Official Name: Republic of the Sudan (Jumhuriyat as-Sudan)
Commonly called Sudan (or As-Sudan in Arabic), the name derives from the Arabic bilad as-sudan, meaning ‘land of the black [peoples]’.
Sudan is located in north-east Africa, bordering Egypt, the Red Sea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Chad and Libya. Over 70% of the population of 36.1 million is ethnically Arab and, accordingly, the official language is Arabic, in addition to English. The River Nile originates in the capital Khartoum, where the White Nile and Blue Nile meet. The country is composed of a mixture of arid desert areas, swamps and tropical forests. Desertification is a serious problem in most of its 18 states (wilayat).
Sudan is a relatively new country. Previously called Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, it gained independence from the United Kingdom and Egypt on 1 January 1956. Yet young as it is, it has a rich history. It is considered a treasure trove for archaeologists, due to the large number of prehistoric artefacts. Additionally, 225 pyramids built by the rulers of the Kingdom of Kush, the tombs of Napata and Meroe’s royal rulers, remain. The site at Meroe is the most extensive, this being the former capital of the Kingdom of Kush.
Sudan’s post-independence history has been tumultuous, characterised by multiple coups and economic woes. These were exacerbated by international tensions – and later sanctions – following the government’s decision to allow terrorist leader Osama bin Laden to reside in Khartoum in the 1990s. This highly influenced the country’s global position, and more importantly its economic development – or lack thereof. The economy has further suffered, as a result of the devastating civil wars that ravaged the country for decades.
The first civil war, from 1955 to 1972 between the Sudanese government and rebels who demanded greater autonomy for southern Sudan, left half a million people dead. The second civil war, from 1983 to 2005, was a direct result of the peace agreements signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1972 insufficiently addressing the issues – southern self-determination, resources and the role of religion in the state – that initially sparked the violence. Some consider Sudan to have been in a continuous state of civil war from 1955 to 2005, with the period 1972-1983 regarded as a temporary ceasefire.
The second conflict between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), in combination with the 1983 famine, resulted in 2 million deaths and 4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). The violence ended with the signing in Nairobi, Kenya of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which promised a referendum for the south after a six-year period of autonomy. This referendum was held in 2011, and with almost 99% voting for independence, the Republic of South Sudan was created. However, tensions remain between the two nations as disputes continue over oil-rich regions and the route of oil pipelines.
While the Sudanese government was fighting the SPLA in the south, two other armed groups began attacking it in the western region of Darfur. The Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) accused the central government of oppressing Darfur’s non-Arab population. In response to the violence, the government, assisted by the Janjaweed militia, launched an ethnic cleansing campaign precisely targeting that segment of the population. This war came to a temporary stop in 2010 when the Tolu ceasefire deal was reached, but Darfur has been far from peaceful since. The International Criminal Court in The Hague has issued a warrant for the arrest of long-serving President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on ten counts of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in connection with the conflict in Darfur.
With 97% of the population adhering to Islam, the Sudanese judicial system is built on sharia law, which allows practices such as stoning, flogging and crucifixion. Traces of English common law can still be found, however. Sudanese culture varies greatly between the 578 ethnic groups, with resultantly fluid identities.