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A Country Divided

Since gaining independence from Britain in 1956, Sudan’s ruling class has justified its power with an ideology that favors the Arabic-speaking and Arabic elite in the capital Khartoum over populations from the nation's more culturally, religiously, and linguistically diverse regions outside the capital.

North-South Conflict (1955–2005)

For most of the 20th century, British colonial rulers treated the northern and southern regions of Sudan as two separate entities. The first Sudanese civil war (1955–72) erupted just before Sudan became an independent country. The war was prompted by southerners who had been promised and then denied the right to govern themselves. Southerners—mostly Christian and animist—fought against rule by the north and the imposition of Arabic language and culture. The fighting resulted in the death of half a million people, mostly civilians, and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes. In 1972, the Addis Ababa Agreement negotiated peace between the southern rebels—known as the Anyanya—and the Sudanese government. The peace deal included power-sharing agreements, security guarantees, and political and economic autonomy for the south.

In an attempt to quiet critics in the north and consolidate his power, then-Sudanese President Jaafar al-Nimieri introduced new legal measures in 1983 that removed power from the southern regions to govern themselves. 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 called for Sudan to be transformed into a multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-religious, and multi-ethnic state.

Meanwhile, northerners gained political and military strength and on June 30, 1989, Brigadier-General Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir led a military coup which brought the National Islamic Front (NIF) to power. The NIF intensified the war with the south, conducting the fighting with systematic and widespread assaults against civilians.

The north-south war continued until 2005, when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in Abuja, Nigeria, between Garang and Bashir. As part of that peace agreement, citizens of the south were given the opportunity for a future vote on whether to remain part of Sudan or to break off and become an independent country. This vote was held in January 2011, and the citizens of South Sudan voted overwhelmingly for independence. On July 9, 2011, the Republic of South Sudan was born; the north remained as the separate country of Sudan.