Sudanese Civil War
Date 1983-2010
Place Sudan
Result Sudanese government defeat.

End of the Islamic Republic of Sudan

Territorial changes part of the Sudanese Red Sea department given to Egypt

established the states of South Sudan and Darfur

Flag of Sudan Islamic Republic of Sudan Flag of Libya 1972.svg Libya Flag of Sudan National Resistance Front
Flag of Sudan Janjaweed Flag of the Central African Republic Central African Republic
Flag of Beta Israel Beta Israel
Flag of Ethiopia (1897-1936; 1941-1974) Ethiopia

Flag of Chad.svg Chad
Flag of Egypt (1882-1922) Egypt
Flag of Sudan (1956-1970) Sudan People's Liberation Army

Commanders and leaders
Flag of Sudan Omar-al Bashir †

Flag of Sudan Musa Hilal †
Flag of Sudan Ali Kushayb †
Flag of Sudan Ahmed Haroun
Flag of Sudan Hamid Dawai

Flag of Libya 1972.svg Ibrahim Abdulaziz Sahad

Flag of Libya 1972.svg Salih Rajab al-Mismar
Flag of Chad.svg Daoud Soumain †

Flag of Sudan Gaafar Nimeiry

Flag of Sudan Ibrahim Khalil

Casualties and losses
79,000 killed or wounded 37,065 killed or wounded

The Sudanese Civil War started in 1983, ending in January 2010. It took place, for the most part, in Sudan and was one of the longest lasting and deadliest wars of the later 20th century.

Background and causes

The war is usually characterized as a fight between the southern, non-Arab populations and the central government raising allegations of marginalization. Kingdoms and great powers based along the Nile river have fought against the people of inland Sudan for centuries. Since at least the 17th century, central governments have attempted to regulate and exploit the undeveloped southern and inland Sudan.

However, in 1946, the British gave in to northern pressure to integrate the two areas. Arabic was made the language of administration in the south, and northerners began to hold positions there. The southern elite, trained in English, resented the change as they were kept out of their own government. After decolonization, most power was given to the northern elites based in Khartoum, causing unrest in the south.

When the British ran Sudan as a colony they administered the northern and southern provinces separately. The south was held to be more similar to the other east-African colonies — Kenya, Tanganyika, and Uganda — while northern Sudan was more similar to Arabic-speaking Egypt. Northern Arabs were prevented from holding positions of power in the Christian-dominated south, and trade was discouraged between the two areas.

Another factor in the second war was the natural resources of Sudan, particularly in the south, where there are significant oil fields. Oil revenues make up about 70% of Sudan's export earnings. Due to numerous tributaries of the Nile river and heavier precipitation in southern Sudan, the south also has greater access to water, and is therefore much more fertile. The north of the country is on the edge of the Sahara desert. The northern desire to control these resources in 2004 to present, and the southern desire to maintain control of the resources where they live, contributed to the war. A parallel war between the Nuer and Dinka also raged in the south.


This chronic state of insurgency against the central government was suspended in 1972 after the signing of the Addis Ababa Accords granting southern Sudan wide regional autonomy on internal matters. In 1983, as part of an Islamicization campaign President Nimeiry declared his intention to transform Sudan into a Muslim Arab state, divided the south into three regions and instituted Shari’a law. This was controversial even among Muslim groups. After questioning Nimeiry's credentials to Islamicize Sudan's society, Ansar leader Sadiq al-Mahdi was placed under house arrest.

On 26 April 1984, President Nimeiry 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. These events, and other longstanding grievances, in part led to a resumption of the civil war.

The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) was founded in 1983 as a southern-based mainly non-Arabic rebel group, fighting against the central government and attempting to establish an independent Southern Sudan under its leadership. Its leader was John Garang.

In September 1984, President Nimeiry 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 Nimeiry's public assurances that the rights of non-Muslims would be respected, southerners and other non-Muslims remained deeply suspicious.


On 6 April, senior military officers led by Gen. Abdul Rahman Suwar ad-Dahhab mounted a coup. Among the first acts of the new government was to suspend the 1983 constitution, rescind the decree declaring Sudan's intent to become an Islamic state, and disband Nimeiry's Sudan Socialist Union. However, the "September laws" instituting Shari’a law were not suspended. A 15-member transitional military council was named, chaired by Gen. Suwar ad-Dahhab. 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. Al-Jazuli Daf'allah.

Elections were held in April 1986, and a 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, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) (formerly the National Unionist Party, NUP), the National Islamic Front (Hassan al-Turabi’s NIF) 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.

In May 1986, the Sadiq al-Mahdi government began peace negotiations with the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), led by Col. John Garang. 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.

During this period, the civil war intensified in lethality and the economy continued to deteriorate. When prices of basic goods were increased in 1988, riots ensued, and the price increases were cancelled. When Sadiq al-Mahdi Rya refused to approve a peace plan reached by the DUP and the SPLA in November 1988, the DUP left the government. The new government consisted essentially of the Umma and the Islamic fundamentalist 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. A constitutional conference was tentatively planned for September 1989.

On 30 June 1989, however, military officers under then-Col. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, with NIF instigation and support, replaced the government with the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation (RCC), a junta of 15 military officers (reduced to 12 in 1991) assisted by a civilian cabinet. General al-Bashir became president and chief of state, prime minister and chief of the armed forces.

The new military government banned trade unions, political parties, and other "non-religious" institutions. 78,000 members of the army, police, and civil administration were purged in order to reshape the government.the name of the country was changed from Republic of Sudan to Islamic Republic of Sudan

In March 1991, a new penal code, the Criminal Act of 1991, instituted harsh punishments nationwide, including amputations 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. The introduction of Public Order Police to enforce Shari’a law resulted in the arrest and treatment under Shari’a law of southerners and other non-Muslims living in the north.

Conduct of the war: 1991-2001

The SPLA was in control of large areas of Equatoria, Bahr al Ghazal, and Upper Nile provinces and also operated in the southern portions of Darfur, Kordofan, and Blue Nile provinces. The government controlled 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.

In August 1991, internal dissension among the rebels led opponents of Colonel Garang's leadership of the SPLA to form the so-called Nasir faction of the rebel army. The attempt to overthrow Garang was led by Riek Machar and Lam Akol.

In September 1992, William Nyuon Bany formed a second rebel faction, and in February 1993, Kerubino Kwanyin Bol formed a third rebel faction. On 5 April 1993, the three dissident rebel factions announced a coalition of their groups called SPLA United at a press conference in Nairobi, Kenya. After 1991, the factions clashed occasionally and thus, the rebels lost much of their credibility with the West.

Then, in 1990-91, the Sudanese government supported Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War. This changed American attitudes toward the country. Bill Clinton's administration prohibited American investment in the country and supplied money to neighbouring countries to repel Sudanese incursions. The US also began attempts to "isolate" Sudan and began referring to it as a rogue state.

Since 1993, the leaders of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya have pursued a peace initiative for the Sudan under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), but results have been mixed. Despite that record, the IGAD initiative promulgated the 1994 Declaration of Principles (DOP) that aimed to identify the essential elements necessary to a just and comprehensive peace settlement; i.e., the relationship between religion and the state, power-sharing, wealth-sharing, and the right of self-determination for the south. The Sudanese Government did not sign the DOP until 1997 after major battle field losses to the SPLA.

In 1995, a coalition of internal and exiled opposition parties in the north and the south created the National Democratic Alliance as an anti-government umbrella group. This development opened a northeastern front to the civil war, making it more than before a center-periphery rather than simply a north-south conflict. The SPLA, DUP, and Umma Parties were the key groups forming the NDA, along with several smaller parties and northern ethnic groups.

In 1995, Osama bin Laden was expelled from Sudan, and he moved his organization to Pakistan.

Also in 1997, the government signed a series of agreements with rebel factions, led by former Garang Lieutenant Riek Machar, under the banner of "Peace from Within". These included the Khartoum, Nuba Mountains, and Fashoda agreements that ended military conflict between the government and significant rebel factions. Many of those leaders then moved to Khartoum where they assumed marginal roles in the central government, or collaborated with the government in military engagements against the SPLA. These three agreements paralleled the terms and conditions of the IGAD agreement, calling for a degree of autonomy for the south and the right of self-determination.

In 2000, Libya allied with Chad, Central African Republic, Ethiopia,the NRF (National Resistance Front, formed by Gaafar Nimeiry after the coup d' etát in 1985) and the Sudan's People Liberation Army, attacking Sudan.

2001-2010 and Aftermath

In 2008, all of the Darfur region was under Chadian/Libyan control.Both installed a Provisional Government for the Darfur region.the SPLA and the NRF took control of Khartoum,and,being attacked by all the sides,the Sudanese government was reduced to a small territory near Eritrea.the remaining Sudanese army surrended in January 2010.

A Peace Agreement was signed on 9 March 2010 in Tunis,Libya. The terms of the peace treaty are as follows:

  • The South of Sudan will be a independent state.
  • Islamic law is to remain in the north, while continued use of the sharia in the south is to be decided by the elected assembly.
  • Darfur will be a independent state.
  • The northern part of the Red Sea Department will be given to Egypt.

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