History of Sudan

History of Sudan

The history of what is modern day Sudan can be traced back to 8000 years BCE when it was inhabited  by a Neolithic people living in fortified mud-brick villages engaged in gathering and herding together with hunting and fishing on the River Nile. The succeeding millennia saw the land interface with the rise and fall of many people and kingdoms, not least its northern neighbour Egypt with whom it had had an intermittent shared history and government since the time of the Pharaohs. However it was Napoleon rather than any Egyptian who was to shape modern day Sudan. His victory over the ruling Egyptian Mamelukes at the Battle of the Pyramids (above) on 21st July 1798 saw a brief French occupation of Egypt and the beginning of the end of Marmeluke rule which at long been at odds with its overseer, the neighbouring Ottoman Empire.

By 1811 Muhammad Ali, an Albanian commander in the Ottoman army, who had been sent in by the Ottoman Empire to re-establish their sovereignty had skillfully played both sides against each other and in March of that year he invited all the leading Marmelukes to a celebration during which they were hijacked and killed. Those who survived fled into modern day Sudan whilst those who remained in Egypt were hunted down and slaughtered. Ottoman Sultan, Selim III, whose own empire was crumbling by this stage, was unable to intervene and Muhammad Ali set about consolidating his position, today being seen as the founder of modern Egypt leaving a dynasty that would survive until the Egyptian revolution of 1852. In the meantime the Marmelukes had regrouped at Dunqulah in the Sultanate of Sennar in modern day Sudan and still seen as a threat, Muhammad Ali ordered the Sultan to expel them. When he refused, Ali send his third son with 10,000 troops into Sudan and brought it under his control effectively designating the land of small, independent kingdoms, sultanates and principalities into a recognisable single entity, albeit under Egyptian rule although Southern Sudan remained very much an area of fragmented tribes where slave traders flourished.

Abbas I

Muhammad Ali was succeeded by his grandson Abbas I (1849-54) and then Said Pasha (1854-63), Abbas's uncle after he was murdered, however both had little interest in Sudan. After Said Pasha's death his nephew, Isma'il Pasha, succeeded him and he invested heavily in both countries' infrastructure but, in doing so, accumulated 100mUK worth of debt forcing Isma'il to sell his shares to the British Government led by Disraeli for 3,976,582UK and his ultimate downfall after the British and French established control over Egyptian finances and government in anticipation of its financial collapse and inevitable damage to their interests in the region with Evelyn Baring becoming the British "Controller of the Revenue" while the French provided a "Controller of the Expenditure" in 1878.

Muhammad Ahmad

The following year, Ismail was effectively dismissed with his unwilling son Tewfik I installed in his place, however the debt created by his father that had caused something of an economic crisis in northern Sudan had already precipitated what could be termed a nationalist movement. This was headed by religious leader Muhammad Ahmad (above) which led to his Sudan fighters controlling all of Sudan save for Khartoum by 1884. British reinforcements were sent to evacuate the city however, under the command of General Garnet Wolseley, they arrived two days late to prevent the death of Major-General Charles Gordon and the slaughter of 50,000 of the city's inhabitants. Ahmad died a few months later and was succeeded by Abdallahi ibn Muhammad who continued to run Sudan as an independent Mahdist State for the next fourteen years somewhat unsuccessfully with a series of civil wars until the British became increasingly concerned about their interests in the area given the level of instability in Sudan.

Mahdist War

The British therefore decided to reconquer Sudan and sent in the Anglo-Egyptian Nile Expeditionary Force under (Lord) Herbert Kitchener and hostilities mainly ended on on 2nd September 1898 when Anglo-Egyptian troops (above) killed 10,800 Mahdists suffering only 48 deaths themselves. From 1899 until 1955 Sudan then came under joint British-Egyptian rule as Anglo-Egyptian Sudan with plans as early as 1943 to prepare North Sudan for self-government and the south as a separate entity. This policy was reversed in 1946 much to the consternation of the black African Christians in southern Sudan who believed they were considered inferior by the Arab Muslim majority in the north and this sowed the seeds for the ongoing conflict following Sudan's final independence in 1956.

The history of Sudan since that time is essentially a story of two separate peoples being forced together with not only no cultural ties nor identity, but a loathing of each other, a loathing that has spilt out into decades of conflict, the loss of a million lives and the displacement of four million more. Even at the time of independence, the first Sudanese Civil War was under way with the south demanding more autonomy and this period ended in 1972 with the signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement which granted the south limited self-governing powers in return for the end of the armed conflict.

President Gaafar Nimeiry

The second Sudanese War was triggered when President Gaafar Nimeiry (above) decided to modify that agreement, including imposing Islamic law throughout the country, without the consent of the south. This war lasted from 1983 to 2005 until the signing of the Nairobi Comprehensive Peace Agreement of that year which re-established southern Sudan's former autonomy together with a promise of a referendum on independence in 2011 which was duly held seeing South Sudan emerge as the world's newest independent nation in 2011. Despite the peace accord there has been ongoing conflict and violence particularly in Darfur where a separate war rages until this day where the Sudan Liberation Army together with other groups have taken up arms against the government in an attempt to repel Muslim Arabs and seek recognition of the area as an equal and valued partner within Sudan. For the latest in Sudan's history check out our Sudan news pages.

History of Sudan: Volunteer in Sudan

African Volunteer Work: Sudan

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History of Sudan: Darfur Explained

Darfur Explained

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History of Sudan: Child Sponsor Sudan

Child Sudan

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History of Sudan: Sudan Country Profile

African Country Profiles: Sudan

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