1899: Britain and Egypt establish joint colonial rule of Sudan.
British colonization set the preconditions for North-South conflict in Sudan by administrating the regions differently. Significant development was made in the Arab North, centered on the city of Khartoum, including large scale agricultural systems to supply Britain with cotton. The British sent missions into the south to further Christianize the people to act as a buffer against the spread of Islam from the North. There was very little interaction between the people of the two regions.
1956:Britain and Egypt cede independence to Sudan, leaving in place a democracy and one of the most developed militaries in Africa. Groups in predominantly Christian/animist southern Sudan immediately rebel against Muslim ruling elite in Khartoum.
Sudan has been classified as a “one-city state”, in that the vast majority of development and power is centered in Khartoum. The city is widely self-contained and has been historically unconcerned with the peripheries of the nation, leading to recurring rebellion among marginalized groups.
1969: General Jafar Numeiri launches bloodless military coup to wrest control of government from ineffective democratically-elected government.
1972: General Numeiri forges unsteady peace with Southern rebels that would last until 1983 (longest period of “peace” in the history of Sudanese independence).
During the 1970s political Islamism gains momentum in the north, facilitated by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.
1983: Numeiri’s increasing wariness of internal Islamic factions culminated in the introduction of a particularly harsh brand of sharia law in Sudan. Punishment for breaking sharia law included public amputations and executions. The widely Christian south immediately resumed hostilities with the north, headed by John Garang of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
1985: Numeiri’s contradictory policies lead to military coup followed by election of Sadiq al-Mahdi. Government provides arms to Arab tribes in Nuba Mountain region and Southern Sudan under guise of counter-insurgency against SPLA. Arab militias sweep South, killing as many as 200,000 civilians and displacing up to a million more. Militia attacks frequently assisted by Sudanese army.
The war in the Nuba Mountains set the style of violence for future conflict. The slaughter of civilians, looting of cattle and invasion of land, and utilizing torture and mass rape as tools of war became standard. The army would often attack first, bombing villages and then assisting the militias in “clean-up”.
Mid-late 1980s: Clearing of indigenous Africans by Arab militias and army from potentially oil-rich land is government policy.
1989: Hassan al-Turabi, aided by military leader Omar Bashir, seize power in a coup. Immediately form the Popular Defense Forces (PDF), an Islamist militia that required all male citizens older than 16 to join.
The formation of the PDF was incredibly damaging to the nation of Sudan. The PDF exacerbated regional conflicts, and the educated middle-class of Sudan, many of whom refused to join, were forced to find work elsewhere. Sudan continues to struggle to recreate a middle class.
Early 1990s: New administration sharply advances war against rebels in the south, officially declaring the conflict a jihad in 1992. Despite the army’s superior weaponry it remains unable to decisively defeat the SPLA, and relies primarily on “scorched earth” tactics against civilians.
By making the civil war a jihad or “holy war”, the government effectively legitimizes brutal ethnic cleansing of non-Muslim communities by the armed Arab-Muslim militias.
1993: The United States puts Sudan on its list of state sponsors of terrorism and in the following years imposes increasing economic sanctions on Sudan. Activism in the US against Sudanese policy increases over human rights abuses including indiscriminate civilian murder, torture, mass rape, and slavery.
In the early 1990s Sudan was a host to numerous training camps for organizations such as Hizbollah, and Bin Laden lived in the country on and off for multiple years. He used his massive fortune to develop construction projects around Khartoum, and in return was allowed free reign in Sudan to develop Al-Qaeda.