Sudan Table of Contents
Tomb of the Mahdi in Omdurman
THROUGHOUT ITS HISTORY SUDAN has been divided between its Arab heritage, identified with northern Sudan, and its African heritages to the south. The two groups are divided along linguistic, religious, racial, and economic lines, and the cleavage has generated ethnic tensions and clashes. Moreover, the geographical isolation of Sudan's southern African peoples has prevented them from participating fully in the country's political, economic, and social life. Imperial Britain acknowledged the north-south division by establishing separate administrations for the two regions. Independent Sudan further reinforced this cleavage by treating African southerners as a minority group.
Another major factor that has affected Sudan's evolution is the country's relationship with Egypt. As early as the eighth millennium B.C., there was contact between Sudan and Egypt. Modern relations between the two countries began in 1820, when an Egyptian army under Ottoman command invaded Sudan. In the years following this invasion, Egypt expanded its area of control in Sudan down the Red Sea coast and toward East Africa's Great Lakes region. The sixty-four-year period of Egyptian rule, which ended in 1885, left a deep mark on Sudan's political and economic systems. The emergence of the Anglo-Egyptian condominium in 1899 reinforced the links between Cairo and Khartoum. After Sudan gained independence in 1956, Egypt continued to exert influence over developments in Sudan.
Similarly, the period of British control (1899-1955) has had a lasting impact on Sudan. In addition to pacifying and uniting the country, Britain sought to modernize Sudan by using technology to facilitate economic development and by establishing democratic institutions to end authoritarian rule. Even in 1991, many of Sudan's political and economic institutions owed their existence to the British.
Lastly, Sudan's postindependence history has been shaped largely by the southern civil war. This conflict has retarded the country's social and economic development, encouraged political instability, and led to an endless cycle of weak and ineffective military and civilian governments. The conflict appeared likely to continue to affect Sudan's people and institutions for the rest of the twentieth century.
Data as of June 1991