In order to understand the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan, it is necessary to understand the colonial history of Sudan. Sudan consisted of kingdoms and tribal communities until the Turko-Egyptian invasion of 1821. The Turko-Egyptian invasion was motivated by the expansionist ambitions of the Ottoman empire and its interest in commodities, such as slaves, ivory, gold, and timber. The Turko-Egyptian and North Sudanese collaborated against those of South Sudan and exploited them into slavery. Turko-Egyptian rule lasted for sixty years, but during this time, South Sudan was not fully incorporated under the new administration. The Mahdist administration, 1883-1989, also struggled to maintain control over South Sudan.
During this time, Belgium and France both attempted to maintain some control over Sudanese territory. However, after the French attempted to annex South Sudan to the French territories in West Africa, a conflict developed between the British and French over South Sudan known as the Fashoda incident. In 1898, Egyptian and British forces teamed up to reconquer Sudan. This incident resulted in the signing of the Condominium Agreement, which established Sudan’s current borders. France and Belgium eventually receded from Sudan, giving Britain-Egyptian forces full control over the country. During this time, Britain created separate administrative policies for South and North Sudan. These policies, which included immigration and trade laws, coupled with differing official languages, treated North and South Sudan as two separate entities.
British forces established an Advisory Council for North Sudan, in which all six provinces of North Sudan were represented and the council had the power to decide what was administered where. However, no such council was established in South Sudan. Rather, in 1946, British forces suggested that the North colonize the South. Since the South was not represented in the Council, the choice to colonize South Sudan was made without consulting anyone from the South and the South was betrayed by the British.
When Sudan achieved independence from British-Egyptian forces in 1956, independence was seldom felt in the South as the North assumed full control over the colonial state. The parliamentary republic, which was established at the onset of independence, failed to incorporate the South and this has led to years of civil unrest. Since achieving independence, the South has been politically marginalized, socio-economically ignored, if not retarded, and culturally subjugated by the North. The South, which is predominantly Christian and Animist, is culturally different from the Arab Muslim North. Yet, the North has used Islam as a weapon by denying basic rights to those who do not convert to Islam. In addition, the North has forced Islam and Arabization onto the Southern populations through educational systems which aim to kill indigenous languages and culture.
The military-led government of President Jaafar Numeiri agreed to autonomy for the South in 1972, but this Peace Treaty was undermined in 1979 when oil was discovered in South Sudan. After the discovery, the Numeiri government attempted to deny the South ownership of the resource by redrawing the southern boundaries to include the oil reserves. The new boundaries, however, violated the Addis Ababa Agreement which accepted the boundaries from colonial rule. Rather than improving the living standards of the Sudanese, it led to further conflict between the North and South. Civil war broke out in 1983 when Numeiri divided South Sudan into three regions, each with a governor appointed by himself, and declared Arabic the official language. To make matters worse, Numeiri imposed Shari’a law on all of Sudan. Since then, the government has waged war on South Sudan, whose forces are known as Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
Throughout the 22 year conflict, Southern villages were ransacked and destroyed. Numeiri was eventually removed from power and replaced by Al-Bashir, who is supported by the Nationalist Islamic Front (NIF). Al-Bashir was able to maintain control until 1999, when SPLA forces began to gain control over large areas outside of more populated cities. In addition, SPLA forces made huge gains by attacking transportation lines and government forces. But by 2000, the South was hit with a widespread famine and the government did nothing to help its people. With the help of the United Nations and the United States, Operation Lifeline Sudan began to deploy food and supplies to areas affected by the conflict. By 2002, 2 million lives had been lost due to the genocide by the Bashir government. Throughout 2003 and 2004, the international community pressured the Sudanese government and the conflict began to die down.
In 2005, Sudan and South Sudan ended the 22 year conflict. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was underpinned by an agreement to 6 years of Southern autonomy, with a vote on succession at its end, split revenues from southern oil evenly between north and south sudan, islamic law in the north but to be voted on in the South, and if the succession vote was negative, the north and south were to combine forces. Six years later, in July of 2011, a vote for succession was held in Sudan and South Sudan gained independence from Sudan. Since then, South Sudan has been recognized by the international community after being accepted into the United Nations.
– Kelsey Ziomek
Sources: Global Witness, University of Pennsylvania, Pulitzer Center, University of Massachusetts