Timeline and Historical Themes

To understand the conflict in Sudan, we have outlined major political, economic, and social events throughout Sudan’s history from 1899 through the 1990s and from 2001 to the present. We drew our overview heavily from Darfur: A New History of a Long War, coauthored by Julie Flint and Alex de Waal.

Themes of the Sudanese Conflict


External Intrusion

Since independence, Sudan has been involved in dynamic political interaction with other nations.  The English colonizers left in their wake a system marked by preferential treatment towards the northern Arab population that informed the creation of a one-city state and aggravated hostilities between Arab and marginalized non-Arab groups.

The Chinese have been highly involved in the development of northern Sudan since independence, including in the construction of arms factories near Khartoum.  The Soviet Union was also involved in arming the Sudanese government during the late 1960s. China was the main influence on the Sudanese oil industry, from conducting the primary surveys in the late 1980s to the first pumping of crude oil in 1999.  Malaysian, Indian, and US oil companies are also engaged in Sudan.

Diplomatically, the Chinese and Russians have supported the Sudanese governments in the UN by vetoing Security Counsel resolutions that aimed to intervene in Darfur and other regions.

The US is also responsible for lack of action in Darfur in the early 2000s; eager to forge peace between the North and South, it allowed the Darfur conflict to go unresolved.  Similarly, US and other UN nations have pushed Sudan towards the Middle East and increased Arabism by imposing sanctions, and through humanitarian efforts.

Every nation adjacent to Sudan has been involved in the reciprocal sponsorship of rebel groups across borders; some, particularly Chad and Kenya, host large communities of Sudanese refugees.


Colonization’s legacy of preferential Arab treatment generated feelings of superiority to black Africans that would lead to horrific human rights abuses.  The government’s provision of arms to Arab tribes, ostensibly for counter-insurgency efforts, upset traditional methods of tribal conflict resolution and left African tribes defenseless.  The Islamism of Khartoum’s government in the imposition of sharia law restarted full-blown north-south conflict and the declaration of jihad allowed the Janjawiid (the Arab militia in Darfur) and their precursors to commit extraordinary acts of violence with little moral repentance.


Arab Janjaweed


SPLA Child Soldier

It’s incredibly important to note that the Arab army and the armed Arab militias have not been the sole perpetrators of brutal violence in Sudan.  Rebel groups and the current South Sudanese army have and are currently engaging in the same kind of systematic scorched-earth violence against civilians, incorporating the use of mass rape against women, children, and men, horrific torture, slavery, and extensive ethnic cleansing.  The widespread use of child soldiers by the Southern People’s Liberation Army and other rebel groups in the past drew international criticism, and the SPLA (which is now the official army of independent South Sudan) just started demobilizing children in 2010.

Costs of Conflict

Millions of internally and externally displaced refugees, tens of thousands of people enslaved, estimates of 300,000 civilians killed in Darfur alone, over 500,000 in first period of civil war (1956-1972) and another 2,000,000 dead from 1983 to 2005.

Democracy-Coup Cycle

Sudan’s political history is characterized by periods of democracy followed by military takeovers that again return to democracy.

Sudan Today

Sudan ranked third on the Failed States Index for 2011, a list of nations compiled by the Fund for Peace utilizing a variety of indices to judge the ability of states to provide for their people; South Sudan will likely be higher in 2012.  Sudan’s economic future is uncertain after losing 80% of oil revenues to the secession of South Sudan.  Continued conflict in Darfur and the eastern margins, as well as flooding and famine in the east, are ongoing challenges to state governance.

South Sudan: The World's Newest Country

The Republic of South Sudan

Salva Kiir’s government is slowly developing Juba and ignoring the rest of the nation in a manner that is sadly reminiscent of Khartoum’s failings.  South Sudan is suffering significant inter-tribal and rebel violence, exacerbated by the SPLA’s brutal scorched-earth tactics and likely Khartoum involvement in rebel activity.  The CIA reports that South Sudan is the most likely location for mass-killings and genocide in the near future.  In 2011, the newly formed Nuer White Army announced intentions to “wipe the entire Murle tribe off the face of the earth” and attacked the Murle in relation for a previous cattle raid.  Thousands of people have been killed already in 2012, hundreds of aid workers are missing, and there is significant regional famine.  There is continued fighting between Sudanese and Southern Sudanese forces over oilfield areas, and Salva Kiir has recently warned that official war may be imminent.  In addition to violence, South Sudan has one of the worst health situations in the world, with most medical care being delivered by outside agencies.