Sudanese Civil War Resumes

After a decade of relative peace following the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972, Sudan’s second civil war broke out as President Gaafar Muhammad al-Nimeiri declared a state of emergency and reneged on a promise of autonomy to the peoples in southern Sudan by imposing Islamic law throughout the country. This second phase of the civil war persisted for more than twenty years before a peace agreement was reached.

Summary of Event

Sudan, a British colony that gained independence in 1956, conducted its first census that same year. The census showed 572 tribes and 114 recognized languages in the land. The numbers indicate the differences that have long divided the nation. The first civil war, pitting the Arab-Muslim north against the African Christian and animist south, erupted in 1955. By the time the conflict ended in 1972, more than half a million were dead. President Gaafar Muhammad al-Nimeiri, realizing that the war could not be won, granted autonomy to the south. The peace lasted only ten years, however. Civil wars;Sudan
Racial and ethnic conflict;Sudan
Sudan;civil war
[kw]Sudanese Civil War Resumes (1983)
[kw]Civil War Resumes, Sudanese (1983)
[kw]War Resumes, Sudanese Civil (1983)
Civil wars;Sudan
Racial and ethnic conflict;Sudan
Sudan;civil war
[g]Africa;1983: Sudanese Civil War Resumes[05060]
[g]Sudan;1983: Sudanese Civil War Resumes[05060]
[c]Government and politics;1983: Sudanese Civil War Resumes[05060]
[c]Military history;1983: Sudanese Civil War Resumes[05060]
Nimeiri, Gaafar Muhammad al-
Garang, John
Bashir, Omar al-
Mahdi, Sadiq al-
Dahab, Abdel Rahman Swar al-

The second civil war in Sudan began in 1983. In January, 1982, Nimeiri announced that a referendum would be held in the south on the decentralization issue, but only in Equatoria Province. Some southern politicians immediately viewed this plan as an effort to divide the south and claimed that the plan was contrary to the 1972 autonomy agreement. The politicians were arrested on charges of forming an illegal political organization. Early in 1983, a southern Sudanese separatist group calling itself Anya-nya II Anya-nya II[Anyanya two] (Anya-nya I fought in the first civil war) began carrying out attacks against police stations and army posts. The group reputedly received help from southern army officers. The government’s policy of rotating northern and southern army units in the south ended in February, 1983, when the southern battalion at Bor, at the end of its tour of duty, refused to leave and move to a northern garrison, threatening to fire on the northern soldiers sent to relieve. Major Carabino Kuanyin Kuanyin, Carabino led this rebellion, which marked the commencement of the second civil war. The Bor mutiny developed into a full-scale battle between northern and southern soldiers.

On September 8, 1983, sharia, Sharia or Islamic law, went into effect in Sudan. Muslims;Sudan The penal code was amended to conform to precepts of the Qur՚ān. Some offenses, such as theft, were punished by amputation, while alcohol and gambling were prohibited. Meanwhile, Nimeiri abandoned his military uniform for the attire of a devout Muslim. The south, with its varied religious traditions, strongly opposed the Islamization of Sudan. However, with two-thirds of Sudan’s land and population in Arab-Muslim possession, the north controlled the country.

In May, 1984, rebel leader Joseph Oduhu Oduhu, Joseph declared that the Sudan People’s Liberation Army Sudan People’s Liberation Army[Sudan Peoples Liberation Army] (SPLA) aimed to overthrown Nimeiri and install a democratic socialist government. The SPLA, under the leadership of John Garang, planned to halt work on the Jonglei Canal and the oil pipeline to Port Sudan while disrupting river and rail movement between the north and south. Kidnappings of foreign workers as well as an attack on a Nile River steamer that killed about fifteen hundred travelers succeeded in achieving these aims.

Nimeiri proclaimed a state of emergency in April, 1984, on the grounds that it was necessary to achieve maximum stability and security as well as to prevent the spread of corruption. The army and the police were given extra powers to arrest and detain people, enter private houses, make searches, and open personal mail. The state of emergency ended on September 29, 1984, when Nimeiri suspended Islamic courts and rescinded a decree to divide the south into three regions. Meanwhile, Garang, in full control of the SPLA, continued to attack army posts and government installations, but an army offensive in July, 1984, had forced the guerrillas to withdraw from their stronghold near Pochalla. By this time, the SPLA and Anya-Nya were also killing each other. In 1985, General Abdel Rahman Swar al-Dahab ousted Nimeiri in a bloodless coup.

In 1989, Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir overthrew democratically elected prime minister Sadiq al-Mahdi in an Islamist-backed coup. Revolutions and coups;Sudan Al-Bashir’s regime dissolved parliament and banned political parties, among other repressive decrees. The Islamic fundamentalist policies of the Sudanese government alienated much of the world. The United States and Egypt accused Sudan of supporting terrorist groups that were connected to the 1993 bombing of New York’s World Trade Center and a 1995 assassination attempt on Egyptian president Hosnī Mubārak.

As a result of this animosity toward the government, the SPLA received substantial amounts of foreign military upport, including tanks and heavy artillery. However, divisions in the south among the five major ethnic groups Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk, Bari, and Azande complicated efforts to unite against the north. This situation was exacerbated by Garang’s policy of favoring his own Dinka people. By 1998, the war had reached a stalemate in which neither side appeared capable of mounting a decisive military effort. Government forces conducted indiscriminate aerial bombardments and used helicopter gunships to attack insurgents, supply bases, and civilian targets. In 1999, there were 65 aerial attacks on civilians, rising to 132 in 2000, and 195 in 2001. Meanwhile, Garang altered his dictatorial style under pressure from supporters in Eritrea and Uganda. He shared power with other tribes, although the Dinka still dominated the SPLA.

The war turned southern Sudan into a large refugee camp. Millions of villagers had fled government attacks or had been forced to leave because of fighting between rebel factions. Some of the refugees spilled into the neighboring countries of Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya, placing a severe strain on these nations. By 1985, at least one-third of the Sudanese government’s expenditures went toward the war in the south. Attempts to build up stockpiles of food in western Sudan before the onset of the rainy season were hampered by the poor railway system and Sudanese bureaucracy. Starvation spread in the south and continued to worsen during the course of the war.

In 1997, the government of Sudan agreed to separation of mosque and state as well as a plan for self-determination for the southern region. In January, 2002, a tentative cease-fire agreement between the parties was negotiated under U.S. mediation, although sporadic fighting continued for the first half of the year. A series of preliminary peace agreements were signed before Garang and al-Bashir reached a final peace accord on January 9, 2005, in Nairobi, Kenya.


The 2005 peace accord marked the end of Africa’s longest civil war and one of the most devastating wars in the continent’s history. At the close of the conflict, more than two million Sudanese had been killed by combat, starvation, and disease while more than four million people were displaced. The peace agreement called for national elections within four years; the drafting of a new constitution within six years; the creation of a transitional, power-sharing government with Garang as vice president; and a north-south member ratio of seventy to thirty in a new national assembly. The agreement also stipulated a fifty-fifty split of oil profits between the north and the south. The United Nations and African Union provided peacekeeping forces. However, fighting in the western Sudan region of Darfur that broke out in 2003 overshadowed this peace and led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people.

Lasting hopes for peace in Sudan were diminished by the July 30, 2005, death of John Garang in a helicopter crash. His supporters, suspecting foul play, led riots that killed more than 130 people. The south remained one of the poorest areas in the world, with no electricity and no paved roads. It also remained unstable and deeply divided along ethnic lines and by tribal, political, and personal loyalties. A number of southerners continue to seek complete independence for the region. Civil wars;Sudan
Racial and ethnic conflict;Sudan
Sudan;civil war

Further Reading

  • Daly, M. W., and Ahmad Alawad Sikainga, eds. Civil War in the Sudan. New York: British Academic Press, 1993. Authors provide basic information about the war, the issues at stake, and features of the war that have received little attention elsewhere.
  • Idris, Amir H. Sudan’s Civil War: Slavery, Race, and Formational Identities. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2001. Examines the process of marginalization and the politics of resistance in southern Sudan.
  • Meyer, Gabriel. War and Faith in Sudan. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005. Uses text and photographs to show the impact of the war on the Nuba people.
  • O’Balance, Edgar. Sudan, Civil War, and Terrorism, 1956-1999. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. Political history of the war is one of the best sources of information available on the conflict.

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