The First Sudanese Civil War [1955-1972]: The Problem Of Southern Sudan

the First Sudanese Civil War

Until 1956, the British government in cooperation and agreement with the Egyptian government had administered Southern Sudan and Northern Sudan as separate regions under international sovereignty. The First Sudanese Civil War was a twelve-year conflict between the northern and southern regions of Sudan between 1955 and 1972. Before they were separated, Northern and Southern Sudan were merged into a single administrative region after political pressure from Northern Sudan. This act was taken without agreement with minority southern leaders, who feared being colligated by the political power of the Northern elites in the colonial political structure.

In addition, the British colonial administration favored the Northern elites during the process of decolonizing them, granting them a majority share of political power during the transition to independence. After becoming independent from colonial rule in 1956, the ethnic and domestic tensions against Southern Sudan further increased during their reconstruction. There were national concerns of political inequalities, economic development and insufficient organizations that remained unknown to the international community but attacked Sudan internally. Also, the northern government replaced the jurisdiction of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) by committing discriminatory violence against the southern minorities under the cover of internal turmoil of democratic growth in Sudan.

Before the outbreak of the civil war, the representative of Northern Sudan had two constant interpretations of the things that led to its outbreak.

Many attributed such hostilities to be the remains of the South’s grievances against the British colonial administration, while others viewed it to be the Southern rebels who attempted to challenge their ruling government.

Therefore, the traditional northern representatives did not admit the voiced anger and rising rebels to have been attributed to their own governance but rather it was a rationalization of the South’s integration of Christianity and modernity.

The Southern populace also viewed the emergence of the civil war to be unnecessary.

Following the subjection of the region of Sudan, the Southern representatives were powerless within the realms of politics and the established government.

The Southern politicians were not capable of addressing the injustice against their population because of the minimal influence and support they had within the government.

Since the establishment of British colonial rule, the Southern Sudanese were introduced and joined to the principles of Western thought.
They interpreted the concepts from Christianity and the Western ideals by merging them into their own culture.

Aside from being limited in politics, being compelled by the Northern government and the cultural restriction in achieving progress were critical factors towards to the onrush of the war.

On the 18th August, 1955, members of the British-administered Sudan Defence Force Equatorial Corps rebelled in Torit.
The immediate causes of the rebellion were a trial of a southern member of the national assembly and an allegedly false telegram pushing the northern administrators in the South to bully the Southerners.

The rebels were restrained, though survivors fled the towns and began uncoordinated revolts in rural areas.

Poorly armed and unorganized, they were little threat to the newly formed Sudanese government.

Anyanya Guerrilla Army

The rebels gradually developed into a secessionist movement composed of the 1955 rebels and southern students.
These groups formed the Anyanya guerrilla army.
Starting from Equatoria, between 1963 and 1969, Anyanya spread throughout the other two southern provinces which were Upper Nile and Bahr al Ghazal and provided heavy pressure on the Northern army’s ability to properly strategize.

The separatist movement was dismissed by internal ethnic divisions between the “Nilotic” and “Equatorian” groups.
However, the government was unable to take advantage of the rebels weaknesses because of their own incompatibilities and volatility.
The first independent government of Sudan, led by Prime Minister Ismail al-Azhari, was quickly replaced by a temporary stalemated union of various conservative forces, which was in turn overthrown in the coup d’état of Chief of Staff Brigadier Ibrahim Abboud in 1958.

The anger at the military government built up.
On the evening of October 20th 1964, a raid by security forces on a seminar on “the Problem of the Southern Sudan” at the University of Khartoum sparked off nationwide objections and a general strike.
Abboud yielded to the massive scale of civil disobedience by creating a provisional government in October 1964.
These events became widely known as the “October 1964 Revolution” of Sudan.

These protests included the first appearance of Islamist Hassan al-Turabi, who was then the leader of the students.
Between 1966 and 1969, a series of Islamist-dominated administrations proved unable to deal with the variety of ethnic, economic and conflict problems causing pain to the country.
After a second military coup on 25th May 1969, Col. Gaafar Nimeiry became Prime Minister and immediately forbid political parties.
During that time, the Anyanya rebel group took advantage of the unstable situations which helped them to send their leaders and continue their operations abroad.

In-fighting between Marxist and non-Marxist groups in the ruling military class led to another coup in July 1971 and a short-lived administration by the Sudanese Communist Party before anti-Communist factions put Nimeiry back in control of the country.

That same year, German national Rolf Steiner, who had been consistently advising the rebels, was captured in Kampala, Uganda and deported to Khartoum, where he was put on trial for his anti-government activities. He was then sentenced to death.
He served three years in prison before being released following pressure from the West German Government.

The South was first led by Aggrey Jaden; he left the movement in 1969 due to internal political conflicts.

In the same year Gordon Muortat Mayen was elected based on agreement as the new leader of the South. Southern Sudan changed their name to the Nile Republic during that time and resumed warfare against Khartoum, however some of the former leaders of Jaden’s troops would not accept a Dinka leader and fought against the Anyanya.

In 1971, former army lieutenant Joseph Lagu formed a successful coup d’état against Gordon Muortat with help from Israel, who supported him.
In doing so, the defected Equatorian commander was able to unite these independent troops to fight under his Southern Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM).
This was the first time in the history of the warfare that a separatist movement had a united command structure with the mutual objective to agree and build an independent state.

It was also the first organization that were able to speak for, and negotiate on behalf of, the entire south when the war ended.

Mediation between the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), both of which spent years building up trust with the two fighters, eventually led to the Addis Ababa Agreement of March 1972 which marked the end of the first civil war.


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