Since gaining independence from Britain and Egypt in 1956, Sudan has experienced more years of conflict than peace. These conflicts, fought between the Sudanese government and movements arising in Sudan’s peripheries, are commonly rooted in the exploitative leadership of Khartoum, and the unequal distribution of power and wealth among the Sudanese population.
Early Civil Wars
The first civil war, from 1955 and 1972, was between the Sudanese government and southern insurgents who demanded greater autonomy from the North. The war ended with the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement which granted significant regional autonomy to the South on internal issues.
The second civil war erupted in 1983 due to longstanding grievances exacerbated by then President Jaafar Nimeiri’s decision to introduce Sharia law. Negotiations between the government and the SPLM/A (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army, the forces of South Sudan) took place in 1988 and 1989, but were abandoned when General Omar al-Bashir took power in the 1989 military coup. Bashir remains President of Sudan today. Fighting over resources, southern self-determination and the role of religion in the state raged between the Sudanese government and the SPLM/A for over two decades. The war left two and a half million people dead and four million people displaced.
International mediators, led by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, or IGAD , and supported by intense U.S. diplomacy, helped broker peace between the Sudanese government and the SPLM/A in 2005. But while international attention was focused on finding peace between North and South, another conflict had emerged in the western region of Darfur.
The present day conflict in Darfur began in February 2003, when two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Movement, or SLA, and later the Justice and Equality Movement, launched a full scale rebellion against the Sudanese government for reasons of ongoing economic marginalization and insecurity. Those involved in the rebellion were predominantly from the sedentary tribes of the region, including the Fur and the Zaghawa, and all were Muslim.
The Sudanese government responded by enlisting the help of some of the nomadic tribes in Darfur, such as the Rizeigat and the Misseriya, to put down the rebellion. The government promised these tribes land in exchange for their cooperation, exploiting the livelihood concerns of these tribes which had been brought on by years of environmental degradation, and also creating clear dividing lines and “Arabizing” the conflict. With support from the Sudanese Government’s National Congress Party, or NCP, these groups thus formed militias known as the Janjaweed, and began wreaking havoc throughout Darfur, ultimately leading to the deaths of around 300,000 people and the displacement of almost 4 million.
Since the conflict began, the rebel groups in Darfur have splintered multiple times, leaving an unwieldy number of actors with varying needs, and an increasingly complicated road to peace. One such splintering, which resulted from a Fur-Zaghawa division within the SLA, ultimately led to the creation of the Sudan Liberation Army – Minni Minnawi, or SLA-MM. The SLA-MM was the only one of the Darfur rebel groups to sign the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) in Abuja in 2006. While Minnawi’s decision to sign the DPA secured him a leadership position in Khartoum, he was later sidelined by the government and ostracized by his own people, thus accomplishing nothing for the people of Darfur.
The most recent Darfur peace process in Doha offers little hope. The Liberation and Justice Movement, a group of rebels cobbled together for Doha by international mediators, continues to negotiate peace with the government even as the most powerful of the rebel groups remain outside the process.
Dividing Sudan and South Sudan
In January 2005 the NCP and SPLM/A signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA . The CPA established an interim period of six years during which time a number of provisions were to be implemented to test the viability of a unified Sudan and to ensure that peace endured in the country. Elections meant to pave the way toward democratic transformation took place belatedly in April 2010, but saw the consolidation rather than the sharing of power by the NCP and the SPLM/A , with evidence of fraud on both sides. In January 2011, South Sudan's referendum was successfully held, resulting in an overwhelming vote for secession from Sudan. By the end of the interim period, many provisions and principles of the CPA were still unfulfilled.
Even after southern secession on July 9, 2011, the two new states of Sudan and South Sudan both continue to face insecurity within their borders. Shortly before southern secession, the Sudanese government took aggressive military action against its civilians in the border areas of Abyei and South Kordofan, displacing close to 200,000 civilians combined. Violence in Darfur continues. Security in the South remains a challenge for the southern government and army, with the proliferation of militias, inter-communal violence, and the army itself continuing to be threats to the civilian population.