A Background to Conflict

1820-1881 Turkish-Egyptian forces led by Mohammed Ali occupy northern Sudan and much of southern Sudan, including Bahr al-Ghazal. In 1881 Mohammed Ahmed declares himself to be al-Mahdi, the awaited guide, and leads his Ansar Islamic movement against Egyptian control of Sudan. The Mahdist conquest of Sudan begins.

1882 The British occupy Egypt.

1885 Mahdist forces capture Khartoum. British General Charles Gordon is killed in the fighting. Mohammed Ahmed dies later that year.

1885-1898 The Mahdist state is established first under al-Mahdi and then under Abdallah ibn Mohammed, known as the Khalifa. "The mahdist state was the first modern Sudanese national entity, governing vast and diverse regions from a central capital at Omdurman, with a centralized legal and political apparatus and its own currency. It was also an Islamic state fashioned to revive the concept and practice of the early Islamic community of Muhammad and his companions." In 1896 Anglo-Egyptian forces led by Lord Kitchener begin the conquest of Sudan. In September 1898, the battle of Omdurman saw the resounding defeat of Mahdist forces. The Khalifa is killed in fighting the following year.

Carolyn Fluer-Lobban, "Islamization in Sudan", in John O. Voll (Editor) Sudan: State and Society in Crisis, Indiana University Press, 1991

1899 The Anglo-Egyptian Condominium in Sudan is established following the defeat of the Mahdist state. Britain and Egypt are legally equal rulers over Sudan, although Britain is the dominant partner.

In the following years. the British focus on development in northern Sudan, including building railways. A modern civil service is also established. There is little social or economic development of western or southern Sudan which are administered through British-supervised traditional authorities. Abdel Rahman al-Mahdi, hereditary head of the Islamic Ansar sect and Ali al-Mirghani, hereditary head of the Islamic Khatmiyya sect, are encouraged by the British authorities to reconfigure their conservative, Sunni Muslim movements into political organisations.

1922 The British administration introduces the 'Passport and Permits Ordinance' which controls movement between northern and southern Sudan. This resulted in the progressive exclusion of northern traders and the limitation of southerners travelling to the north.

1930 The British develop the "Southern Policy" reinforcing barriers between northern and southern Sudan.

1943-45 The first political parties are formed, including the Ashigga, identified with the Khatmiyya sect, and the Umma Party, based on the Mahdi family's Ansar Islamic sect. The Ashigga Party favours union with Egypt while Umma advocates the complete independence of the Sudan.

1946 The administration's "Southern Policy" is reversed. The colonial authorities acknowledges that southern Sudan was inextricably bound to the Arabicised northern Sudan. The new policy was to ensure that the southern Sudanese were equipped to stand up for themselves as social and economic equals of the northerners.

12 June 1947 The Juba Conference is convened by the British colonial administration. Southern and northern representatives met for the first time to discuss the future of southern Sudan in the framework of a united Sudan. It was agreed that a legislative council should be formed with members drawn from the north and south. It was also agreed that a plan of economic, administrative and educational development should be initiated in southern Sudan to enable the region to catch up with the north.

23 December 1948 The Legislative Assembly meets for the first time. There are 76 members representing the north, 13 southerners and six British members.

1951 A southern Sudanese political movement is formed. It is subsequently officially registered as the Southern Party.

12 February 1953 There is an Anglo-Egyptian agreement which outlines the end of Anglo-Egyptian rule in Sudan and the steps to self-rule.

December 1953 Parliamentary elections are won by the National Unionist Party (NUP), which had evolved out of the Ashigga Party, which gained 97 seats in the lower house. The Umma Party won 23 seats. The Southern Party wins sixteen out of twenty-two southern seats.

January 1954 NUP leader Ismail al-Azhari becomes prime minister. The Southern Party change its name to the Liberal Party.

October 1954 The Liberal Party, at a conference in Juba, passes a resolution calling for federal status with northern Sudan. The party calls on all southern Members of Parliament, regardless of party affiliation, to form one Southern Bloc.

August 1955 Following earlier unrest in Nzara and Juba, southern Sudanese soldiers belonging to the Equatorian Corps mutiny against central government in Torit in southern Sudan. 261 Northerners are killed. The Sudanese civil war commences.

1 January 1956 Sudan becomes independent. There has been no prior agreement on a permanent constitution. The Constituent Assembly instead adopts a "Transitional" Constitution, which replaces the governor-general as head-of-state with a five-member Supreme Council elected by a parliament made up of an elected House of Representatives and an indirectly-elected Senate. The Transitional Constitution granted executive power to a prime minister, nominated by the House of Representatives and confirmed in office by the Supreme Council.

February 1956 Ismail al-Azhari becomes the first prime minister of an independent Sudan. His government is formed from the National Unionist Party and Umma Party. A special commission was established to work towards a permanent constitution. The commission decides against federalism. Azhari alienates the Khatmiyya sect by supporting some secular government policies. As a result the National Unionist Party fragments and some Khatmiyya members defect from the NUP and form the People's Democratic Party (PDP).

June 1956 The al-Azhari government is brought down. It is replaced by a coalition government made up of the Umma Party and the People's Democratic Party, with backing from the Ansar and Khatmiyya. Abdallah Khalil becomes prime minister. The government is faced with a number of problems including searching for a permanent constitution, addressing problems in southern Sudan, economic development and improving relations with Egypt.

February 1958 Elections result in an Umma Party-PDP coalition led once again by Abdallah Khalil. The NUP win nearly one-quarter of the seats. Electoral results in southern Sudan demonstrate continuing southern political dissatisfaction. Factionalism, corruption and vote fraud dominate parliamentary proceedings. The government is seemingly unable to address several social, political and economic problems. There are many anti-government demonstrations in Khartoum. Egypt is also critical of the government.

17 November 1958 General Ibrahim Abboud, the commander-in-chief of the Sudanese army, seizes power in a military coup d'etat. He dissolves all political parties and forms a 12-man Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Abboud also appoints a constitutional commission to draft a permanent constitution, and promises to resolve any problems with Egypt.

February 1962 Southern Sudanese leaders form the Sudan African Closed Districts National Union (SACDNU). Its founding president is Joseph Oduho. William Deng is appointed as secretary-general. There is continuing unrest in southern Sudan.

April 1963 SACDNU shortens its name to Sudan African National Union (SANU). It is head-quartered in Kampala, Uganda.

19 September 1963 The rebel military organisation is formed. Emilio Tafeng is appointed commander-in-chief. The movement would come to be known as Anya-Nya. Rebel military activity begins in Equatoria and extends to the Anwak and Gaajok Nuer of Nasir region.

11 January 1964 Southern rebels attack the military barracks in Wau.

October 1964 The Abboud regime is ousted following civil unrest and a general strike. A broad-based caretaker government is formed to serve under the 1956 transitional constitution. Sirr al-Khatim al-Khalifah becomes prime minister.

December 1964 There is intensive fighting in western Bahr al-Ghazal.

16 -29 March 1965 A round-table conference was held between northern and southern representatives to discuss constitutional links between north and south. Delegates from six northern parties attend with southerners. Monitors from African and Arab countries also attended. The representatives failed to reach any conclusive understanding but agreed to form a joint commission of 12 members to draw up the basis for a comprehensive understanding.

June 1965 A general election results in an Umma Party and NUP coalition. Umma politician Mohammed Mahgoub becomes prime minister. Parliamentary activity is dogged by factional disputes. Mahgoub is supported by the traditionalist wing of the Umma Party identified with Imam al-Hadi al-Mahdi and challenged by a younger generation headed by Sadiq al-Mahdi. The government decides to pursue military means to end the southern rebellion. The war in southern Sudan escalates. The Islamic Charter Front also contests the elections, presenting itself as a modern, urban-based Islamic party.

26 June 1966 The joint commission set up following the March 1965 round-table conference recommends regional self-government as the most appropriate constitutional arrangement for the country. The war intensifies.

26 July 1966 Following a split in the Umma Party, the thirty-year old Parliamentarian Sadiq al-Mahdi replaces Mahgoub as prime minister of Sudan.

15 May 1967 Sadiq al-Mahdi relinquishes the premiership. Mohammed Mahgoub becomes prime minister again.

15 August 1967 Southern military and political leaders meet in Angundri, in eastern Equatoria. They announce the formation of the 'Southern Sudan Provisional Government' (SSPG), a provisional government to administer areas under Anya-Nya control. Two southern parties, William Deng's SANU and the Southern Front, remain outside of this framework. The SSPG subsequently breaks down as a result of tensions between Equatorian and Dinka members.

April 1968 The newly formed Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the result of a merger between the National Unionist Party and the Popular Democratic Party wins the general election. Both parties are associated with the Khatmiyya sect. Mohammed Mahgoub continues as premier. A coalition government is formed between the DUP and Umma Party.

5 May 1968 William Deng, President of SANU, is assassinated by rebels.

March 1969 Following the collapse of the 'Southern Sudan Provisional Government', the 'Nile Provisional Government' is formed.

25 May 1969 The government of Mohammed Mahgoub is overthrown in a bloodless coup by Colonel Jaafar Mohammed Nimeiri. All existing political institutions and organisations are abolished. Nimeiri creates a one-party state under the Sudanese Socialist Union and introduces socialist policies.

9 June 1969 President Nimeiri issues a policy statement regarding the conflict in southern Sudan: "(T)he revolutionary government is confident and competent enough to face existing realities. It recognizes historical and cultural differences between the North and the South and firmly believes that unity of our country must be built on these objective realities. The Southern people have a right to develop their respective cultures and traditions within a united Sudan." He announces a four-point programme. These were the continuation and widening of the amnesty for southern opponents granted by the previous regime, an intensive social, economic and cultural programme for southern Sudan, the appointment of a minister for southern affairs and the training of southerners to take up positions of responsibility. A prominent Dinka southern lawyer Abel Alier is made Minister of Supply and Internal Trade.

See, John G. Nyuot Yoh, "The Conflict in Sudan", Seminar held by the South Africa Human Rights Commission, held at Parktown, Johannesburg, South Africa on 25 May 2001

October 1969 Colonel Joseph Lagu forms the Anya-Nya High Command Council. This unites rebel commanders throughout southern Sudan.

March 1970 A Umma Party insurrection is crushed by the Sudanese military. Thousands of Ansar members are killed in the fighting. Imam al-Hadi al-Mahdi dies in the uprising.

July 1971 There is an unsuccessful coup attempt by the Sudanese communist party.

July 1971 Joseph Lagu convenes a conference which brings together southern Sudanese military and political leaders. This conference sees the formation of the 'Southern Sudan Liberation Movement'. Lagu emerges as the recognised leader of rebel forces in southern Sudan. Lagu issues a policy statement in which, among other things, he states: "(A)s far as the Southern Sudanese are concerned, it is well recorded in history that our attitude has always been to find a peaceful solution to the Southern cause. Therefore in conformity with this constant policy for a negotiated settlement that we have pursued during the reign of different and consecutive governments in Khartoum, we call upon General el-Nimeiri to meet the Southern Sudan Liberation Movement to determine conditions aimed at bringing a final end to war and atrocities in South Sudan."

See, John G. Nyuot Yoh, "The Conflict in Sudan", Seminar held by the South Africa Human Rights Commission, Parktown, Johannesburg, South Africa on 25 May 2001

16-17 February 1972 The Addis Ababa peace conference takes place. The government delegation is headed by Vice-President and Minister for Southern Affairs, Abel Alier. The Southern Sudan Liberation Movement delegates are led by Ezboni Mindiri. The General Secretary of the All-Africa Conference of Churches, Canon Burgess Carr, chaired the conference. This conference ends what proves to be the first phase of the Sudanese civil war with the provision for constituent local elections and an autonomous regional government in southern Sudan. Some 6,000 former Anya-Nya rebels were to be integrated into the Sudanese armed forces, and southern Sudanese refugees were to be resettled with the assistance of the United Nations and various non-governmental organisations.

3 May 1972 The Addis Ababa agreement is ratified through a presidential decree by President Nimeiri as 'The Southern Provinces Regional Self-Government Act 1972'. Abel Alier is appointed as President of the High Executive Regional Assembly. Samuel Aru Bol and Joseph Oduho are amongst those appointed to the southern executive. Joseph Lagu is appointed a major-general in the Sudanese army and commanding officer for the Southern Command in Juba.

November 1973 Elections to the Southern Assembly are held.

1974 The Chevron oil company begins operations in Sudan. It is active on the Red Sea and near Bentiu, Malakal and Muglad.

March 1975 Former Anya-Nya soldiers mutiny in Akobo. The mutiny is put down.

September 1975 An attempted military coup, in which both communists and religious groups participated, is suppressed.

February 1976 Former Anya-Nya soldiers mutiny in Wau. This is the start of what comes to be known as the Anya-Nya 2 movement, seeking to renew the fight for a separate southern Sudan.

July 1976 There is an unsuccessful attempted military coup d'etat by Umma Party, DUP and Islamist elements. A Defence agreement with Egypt is signed.

6-7 July 1977 President Nimeiri and Sadiq al-Mahdi agree a policy of national reconciliation and a general amnesty for the Sudanese opposition. Nine hundred political prisoners are released.

1978 Chevron discover large oil deposits near Heglig and Bentiu in south-central and southern Sudan.

February 1978 General elections are held in Sudan. Nimeiri appoints Joseph Lagu as the new President of the High Executive Council of southern Sudan. Joseph Oduho and Benjamin Bol are amongst newly and re-appointed ministers.

January 1980 Sudan is divided into five regions in addition to the south which has its autonomous status.

February 1980 New elections are held in Sudan. Abel Alier is re-elected President of the High Executive Council of southern Sudan. He is subsequently re-appointed as Sudanese Vice-President.

1981 Chevron discovers significant oil deposits north of Bentiu.

4 January 1982 Twenty-one leading politicians are arrested in Juba, and are charged with forming an illegal party - 'The Council for Unity of Southern Sudan'. They include Clement Mboro, Samuel Aru Bol, Michael Wal and Martin Majier.

April 1982 Africa Now publishes a special report on the politics of southern Sudan. While acknowledging that there was pressure from northern politicians and political groups to divide southern Sudan, Africa Now confirms that there also southern pressure from people such as Joseph Lagu: "Lagu has been pushing the idea of division for over a year now, arguing that regionalism and a division into the three provinces would serve the interests of the smaller ethnic groups; it would also help to break what Lagu sees as the political hegemony of the largest single group in the South, the Dinka.In February last year, Lagu was complaining about ethnicism in the South, organising discussion groups to talk about division, and public demonstrations.Lagu himself.[published] a pamphlet entitled 'Decentralisation - a necessity for the South'".

"Southern Sudan Division Still an Election Issue", Africa Now, April 1982, pp.53-54

April 1982 Elections to the Southern Regional Assembly are held. Of 115 seats, 29 of 36 of the Equatorian seats are "divisionist", seeking a redivision of southern Sudan, while the other four provinces return unionists. Joseph James Tembura was elected as President of the High Executive Council of southern Sudan. Joseph Lagu was subsequently appointed Vice-President of Sudan.

May 1983 Southern Sudanese soldiers, commanded by Captain Kerubino Bol Kuanyin, mutiny at Bor in southern Sudan in response to the Nimeiri regime's decision to revise some of the understandings and structures settled by the 1972 Addis Ababa peace agreement. Similar uprisings take place in Ayod and Pibor.

16 May 1983 The Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) is formed. Veteran southern politician Joseph Oduho becomes chairman. Colonel John Garang, a Dinka army officer, heads the Sudan People's Liberation Army. A manifesto outlining its aims was published. Oduho is subsequently deposed by Garang who then establishes himself as the leader of the SPLA/M. There are armed clashes with Anya Nya 2 rebels. Largely Nuer-based, the Anya-Nya militarily opposed the SPLA because of that organisation's Dinka domination and commitment to Sudan's unity.

23 May 1983 Nimeiri redivides southern Sudan into three smaller and separate regions, Equatoria, Bahr al-Ghazal and Upper Nile, each with their own assembly. This move is partly in response to Equatorian concerns about Dinka domination.

8 September 1983 President Nimeiri announces the introduction of Islamic sharia law in Sudan

November 1983 The SPLA abduct eleven workers working on the Jongli Canal project in Upper Nile. The French company managing the project suspends its work.

4 February 1984 Chevron announces that it is suspending its oil exploration and production activities in southern Sudan following SPLA attacks on its installations. The SPLA admits responsibility for an attack on a Nile steamer, an attack which halts all river and rail transport to the south. One hundred and fifty passengers are reported to have been killed in the attack.

2 March 1984 Speaking on the occasion of the twelfth anniversary commemorating the end of the war within southern Sudan, General Nimeiri extended an offer of reconciliation. He assured southerners that "development projects would benefit all Sudanese without discrimination". He appealed "to all those who carry weapons in southern Sudan to return to their units and villages", promising them a "general amnesty".

News Article by SUNA, 3 March 1984

3 March 1984 John Garang outlines what he sees as the SPLA's objectives: "The Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) has been founded to spearhead armed resistance against Nimeiri's one-man system dictatorship and to organize the whole Sudanese people under the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), through revolutionary protracted armed struggle waged by the SPLA and political support.A united and Socialist Sudan can be achieved only through protracted revolutionary armed struggle."

"Speech by John Garang, 3 March 1984", Mansour Khalid (Editor), The Call for Democracy in Sudan: John Garang, Kegan Paul International, London, 1992, p.19

29 April 1984 The government declares a state of emergency throughout southern Sudan.

19 November 1984 Speaking during a visit to Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile region in southern Sudan, General Nimeiri called on "all brothers" in the south to engage in dialogue with him, an invitation repeated on subsequent occasions. The SPLA categorically reject these calls.

Broadcast by Radio Omdurman, 19 November 1984

December 1984 There is intensive SPLA activity in Bahr al-Ghazal and Upper Nile.

1985 Sudan receives five hundred million dollars in aid from the United States.

1 January 1985 In response to Nimeiri's calls for negotiations, the SPLA states that it would cease fighting only "when Numayri's system [had] all been dismantled and thrown into history's dustbin".

Broadcast by Radio SPLA, 1 January 1985

3 March 1985 The Nimeiri regime once again called upon the SPLA to enter into a dialogue. The rebels responded with a new wave of military attacks.

6 April 1985 The Nimeiri government is ousted in a military coup d'etat led by Lieutenant General Abd al-Rahman Mohammed Swar al-Dahab. A 15-man Transitional Military Council is formed and headed by General Swar al-Dahab. A military communiqué stated that "the forces of the Sudanese people noticed the country's worsening situation in the course of the past days and the political crisis that worsens continuously." The armed forces had "unanimously decided" to take over power in order "to save the country and its independence", and to "convey this power to the people after a precise transition". All political structures are dissolved and hundreds of political detainees are released. The economy is extremely weak and Sudan has a nine billion dollar international debt. The SPLA initially declares a cease-fire but subsequently refuses offers to enter into peace negotiations and resumes fighting.

News Article by SUNA, 6 April 1985

12 April 1985 The TMC declares it will only be in office for 12 months and prepares the way for multi-party elections. John Garang is offered a position in government.

17 April 1985 The transitional government revokes Nimeiri's division of southern Sudan into three regions. Khartoum also announces the validation of the articles of the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement "as a general framework for regional rule in the South."

Broadcast by Radio Omdurman, 17 April 1985

19 April 1985 The SPLA continues with its war, reiterating its commitment to fight until "the reactionary structure [in Khartoum was] completely removed and the edifice of Socialism [was] constructed on the ruins of the ancient regime".

Broadcast by Radio SPLA, 19 April 1985
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Espac Published by The European - Sudanese Public Affairs Council Copyright © David Hoile 2005
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