Country Listing

Sudan Table of Contents


Development of the Armed Forces

The military force that eventually became the Sudanese army was established in 1898, when six battalions of black soldiers from southern Sudan were recruited to serve with Britain's General Herbert Kitchener in his campaign to retake Sudan (see Reconquest of Sudan , ch. 1). In the succeeding thirty years, no fewer than 170 military expeditions were sent to establish order, halt intertribal warfare, and restrain occasional messianic leaders, mostly in Darfur in the west.

During the period of the Anglo-Egyptian condominium (1899- 1955), participation of southerners in northern units of the Sudanese armed forces was all but eliminated. The British had developed a policy of administrative separation of the Muslimdominated northern Sudan and the mostly non-Muslim south, where the separate Equatoria Corps commanded by British officers was maintained (see The Anglo-Egyptian Condominium, 1899-1955 , ch. 1). Sudanese troops in the north were commanded largely by Egyptian and British commissioned officers until an anti-British mutiny in 1924, apparently incited by Egyptian officers, caused Egyptian troops and units to be sent home. In 1925 local forces were designated the Sudan Defence Force (SDF), and the Sudanese assumed an increasing share of responsibility for its command.

After 1900 the British sought to develop an indigenous officer class among educated Sudanese, mostly from influential northern families. Consequently, the SDF came to be viewed as a national organization rather than as an instrument of foreign control. The prestige of the 20,000-man SDF was enhanced by its outstanding performance in World War II against numerically superior Italian forces that operated from Ethiopia. In the decade between the end of World War II and Sudan's independence, the SDF did not grow significantly in size, but Sudanese assumed increasingly important posts as British officers were reassigned or retired. Sudanese officer candidates were screened and selected, but Sudanization of the armed forces in practice meant their arabization. The underdeveloped education system in the south produced few qualified candidates, and most lacked fluency in Arabic, the lingua franca of the armed services. The British had hoped to use the recruitment of southerners into the army after World War II to spur their integration into Sudanese national life.

On the eve of independence, in 1955 the SDF's Equatoria Corps--made up almost entirely of southern enlisted men but increasingly commanded by northerners as the British withdrew-- mutinied because of resentment over northern control of national politics and institutions. Northern troops were sent to quell the rebellion, and the Equatoria Corps was disbanded after most of its men went into hiding and began what became a seventeen-year struggle to achieve autonomy for the south.

At independence in 1956, Sudan's 5,000-man army was regarded as a highly trained, competent, and apolitical force, but its character changed in succeeding years. To deal with the southern insurgency, the army expanded steadily to 12,000 personnel in 1959 and it leveled off at about 50,000 in 1972. After independence, the military--particularly the educated officer corps--lost much of its former apolitical attitude; soldiers associated themselves with parties and movements across the political spectrum.

Data as of June 1991