvement of relations. Diplomatic ties were restored on June 25, 1972.

On March 1, 1973, Palestinian terrorists of the "Black September" organization murdered US Ambassador Cleo A. Noel and Deputy Chief of Mission Curtis G. Moore. Sudanese officials arrested the terrorists and tried and convicted them on murder charges. In June 1974, however, the Sudanese government released them to the custody of the Egyptian government. The US ambassador to Sudan was withdrawn in protest. Although the US Ambassador returned to Khartoum in November, relations with Sudan remained static until late 1975 and early 1976, when President Nimeiri mediated the release of 10 American hostages being held by Eritrean insurgents in rebel strongholds in northern Ethiopia. In 1976, the United States decided to resume economic assistance to Sudan.

In late 1985, there was a reduction in staff at the American embassy in Khartoum because of the presence in Khartoum of a large contingent of Libyan terrorists. In April 1986, relations with Sudan deteriorated when the United States bombed Tripoli. A US embassy employee was shot on April 16, 1986. Immediately following this incident, all non- essential personnel and all dependents left for 6 months.

US interests in Sudan center around peace and relief. The US has worked closely with the governments of both Sadiq al Mahdi and General Omar al-Bashir to see that emergency relief assistance is provided to those displaced by the ongoing civil war. Sudan's position during the Iraq/Kuwait crisis strained relations with the United States. Sudan stated that Iraq should not have invaded Kuwait, but it was equally critical of the presence of Western forces on Islamic holy lands. Because Sudan is a safe haven for Islamic terrorist groups and because Sudan has supported or is supporting insurrections and/or radicals in Algeria, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Tunisia, and Uganda, the U.S. added Sudan to its terrorism list in August of 1993. Since then, relations between the U.S. and Sudan have plummeted.

Principal US Officials
Ambassador--Donald Petterson
Deputy Chief of Mission--Lawrence Benedict
USAID Director--Robert Russell
Public Affairs Officer--Jane Gaffney

The U.S. Embassy in Sudan is located at Shari'a Ali Abdul Latif, PO Box 699, Khartoum (tel. 74700, 74611). Hours are 7 am-3 pm Sunday through Thursday. US Marine security guards at the embassy can be contacted at any time in an emergency.