The history of Sudan is marked by influences (military and cultural) on Sudan from neighboring areas (e.g. Egypt, Arabian Peninsula, Ethiopia, Congo, Chad) and world powers (e.g. United Kingdom, United States). The territory of Sudan combines the lands of several ancient kingdoms, including Kush, Darfur, and three Nubian kingdoms.
Excavation of archaeological sites on the Nile above Aswan has confirmed human habitation in the river valley during the Paleolithic period that spanned more than sixty thousand years of Sudanese history. A prehistoric burial discovered in northern Sudan reveals what is believed to be the world's earliest indication of warfare, dating to the twelfth millennium BC By the eighth millennium BC, people of a Neolithic culture had settled into a sedentary way of life there in fortified mud-brick villages, where they supplemented hunting and fishing on the Nile with grain gathering and cattle herding. Anthropological and archaeological research indicate that during the predynastic period Nubia and Nagadan Upper Egypt were ethnically, and culturally nearly identical, and thus, simultaneously evolved systems of pharaonic kingship by 3300 BC. But during the close of the Nagada III period, Nagada, in its bid to conquer and unify the whole nile valley, seems to have conquered their southern neighbors and "Egyptianized" them. The result appears to have been the depopulation of the entire Lower Nubian area, either by the genocidal efforts of the First Dynasty Egyptian kings, or by the migration (forced or voluntary) of the nubians to areas north and south.
Over the centuries, trade developed. Egyptian caravans carried grain to Kush and returned to Aswan with ivory, incense, hides, and carnelian (a stone prized both as jewelry and for arrowheads) for shipment downriver. Egyptian traders particularly valued gold and slaves, who served as domestic servants, concubines, and soldiers in the pharaoh's army. Egyptian military expeditions penetrated Kush periodically during the Old Kingdom. Yet there was no attempt to establish a permanent presence in the area until the Middle Kingdom (c.2100-1720 BC), when Egypt constructed a network of forts along the Nile as far south as Samnah, in southern Egypt, to guard the flow of gold from mines in Wawat.
Around 1720 BC, Asian nomads named Hyksos took over Egypt, ended the Middle Kingdom, severed links with Kush, and destroyed the forts along the Nile River. To fill the vacuum left by the Egyptian withdrawal, a culturally distinct indigenous kingdom emerged at Karmah, near present-day Dunqulah. After Egyptian power revived during the New Kingdom (c.1570-1100 BC), the pharaoh Ahmose I incorporated Kush as an Egyptian province governed by a viceroy. Although Egypt's administrative control of Kush extended only down to the fourth cataract, Egyptian sources list tributary districts reaching to the Red Sea and upstream to the confluence of the Blue Nile and White Nile rivers. Egyptian authorities ensured the loyalty of local chiefs by drafting their children to serve as pages at the pharaoh's court. Egypt also expected tribute in gold and slaves from local chiefs.
Once Egypt had established political control over Kush, officials and priests joined military personnel, merchants, and artisans and settled in the region. The Egyptian language became widely used in everyday activities. Many rich Kushites worshipped Egyptian gods and built temples for them. The temples remained centers of official religious worship until the coming of Christianity to the region during the sixth century. When Egyptian influence declined or succumbed to foreign domination, the Kushite elite regarded themselves as central powers and believed themselves as idols of Egyptian culture and religion.
By the eleventh century BC, the authority of the New Kingdom dynasties had diminished, allowing divided rule in Egypt, and ending Egyptian control of Kush. There is no information about the region's activities over the next three hundred years. In the eighth century BC, however, Kush emerged as an independent kingdom ruled from Napata by an aggressive line of monarchs who slowly extended their influence into Egypt. Around 750 BC, a Kushite king called Kashta conquered Upper Egypt and became ruler of Thebes until approximately 740 BC. His successor, Piankhy, subdued the delta, reunited Egypt under the Twenty-fifth Dynasty, and founded a line of kings who ruled Kush and Thebes for about a hundred years. The dynasty's intervention in the area of modern Syria caused a confrontation between Egypt and Assyria. When the Assyrians in retaliation invaded Egypt, Taharqa (688-663 BC), the last Kushite pharaoh, discontinued his rule there and returned the dynasty to Napata, where it continued to rule Kush and extended its dominions to the south and east.
By the sixth century, three states had emerged as the political and cultural heirs of the Meroitic kingdom. Nobatia in the north, had its capital at Faras, in what is now Egypt; the central kingdom, Muqurra, was centered at Dunqulah, the old city on the Nile about 150 kilometers south of modern Dunqulah; and Alwa, in the heartland of old Meroe in the south, had its capital at Sawba. In all three kingdoms, warrior aristocracies ruled Meroitic populations from royal courts where functionaries bore Greek titles in emulation of the Byzantine court.
The earliest references to Nubia's successor kingdoms are contained in accounts by Greek and Coptic authors of the conversation of Nubian kings to Christianity in the sixth century. According to tradition, a missionary sent by Byzantine empress Theodora arrived in Nobatia and started preaching the gospel about 540. It is possible that the conversion process began earlier, however, under the aegis of Coptic missionaries from Egypt. The Nubian kings accepted the Monophysite Christianity practiced in Egypt and acknowledged the spiritual authority of the Coptic patriarch of Alexandria over the Nubian church. A hierarchy of bishops named by the Coptic patriarch and consecrated in Egypt directed the church's activities and wielded considerable secular power. The church sanctioned a sacerdotal kingship, confirming the royal line's legitimacy. In turn the monarch protected the church's interests. The queen mother's role in the succession process paralleled that of Meroe's matriarchal tradition. Because women transmitted the right to succession, a renowned warrior not of royal birth might be nominated to become king through marriage to a woman in line of succession.
The emergence of Christianity reopened channels to Mediterranean civilization and renewed Nubia's cultural and ideological ties to Egypt. The church encouraged literacy in Nubia through its Egyptian-trained clergy and in its monastic and cathedral schools. The use of Greek in liturgy eventually gave way to the Nubian language, which was written using an indigenous alphabet that combined elements of the old Meroitic and Coptic scripts. Coptic, however, often appeared in ecclesiastical and secular circles. Additionally, early inscriptions have indicated a continuing knowledge of colloquial Greek in Nubia as late as the twelfth century. After the seventh century, Arabic gained importance in the Nubian kingdoms, especially as a medium for commerce.
The Christian Nubian kingdoms, which survived for many centuries, achieved their peak of prosperity and military power in the ninth and tenth centuries. However, Muslim Arab invaders, who in 640 had conquered Egypt, posed a threat to the Christian Nubian kingdoms. Nobatia and Muqurra merged into the kingdom of Dunqulah sometime before 700. Although the Arabs soon abandoned attempts to reduce Nubia by force, Muslim domination of Egypt often made it difficult to communicate with the Coptic patriarch or to obtain Egyptian-trained clergy. As a result, the Nubian church became isolated from the rest of the Christian world.
Far less is known about the history of southern Sudan. It seems as though it was home to a variety of semi-nomadic tribes. In the 16th century one of these tribes, known as the Funj, moved north and united Nubia forming the Kingdom of Sennar. The Funj sultans quickly converted to Islam and that religion steadily became more entrenched. At the same time, the Darfur Sultanate arose in the west. Between them, the Taqali established a state in the Nuba Hills.
During the 1870s, European initiatives against the slave trade caused an economic crisis in southern Sudan, precipitating the rise of Mahdist forces.
The Mahdi died in June 1885. He was followed by Khalifa Abdullah, who began an expansion of Sudan's area into Ethiopia.
An Anglo-Egyptian force under Lord Kitchener in 1898 was sent to Sudan. Sudan was proclaimed a condominium in 1899 under British-Egyptian administration. The Governor-General of the Sudan, for example, was appointed by "Khedival Decree", rather than simply by the British Crown, but while maintaining the appearance of joint administration, the British Empire formulated policies, and supplied most of the top administrators.
At the same time the French claimed several areas: Bahr el Ghazal, and the Western Upper Nile up to Fashoda. By 1896 they had a firm administrative hold on these areas and they planned on annexing them to French West Africa. An international conflict known as the Fashoda incident developed between France and the United Kingdom over these areas. In 1899, France agreed to cede the area to the UK.
From 1898, the United Kingdom and Egypt administered all of present day Sudan, but northern and southern Sudan were administered as separate colonies. In the very early 1920s, the British passed the Closed Districts Ordinances which stipulated that passports were required for travel between the two zones, permits were required to conduct business in the other zone, and totally separate administrations.
In the south, English, Dinka, Bari, Nuer, Latuko, Shilluk, Azande and Pari (Lafon) were official languages, while in the north Arabic and English were used as official languages. Islam was discouraged in the south, where Christian missionaries were permitted to work. Colonial governors of south Sudan attended colonial conferences in East Africa, not Khartoum, and the British hoped to add south Sudan to their East African colonies.
Most of the British focus was on developing the economy and infrastructure of the north. Southern political arrangements were left largely as they had been prior to the arrival of the British. Until the 1920s, the British had very little authority in the south.
In order to establish their authority in the north, the British promoted the power of Sayyid Ali al-Mirghani, head of the Khatmiyya sect and Sayyid Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi, head of the Ansar sect. The Ansar sect essentially became the Umma party, and Khatmiyya became the Democratic Unionist Party (Sudan).
In 1943, the British began preparing the north for self-rule, establishing a North Sudan Advisory Council to advise on the governance of the six North Sudan provinces: comprising of Khartoum, Kordofan, Darfur, and Eastern, Northern and Blue Nile provinces.
Then, in 1946, the British colonial authority reversed its policy and decided to integrate north and south Sudan under one government. South Sudanese authorities were informed at the Juba Conference of 1947 that they would now be governed by a common administrative authority with the north. From 1948, 13 delegates, picked by the British authorities represented the south on the Sudan Legislative Assembly.
Many southerners felt betrayed by the British because they were largely excluded from the new government. The language of the new government was Arabic, but the bureaucrats and politicians from southern Sudan had, for the most part, been trained in English. Of the eight hundred new governmental positions vacated by the British in 1953, only four were given to southerners.
Also, the political structure in the south was not as organized in the north, so political groupings and parties from the south were not represented at the various conferences and talks that established the modern state of Sudan. As a result, many southerners do not consider Sudan to be a legitimate state.
The National Unionist Party (NUP), under Prime Minister Ismail al-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 d'état.
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 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. The succession of early post-independence governments were dominated by Arab Muslims who viewed Sudan as a Muslim Arab state. Indeed, the Umma/NUP proposed 1968 constitution was arguably Sudan’s first Islamic-oriented constitution.
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 Nimeiry to power.
In 1972, the Addis Ababa Agreement led to a cessation of the north-south civil war and a degree of self-rule. This led to ten years hiatus in the civil war.
Until the early 1970s, Sudan's agricultural output was mostly dedicated to internal consumption. In 1972, the Sudanese government became more pro-Western, and made plans to export food and cash crops. However, commodity prices declined throughout the 1970s causing economic problems for Sudan. At the same time, debt servicing costs, from the money spent mechanizing agriculture, rose. In 1978, the IMF negotiated a Structural Adjustment Program with the government. This further promoted the mechanized export agriculture sector. This caused great economic problems for the pastoralists of Sudan (See Nuba Peoples).
In 1976, the Ansars mounted a bloody but unsuccessful coup attempt. In July 1977, President Nimeiry 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 Nimeiry’s government.
From 1968 to 1972, the Soviet Union and eastern bloc nations sold large numbers of weapons and provided technical assistance and training to Sudan. At this time the army grew from a strength of 18,000 to roughly 50,000 men. Large numbers of tanks, aircraft, and artillery were acquired at this time, and they dominated the army until the late 1980s.
Relations cooled between the two sides after the coup in 1972, and the Khartoum government sought to diversify its suppliers. The USSR continued to supply weapons until 1977, when their support of Marxist elements in Ethiopia angered the Sudanese sufficiently to cancel their deals. China was the main supplier in the late 1970s.
Egypt was the most important military partner in the 1970s, providing missiles, personnel carriers, and other military hardware. At the same time military cooperation between the two countries was important.
Western countries began supplying Sudan again in the mid 1970s. The United States began selling Sudan a great deal of equipments around 1976, hoping to counteract Soviet support of Marxist Ethiopians and Libyans. Military sales peaked in 1982 at US$101 million. After the start of the second civil war, American assistance dropped, and was eventually all but cancelled in 1987.
On April 6, 1985, a group of military officers, led by Lieutenant General Abd ar Rahman Siwar adh Dhahab, overthrew Nimeiri, who took refuge in Egypt. Three days later, Dhahab authorized the creation of a fifteen-man Transitional Military Council (TMC) to rule Sudan.
In June 1986, Sadiq al Mahdi formed a coalition government with the Umma, the DUP, the NIF, and four southern parties. Unfortunately, however, Sadiq proved to be a weak leader and incapable of governing Sudan. Party factionalism, corruption, personal rivalries, scandals, and political instability characterized the Sadiq regime. After less than a year in office, Sadiq al Mahdi dismissed the government because it had failed to draft a new penal code to replace the sharia, reach an agreement with the IMF, end the civil war in the south, or devise a scheme to attract remittances from Sudanese expatriates. To retain the support of the DUP and the southern political parties, Sadiq formed another ineffective coalition government.
In 1989, it appeared the war would end, but a coup d'état brought a military junta into power which was not interested in compromise. Since that time the war raged across Sudan.
The civil war has displaced more than 4 million southerners. Some fled into southern cities, such as Juba; others trekked as far north as Khartoum and even into Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Egypt, and other neighboring countries. These people were unable to grow food or earn money to feed themselves, and malnutrition and starvation became widespread. The lack of investment in the south resulted as well in what international humanitarian organizations call a “lost generation” who lack educational opportunities, access to basic health care services, and little prospects for productive employment in the small and weak economies of the south or the north.
Peace talks between the southern rebels and the government made substantial progress in 2003 and early 2004, although skirmishes in parts of the south have reportedly continued. The two sides have agreed that, following a final peace treaty, southern Sudan will enjoy autonomy for six years, and after the expiration of that period, the people of southern Sudan will be able to vote in a referendum on independence. Furthermore, oil revenues will be divided equally between the government and rebels during the six-year interim period. The ability or willingness of the government to fulfill these promises has been questioned by some observers, however, and the status of three central and eastern provinces was a point of contention in the negotiations. Some observers wondered whether hard line elements in the north would allow the treaty to proceed.
In early 2003, a new rebellion in the western region of Darfur began. The rebels accuse the central government of neglecting the Darfur region, although there is uncertainty regarding the objectives of the rebels and whether they merely seek an improved position for Darfur within Sudan or outright secession. Both the government and the rebels have been accused of atrocities in this war, although most of the blame has fallen on Arab militias (Janjaweed) allied with the government. The rebels have alleged that these militias have been engaging in ethnic cleansing in Darfur, and the fighting has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, many of them seeking refuge in neighboring Chad. The government claimed victory over the rebels after capturing Tine, a town on the border with Chad, in early 2004, but violence continues and as of 2005 the humanitarian situation remains very poor.
An attack on the Chadian town of Adré near the Sudanese border led to the deaths of between one hundred and three hundred rebels based upon conflicting news reports. The Sudanese government was blamed for the attack, which was the second in the region in three days, but Sudanese foreign ministry spokesman Jamal Mohammed Ibrahim denies any Sudanese involvement, "We are not for any escalation with Chad. We technically deny involvement in Chadian internal affairs." This attack was the final straw that led to the declaration of war by Chad and the alleged deployment of the Chadian airforce into Sudanese airspace, which the Chadian government denies