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The Armed Forces in Sudanese Society

When the British attempted to forge an indigenous officer class before World War II, most Sudanese officers came from upper and middle-class urban families that enjoyed inherited wealth and prestige. After that time, greater numbers were drawn from the emerging class of merchants and civil servants inhabiting urban areas where formal elementary and secondary education was more easily obtainable. Officer cadets, who had to possess a fourthyear secondary school certificate, were chosen on the basis of performance in a series of written and oral competitive examinations. A requirement that cadets possess a good knowledge of Arabic had long eliminated many southerners educated in English who otherwise might have qualified. It was estimated that only 5 to 10 percent of all Sudanese officer cadets in 1981 were southerners.

The quality of incoming officers, extremely high during the preindependence period, was thought to have been lowered by the increased size of the army--particularly during the 1968-72 surge in personnel strength. The Sudanese Communist Party, which had become entrenched in the universities and trade unions during the 1960s, contributed to the emergence of a generation of officers that was predominantly anti-Western. Many officers received their initial training from Soviet advisers. After the revolt against Nimeiri in 1971, in which some communist officers were implicated, retribution fell on many of the officers with leftist leanings. The officer corps became increasingly conservative at a time when Nimeiri himself was stressing nationalism for Sudan. The military faction that deposed Nimeiri in 1985 was not distinguished by any particular political orientation, although as individuals its members maintained links with all the important social, religious, and ethnic groups.

In spite of the linkage of the Bashir junta to the NIF and Nimeiri's earlier Islamization program, it was generally believed that among career officers no more than 5 percent were dedicated to Muslim activism. Most officers were modern in outlook, of middle-class and urban backgrounds, and inclined to be nonsectarian.

In the armed forces as a whole, the political and ethnic makeup was influenced by historical factors. From the time of the Anglo-Egyptian condominium, many nomadic peoples of northeastern Sudan had served in the military, as had members of the Khatmiyyah politico-religious sect. By the 1980s, however, Sudanese from the northeast and the Nile Valley were estimated to constitute no more than 20 percent of the military, although they continued to be well represented in the officer corps. Many officers had ties to the Khatmiyyah group and to the Mirghani family and were supporters of the Democratic Unionist Party. Under the Bashir government, northerners continued to dominate the senior leadership, although numerous sensitive positions were held by officers with origins in the south. A general who was a Dinka led one of the brigades active in the fighting against the Dinka-led SPLA.

In the early 1980s, it was estimated that members of the Ansar politico-religious group and other Sudanese from Darfur and Kurdufan provinces accounted for approximately 60 percent of the army's enlisted manpower. The Ansar and other western Sudanese might have been even more numerous in the uniformed services had not recruitment restrictions been imposed during the Nimeiri regime, when these groups were perceived to be among the major sources of opposition to the national leadership.

The presence in the armed forces of non-Muslim black southerners has been a source of contention in Sudan since the condominium period. Until after World War II, southerners were recruited for service only in the Equatoria Corps and rarely served alongside northern Sudanese. Recruitment was suspended after the 1955 mutiny in the south, and when it was resumed the following year, southern volunteers were required to serve in the north under northern officers. The rebellion in the south discouraged southerners from joining the armed forces until the 1972 settlement.

As part of the Addis Ababa accords ending the civil war, 6,000 of the former Anya Nya (named after a tribal poison) guerrillas were to be integrated gradually into the national army's Southern Command to serve with 6,000 northerners. By including southern officers in the top echelon of the Southern Command, the two forces appeared to have meshed successfully. In 1982 it was estimated that southerners outnumbered northerners 7,000 to 5,000 in the Southern Command, but there were relatively few southerners stationed in the north, and none held important positions. Nimeiri's decision the following year to transfer southern troops to the north because of his doubts over their loyalty to the central government was resisted by the southerners and was one of a number of factors that triggered the renewal of the civil war.

Data as of June 1991

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