An entrenched ruling elite
Since independence in 1956, Sudan’s ruling class has justified its power with an ideology that favors the Arabic-speaking and Arabized elite in the capital Khartoum over populations from the nation's more culturally, religiously, and linguistically diverse regions. While often described as a country split along a north-south axis, which contains some truth, the concentration of power and wealth is divided between the center and peripheries.
War between the north and south (1955 – 1972)
From 1924-1956, the British had treated the north and south as two separate entities. The first Sudanese civil war (1955-1972) erupted on the eve of independence, prompted by angry southerners who had been promised and then denied regional autonomy. The fighting resulted in the death of half a million people, mostly civilians, and forced hundreds of thousands to flee from their homes. In 1972, the Addis Ababa Agreement negotiated peace between the southern rebels, known as the Anyanya, and Khartoum. The peace deal included power-sharing agreements, security guarantees, and political and economic autonomy for the South.
A military coup and intensified fighting (1989 – 2005)
In an attempt to quiet critics in the north and consolidate his power, Sudanese President Jaafar al-Nimieri introduced new legal measures in 1983 that abolished southern governing autonomy. Nimieri returned power to Khartoum, declared Arabic the official language, and imposed Sharia law over the entire country. In response, southerners mobilized around the southern rebel army, the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA), led by Dr. John Garang. Rather than fight for southern independence, the SPLA posited that Sudan needed to be transformed into a multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-religious, and multi-ethnic state.
In the north, Islamists gained political strength and on June 30, 1989, Brigadier General Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir led a military coup, bringing to power the National Islamist Front (NIF) government. The NIF intensified the war with the South, conducting the fighting with systematic and widespread assaults against civilians. [link to acts of violence]
The war continued until 2005, when a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between Garang and Bashir.
Armed conflict in the west (2003 – present)
When the western region of Darfur experienced increasingly violent internal disputes over access to land and power in the 1990s, the Sudanese government responded by rewarding and arming local leaders who shared its ideology. Just as a negotiated agreement ended the war between the north and south, fighting began in Darfur when members of the Fur, Zaghawa, and Masalit ethnic groups created the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and attacked a government airfield on April 25, 2003. Another rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), joined the fight against the Sudanese government armed forces.
In response to the April 2003 rebel attack, the Sudanese government began recruiting local militias and transforming them into semi-regularized forces known as the Janjaweed. This violence amounted to genocide. Watch a video of eyewitness, Brian Steidle, describing attacks in Darfur.