U.S. Department of State
Background Notes: Sudan, June 1995
Bureau of African Affairs
Prepared and released by the Bureau of African Affairs,
Office of East African Affairs
Official Name: Republic of the Sudan
Area: 2.5 million sq. km. (967,500 sq. mi.); almost one-third size of
Cities: Capital-Khartoum. Other cities-Port Sudan, Kassala, Kosti, Juba
(capital of southern region). No current accurate population statistics
Terrain: Generally flat with mountains in east and west.
Climate: Desert in north to tropical in south.
Nationality: Noun and adjective--Sudanese (sing. and pl.).
Population (1994 est.): 28 million; 25 percent urban.
Annual growth rate (1993 est.): 3 percent.
Ethnic groups: Arab-African, black African.
Religions: Islam (official), indigenous beliefs (southern Sudan),
Languages: Arabic (official), English, tribal languages.
Education: Years compulsory--9. Attendance-50 percent. Literacy-27
Health: Infant mortality rate--099/1,000. Life expectancy--52 yrs.
Work force (6 million, 1982): Agriculture--78 percent. Industry and
commerce--10 percent. Government--6 percent.
Type: Military dictatorship.
Independence: January 1, 1956.
Constitution: 1985 provisional constitution amended, now suspended.
Branches: Executive authority is shared by the 12-member
Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) and the cabinet. The
chairman of the RCC is concurrently chief of state (president) and
prime minister. Judicial-Supreme Court, attorney general, civil, shari'a
(Islamic), special revolutionary courts, and tribal courts;
Administrative subdivisions: 5 northern regions, 3 southern regions;
each region, 2 or more provinces.
Political parties: All political parties banned following June 30, 1989,
Central government budget (1990 est.): $1.5 billion.
Defense (1990 est.): 30 percent of GNP.
Flag: Horizontal red, white, and black stripes with green triangle on
GDP (1988 est.): $9 billion.
GDP annual growth rate (1994 est.): -6.0 percent.
Per capita income GDP (1990 est.): $300.
Avg. annual inflation rate (1993): 55.3 percent
Natural resources: Modest reserves of oil, iron ore, copper, chrome,
and other industrial metals.
Agriculture (40 percent of GNP): Products-cotton, peanuts, sorghum,
sesame seeds, gum arabic, sugar cane, livestock.
Industry: Types-textiles, cement, cotton ginning, edible oil and sugar
Trade (1994 est.): Exports- $165 million: cotton, sorghum, peanuts,
gum arabic, sesame seeds. Major markets-Egypt, Persian Gulf states,
Saudi Arabia. Imports- $600 million: oil and petroleum products,
wheat, agricultural inputs and machinery, industrial inputs and
manufactured goods. Major suppliers-Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Gulf states.
Official exchange rates: 153.85 Sudanese pounds (SL)=US$1; official
commercial rate is SL 12=US$1.
Fiscal year: July 1-June 30.
Membership in International Organizations
UN and several of its specialized and related agencies, Arab League,
Organization of African Unity (OAU), Organization of the Islamic
Conference (OIC), Non-Aligned Movement, Group of 77, International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
In Sudan's 1981 census, the population was calculated at 21 million.
Current estimates range to 25 million. The population of metropolitan
Khartoum (including Khartoum, Omdurman, and Khartoum North) is
growing, and ranges from 3-4 million, including over 1 million
displaced persons from the southern war zone.
Sudan has two distinct cultures--Arab and black African--and effective
collaboration between them is a major problem.
The five northern regions cover most of Sudan and include most urban
centers. Most of the estimated 18 million Sudanese who live in this
area are Arabic-speaking Muslims. Among these are several distinct
tribal groups; the Kababish of northern Kordofan, a camel-raising
people; the Jaalin and Shaigiyya groups of settled tribes living along
rivers; the semi-nomadic Baggara of Kordofan and Darfur; the Hamitic
Beja in the Red Sea area and Nubians of the northern Nile area, some
of whom have been resettled on the Atbara River; and the Negroid
Nuba of southern Kordofan and Fur in the western reaches of the
The southern region has a population of about 4-6 million and a
predominantly rural, subsistence economy. Here the Sudanese practice
mainly indigenous, traditional beliefs, although Christian missionaries
have converted some. The south also contains many tribal groups and
uses many more languages than the north. The Dinka (pop. 1 million or
more) is the largest of the many black African tribes in Sudan. Along
with the Shilluk and the Nuer, they are among the Nilotic tribes. The
Azande, Bor, and Jo Luo are "Sudanic" tribes in the west, and the
Acholi and Lotuhu live in the extreme south, extending into Uganda.
Sudan was a collection of small, independent states from the beginning
of the Christian era until 1820-21, when Egypt conquered and unified
the northern portion of the country. Although Egypt claimed all of
present Sudan during most of the 19th century, it was unable to
establish effective control of southern Sudan, which remained an area
of fragmented tribes subject to frequent attacks
by slave raiders.
In 1881, a religious leader named Muhammad Ahmed ibn Abdalla
proclaimed himself the Mahdi, or "expected one," and began to unify
tribes in western and central Sudan. His followers took on the name
"Ansars," which they continue to use today. Taking advantage of
conditions resulting from Ottoman-Egyptian exploitation and
maladministration, the Mahdi led a nationalist revolt culminating in the
fall of Khartoum in 1885. The Mahdi died shortly thereafter, but his
state survived until overwhelmed by an Anglo-Egyptian force under
Kitchener in 1898. Sudan was proclaimed a condominium in 1899
under British-Egyptian administration. While maintaining the
appearance of joint administration, the British formulated policies, and
supplied most of the top administrators.
In February 1953, the United Kingdom and Egypt concluded an
agreement providing for Sudanese self-government and self-
determination. The transitional period toward independence began with
the inauguration of the first parliament in 1954. With the consent of
British and Egyptian governments, Sudan achieved independence on
January 1, 1956, under a provisional constitution. The United States
was among the first foreign powers to recognize
the new state.
The National Unionist Party (NUP), under Prime Minister Ismail el-
Azhari, dominated the first cabinet, which was soon replaced by a
coalition of conservative political forces. In 1958, following a period
economic difficulties and political maneuvering that paralyzed public
administration, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Abboud overthrew the
parliamentary regime in a bloodless coup.
Gen. Abboud did not carry out his promises to return Sudan to civilian
government, however, and popular resentment against army rule led to
a wave of riots and strikes in late October 1964 that forced the
to relinquish power.
The Abboud regime was followed by a provisional civilian government
until parliamentary elections in April 1965 led to a coalition
government of the Umma and National Unionist Parties under Prime
Minister Muhammad Ahmad Mahjoub. Between 1966 and 1969,
Sudan had a series of governments that proved unable either to agree
on a permanent constitution or to cope with problems of factionalism,
economic stagnation, and ethnic dissidence.
Dissatisfaction culminated in a second military coup on May 25, 1969.
The coup leader, Col. Gaafar Muhhamad Nimeiri, became prime
minister, and the new regime abolished parliament and outlawed all
Disputes between Marxist and non-Marxist elements within the ruling
military coalition resulted in a briefly successful coup in July 1971,
by the Sudanese Communist Party. Several days later, anti-communist
military elements restored Nimeiri to power.
In 1976, the Ansars mounted a bloody but unsuccessful coup attempt.
In July 1977, President Nimeiri met with Ansar leader Sadiq al-Mahdi,
opening the way for reconciliation. Hundreds of political prisoners
were released, and in August a general amnesty was announced for all
opponents of Nimeiri's government.
In September 1983, as part of an Islamicization campaign, President
Nimeiri announced his decision to incorporate traditional Islamic
punishments drawn from the Shari'a (Islamic law) into the penal code.
This was controversial even among Muslim groups. After questioning
Nimeiri's credentials to Islamicize Sudanese society, Ansar leader
Sadiq al-Mahdi was placed under house arrest. On April 26, 1984,
President Nimeiri declared a state of emergency, in part to ensure that
Shari'a was applied more broadly. Most constitutionally guaranteed
rights were suspended. In the North, emergency courts later known as
"decisive justice courts," were established, with summary jurisdiction
over criminal cases. Amputations for theft and public lashings for
alcohol possession were common during the state of emergency.
Southerners and other non-Muslims living in the north were also
subjected to these punishments.
In September 1984, President Nimeiri announced the end of the state of
emergency and dismantled the emergency courts but soon promulgated
a new judiciary act which continued many of the practices of the
emergency courts. Despite Nimeiri's public assurances that the rights of
non-Muslims would be respected, southerners and other non-Muslims
remained deeply suspicious.
Early 1985 saw serious shortages of fuel and bread in Khartoum, a
growing insurgency in the south, drought and famine, and an
increasingly difficult refugee burden. In early April, during Nimeiri's
absence from the country, massive demonstrations, first triggered by
price increases on bread and other staples, broke out in Khartoum.
On April 6, 1985, senior military officers led by Gen. Suwar el Dahab
mounted a coup. Among the first acts of the new government was to
suspend the 1983 constitution and disband Nimeiri's Sudan Socialist
Union. A 15-member transitional military council was named, chaired
by Gen. Suwar el Dahab. In consultation with an informal conference
of political parties, unions, and professional organizations known as
the "Gathering," the council appointed an interim civilian cabinet,
headed by Prime Minister Dr. El Gizouli Defalla.
Elections were held in April 1986, and the transitional military council
turned over power to a civilian government as promised. The
government, headed by Prime Minister Sadiq al Mahdi of the Umma
party, consisted of a coalition of the Umma, DUP, and several southern
parties. This coalition dissolved and reformed several times over the
next few years, with Sadiq al Mahdi and his Umma party always in a
During this period, the economy continued to deteriorate. When prices
of basic goods were increased in 1988, riots ensued, and the price
increases were cancelled. The civil war in the south was particularly
divisive (see "Civil Strife" below). When Sadiq refused to approve a
peace plan reached by the DUP and the Sudanese Peoples Liberation
Army (SPLA) in November 1988, the DUP left the government. The
new government consisted essentially of the Umma and the Islamic
fundamentalist National Islamic Front (NIF).
In February 1989, the army presented Sadiq with an ultimatum: he
could move toward peace or be thrown out. He formed a new
government with the DUP and approved the SPLA/DUP agreement.
On June 30, 1989, however, military officers under then-Colonel Omar
al Bashir replaced the government with the Revolutionary Command
Council for National Salvation (RCC), a junta comprised of 15
(reduced to 12 in 1991) military officers assisted by a civilian
cabinet. General al Bashir is president and chief of state, prime
minister and chief of the armed forces.
In March of 1991, a new penal code, the Criminal Act of 1991,
instituted harsh punishments nationwide, including amputation and
stoning. Although the southern states are 'officially' exempt from these
Islamic prohibitions and penalties, the 1991 act provides for a possible
future application of Islamic law (Shari'a) in the south. In 1993, the
government transferred all non-Muslim judges from the south to the
north, replacing them with Muslim judges.
In 1955, southern resentment of northern domination culminated in a
mutiny among southern troops in Equatoria Province. For the next 17
years, the southern region experienced civil strife, and various
southern leaders agitated for regional autonomy or outright secession.
This chronic state of insurgency against the central government was
suspended early in 1972 after the signing of the Addis Ababa accords
granting southern Sudan wide regional autonomy on internal matters,
but a 1983 decree by President Nimeiri dividing the south into three
regions revived southern opposition and militant insurgency. After the
1985 coup, the new government rescinded this decree and made other
significant overtures aimed at reconciling north and south. In May
1986, the Sadiq al Mahdi government began peace negotiations with
the SPLA, led by Col. John Garang de Mabior. In that year the SPLA
and a number of Sudanese political parties met in Ethiopia and agreed
to the "Koka Dam" declaration, which called for abolishing Islamic law
and convening a constitutional conference. In 1988, the SPLA and the
DUP agreed on a peace plan calling for the abolition of military pacts
with Egypt and Libya, freezing of Islamic laws, an end to the state of
emergency, and a cease-fire. A constitutional conference would then be
Following an ultimatum from the armed forces in February 1989, the
Sadiq government approved this peace plan and engaged in several
rounds of talks with the SPLA. A constitutional conference was
tentatively planned for September 1989. The military government
which took over on June 30, 1989, however, repudiated the DUP-
SPLA agreement and stated it wished to negotiate with the SPLA
without preconditions. Negotiating sessions in August and December
1989 brought little progress.
The SPLA is in control of large areas of Equatoria, Bahr al Ghazal and
Upper Nile provinces and also operates in the southern portions of
Darfur, Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces. The government controls a
number of the major southern towns and cities, including Juba, Wau,
and Malakal. An informal cease-fire in May broke down in October
1989, and fighting has continued since then. In August of 1991,
opponents of Colonel Garang's leadership of the SPLA form the so-
called Nasir faction of the rebel army. In September of 1992, William
Nyuon Bany formed a second rebel faction and in February of 1993,
Kerubino Kwanyin Bol formed a third rebel faction. On April 5, 1993,
the three dissident rebel factions announced a coalition of their groups
called SPLA united at a press conference in Nairobi, Kenya. Since
1991, the factions have clashed occasionally and thus, the rebels have
lost all credibility in the West. Since late 1993, the leaders of
Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda have pursued a peace initiative for
Sudan under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Drought
and Development (IGADD) but results have been mixed.
The ongoing civil war has displaced over 2 million southerners. Some
fled into southern cities, such as Juba; others trekked as far north as
Khartoum and even on into Ethiopia. These people were unable to
grow food or earn money to feed themselves, and malnutrition and
starvation became widespread.
Following an international outcry, the Sadiq al Mahdi government in
March 1989 agreed with the UN and donor nations (including the US)
on a plan called Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), under which some
100,000 tons of food was moved into both government and SPLA-held
areas in southern Sudan, and widespread starvation was averted. OLS
was suspended when the informal cease-fire broke down in late 1989.
Following prolonged negotiations, Phase II of OLS to cover 1990 was
approved by both the government and the SPLA in March of 1990. In
1991, Sudan faced a food shortage across the entire country because of
two consecutive years of drought. The US, the UN, and other donors
attempted to mount a coordinated international relief effort in both
northern and southern Sudan in order to avert a catastrophe. However,
due to Sudan's human rights abuses and its pro-Iraqi stance during the
Persian Gulf War, many donors have cut much of their aid to Sudan.
Since 1983 Sudan has been divided into five regions in the north and
three in the south, each headed by a governor. Since the 1985 coup,
regional assemblies have been suspended. Each region is now under
the control of a military governor. All regions have limited budgetary
powers and depend on the central government for economic support.
Khartoum province, comprising the capital and outlying districts, is
administered by a special commissioner.
Principal Government Officials
President, Prime Minister, and Chairman of the Revolutionary
Command Council--Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan al Bashir
Deputy Prime Minister--Maj. Gen. al Zubeir Muhammad Salih
Foreign Affairs--Ali Sahloul
Ambassador to the United States--Ahmed Suliman
Ambassador to the UN--Ali Mohamed Osman Yassin
Sudan's primary resources are agricultural. Although the country is
trying to diversify its cash crops, cotton accounts for nearly 50
percent of export earnings. Another large export crop is gum arabic,
used in pharmaceuticals, food preparation, and printing, with Sudan
producing four-fifths of the world's supply. Grain sorghum (dura) is the
principal food crop, and wheat is grown for domestic consumption. Other
crops such as sesame seeds and peanuts are cultivated for domestic
consumption and increasingly for export. Livestock production has vast
potential, and many animals, particularly camels and sheep, are
exported to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab countries.
The inadequate transportation system and the high cost of hauling
agricultural products over great distances are major hindrances to
economic development. Sudan's only paved highways link Khartoum
to Port Sudan and the capital to Kosti and the White Nile. Completed in
mid-1980, the Khartoum-Port Sudan road has greatly increased
commerce between these cities. Southern transportation is vulnerable to
bad weather. Programs are underway to improve roads in southern and
At present, the country's transportation facilities consist of one
4,800-kilometer (2,784-mi.), single-track railroad with a feeder line,
supplemented by river steamers, Sudan Airways, and about 1,900 km.
(1,200 mi.) of paved or gravel roads.
Sudan has made large investments in growing cotton under various
irrigation and pump plans, particularly the Gezira scheme, south of
Khartoum between the White and Blue Niles. Rain-fed agriculture,
primarily millet, sesame seeds, peanuts, and short-staple cotton, has
had uneven success; there is progress in developing the rain-fed areas
for mechanized agriculture. These lands are promising, provided the
problems of transportation and irrigation to supplement rainfall can be
Sudan's limited industrial development consists principally of
agricultural processing and various light industries located at Khartoum
North. Although Sudan is reputed to have great mineral resources,
exploration has been quite limited, and the country's real potential is
unknown. Small quantities of asbestos, chromium, and mica are
exploited commercially. Extensive petroleum exploration began in the
mid-1970s and might eventually produce all of Sudan's needs.
Significant finds were made in the Upper Nile region, but the ongoing
civil war in that area has forced suspension of exploration and
development activity there.
Sudan has an installed electrical generating capacity of 300 megawatts
(MW), of which 180 MW is hydroelectric and the rest, thermal. More
than 70 percent of the hydropower comes from the Roseires Dam on
the Blue Nile grid. Various projects are underway for expanding
Roseires power station and for developing thermal and other sources of
The United States, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait, and other Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting
Countries (OAPEC) nations traditionally have supplied most of Sudan's
economic assistance. Sudan's role as an economic link between Arab
and African countries is demonstrated by the location in Khartoum of
the Arab Bank for African Economic Development. The World Bank
has been the largest source of development loans.
Sudan will require extraordinary levels of program assistance and debt
relief to manage a foreign debt exceeding dollars 13 billion, more than
the country's entire annual GDP. Since the late 1970s, the IMF, World
Bank, and key donors have worked closely to promote reforms to
counter the effect of inefficient economic policies and practices. By
mid-1984 a combination of factors-including drought, inflation, and
confused application of Islamic law-reduced donor disbursements, and
capital flight led to a serious foreign-exchange crisis and increasing
shortages of imported inputs and commodities.
The government fell out of compliance with the IMF standby program
and accumulated substantial arrearages on repurchase obligations to the
IMF. A 4-year economic reform plan was announced by the Sadiq
government in 1988 but was not pursued. The government of General
Omar al Bashir announced its own economic reform plan in 1989 and
began implementing a 3-year economic restructuring program on July
1, 1990, designed to reduce the public sector deficit, end subsidies,
privatize state enterprises, and encourage new foreign and domestic
investment. Sudan remains the world's largest debtor to the IMF, with
accumulated arrears of over $1.3 billion. In August of 1993, the IMF
suspended Sudan's voting rights. In September of 1993, the World
Bank suspended Sudan's right to make withdrawals under effective and
fully disbursed loans and credits.
Sudan continues to suffer from a severe shortage of foreign exchange,
as imports exceed exports by more than two to one. In October of
1993, the government reimposed currency controls, making it illegal to
possess foreign exchange without prior approval. Exports are largely
stagnant. The small industrial sector remains in the doldrums, and
Sudan's inadequate and declining infrastructure inhibits economic
recovery. Foreign exchange rate policies discourage remittances from
Sudanese working abroad.
The Sudanese People's Armed Forces is a 60,000-member army
supported by a small air force and navy. It is a defensive force, having
the additional duty of maintaining internal security. Some rebels
currently fighting in the south are former army members. Sudan's
military services are hampered by limited and outdated equipment. In
the 1980's, the US worked with the Sudanese government to upgrade
equipment with special emphasis on airlift capacity and logistics. All
US military assistance was terminated following the military coup of
June 30, 1989. Sudan has most recently received military assistance
from Iraq, China, and Libya.
Sudan in recent years has tried to steer a non-aligned course, courting
western aid and seeking rapprochement with Arab states, while
maintaining cooperative ties with Libya, Iran, the Comoros islands, and
Solidarity with other Arab countries has been a feature of Sudan's
foreign policy. When the Arab-Israeli war began in June 1967, Sudan
declared war on Israel. However, in the early and mid-1970s, Sudan
gradually shifted its stance and was supportive of the Camp David
Relations between Sudan and Libya deteriorated in the early 1970s and
reached a low in October 1981, when Libya's leader began a policy of
cross-border raids into western Sudan. After the 1985 coup, the
military government resumed diplomatic relations with Libya, as part
of a policy of improving relations with neighboring and Arab states. In
early 1990, Libya and Sudan announced that they would seek "unity."
It is not clear how or when this unity will be implemented.
Sudan broke diplomatic ties with the United States in June 1967,
following the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli war. Relations improved
after July 1971, when the Sudanese Communist Party attempted to
overthrow President Nimeiri, and Nimeiri suspected Soviet
involvement. US assistance for resettlement of refugees following the
February 1972 peace settlement in the south added further impetus to
the improvement of relations. Diplomatic ties were restored on June 25,
On March 1, 1973, Palestinian terrorists of the "Black September"
organization murdered US Ambassador Cleo A. Noel and Deputy
Chief of Mission Curtis G. Moore. Sudanese officials arrested the
terrorists and tried and convicted them on murder charges. In June
1974, however, the Sudanese government released them to the custody
of the Egyptian government. The US ambassador to Sudan was
withdrawn in protest. Although the US Ambassador returned to
Khartoum in November, relations with Sudan remained static until late
1975 and early 1976, when President Nimeiri mediated the release of
10 American hostages being held by Eritrean insurgents in rebel
strongholds in northern Ethiopia. In 1976, the United States decided to
resume economic assistance to Sudan.
In late 1985, there was a reduction in staff at the American embassy in
Khartoum because of the presence in Khartoum of a large contingent of
Libyan terrorists. In April 1986, relations with Sudan deteriorated
when the United States bombed Tripoli. A US embassy employee was
shot on April 16, 1986. Immediately following this incident, all non-
essential personnel and all dependents left for 6 months.
US interests in Sudan center around peace and relief. The US has
worked closely with the governments of both Sadiq al Mahdi and
General Omar al-Bashir to see that emergency relief assistance is
provided to those displaced by the ongoing civil war. Sudan's position
during the Iraq/Kuwait crisis strained relations with the United States.
Sudan stated that Iraq should not have invaded Kuwait, but it was
equally critical of the presence of Western forces on Islamic holy
lands. Because Sudan is a safe haven for Islamic terrorist groups and
because Sudan has supported or is supporting insurrections and/or
radicals in Algeria, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Tunisia, and Uganda, the
U.S. added Sudan to its terrorism list in August of 1993. Since then,
relations between the U.S. and Sudan have plummeted.
Principal US Officials
Deputy Chief of Mission--Lawrence Benedict
USAID Director--Robert Russell
Public Affairs Officer--Jane Gaffney
The US Embassy in Sudan is located at Shari'a Ali Abdul Latif, PO
Box 699, Khartoum (tel. 74700, 74611). Hours are 7 am-3 pm Sunday
through Thursday. US Marine security guards at the embassy can be
contacted at any time in an emergency.
Customs: Visas and yellow fever immunizations are required. Health
requirements change; check latest information. Travelers must
complete a currency declaration listing all currency and other valuables
in their possession. Money should be declared upon entry and
exchanged only at official exchange offices or banks. Keep all receipts.
Permits are required for photography.
Climate and clothing: Washable, lightweight fabrics, suitable for a
desert climate, and conservative styles are recommended. Dry-cleaning
facilities are limited in Khartoum and unavailable elsewhere.
Health: Facilities are limited. Water is not potable and should be
purified before drinking. Food should be well-cooked. Cholera,
typhoid, tetanus, and polio immunizations, gamma globulin shots, and
Aralen tablets are recommended.
Telecommunications: Limited international telephone and telegraph
service is available in Khartoum and Port Sudan. There is no
international direct dial service to Sudan. Sudan is seven time zones
ahead of Eastern Standard Time.
Transportation: Sudan is connected by international airlines with
Europe, Saudi Arabia, and other countries in Africa. Bookings should
be made in advance. Domestic service is available for flights within
Sudan. Travel by road or train outside Khartoum is limited. Taxis are
available in Khartoum, Port Sudan, and Juba. Visitors require
government permission for all travel outside of the Khartoum area.
National holidays: Sudanese government offices are open Saturday-
Thursday. The US Embassy is also closed on holidays. Travelers
should check ahead for holiday schedule.
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