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Sudan Table of Contents



The Sudanese armed forces have not been the source of any strain on the nation's manpower resources. In 1990, there were an estimated 5,600,000 males between the ages of 15 and 49, of whom 3,400,000 were fit for military service. The number reaching the military age of eighteen annually was approximately 273,000. The United States Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA) estimated that, as of 1989, only 2.5 persons per 1,000 of population were in the armed forces. Among Sudan's neighbors, corresponding figures were Egypt 8.7 per 1,000, Ethiopia 5.0 per 1,000, and Libya 21.0 per 1,000.

In the first years after independence, recruitment notices reportedly attracted ten applicants for each vacancy. Poorer Sudanese, particularly westerners and southerners, were attracted to the armed forces in great numbers. Not all could be accommodated, so that selection of enlisted men was fairly strict, based on physical condition, education, and character of the applicant. Although the adult literacy rate in Sudan was then estimated to be no more than 20 percent, enlisted personnel were required to have some ability to read and write. The recruit enlisted for three years, and if his record remained good, he could reenlist for further three-year periods until he had served a total of twenty years, at which time he was retired with the highest rank he had attained. Soldiers who received technical training could be obliged to sign an understanding that they would remain on active duty for nine years.

There were reports as of the late 1980s that the morale of the army had suffered because soldiers from other areas of Sudan disliked assignment to the south, where they faced an interminable war in which they had no personal interest and in which a military victory seemed unattainable. Newer recruits, many from the west, felt isolated and threatened in the besieged garrison towns. Large numbers of government troops whose homes were in the south had reportedly deserted to the SPLA, their motivation for continuing the struggle against the insurgency drained by food shortages and lack of needed supplies. Both under the Sadiq al Mahdi government and immediately after the June 1989 coup, the leadership announced that conscription would be introduced to permit an expansion of the government's efforts in the south, but the rate of enlistments had apparently remained high enough so that it had not been necessary to impose a draft. It was possible that, in the light of widespread economic distress, the army was still regarded as a means of escape from poverty.

Pay rates of both officers and noncommissioned officers generally have been equal to or better than those of civilians of comparable status. Base pay was extremely low by United States standards; a colonel received the equivalent of about US$150 a month in 1990. Military personnel were, however, entitled to extensive additional benefits. Housing was provided for senior personnel commensurate with their office and rank, and generous housing allowances were provided for others. Free medical care was provided to all armed forces personnel and their families. Although the country was suffering from a food scarcity, essential goods were available at commissaries at subsidized prices. Items severely rationed in the civilian economy, such as tea, coffee, sugar, and soap, as well as bread produced by military bakeries, could be purchased at low prices and resold at a considerable profit. This trade offered a welcome supplement to the incomes of the junior ranks. Officers outside Khartoum usually held second jobs. Enlisted personnel were likely to set themselves up as small farmers or traders with profits from the resale of rationed goods. Officers of field grade and above could purchase imported automobiles free of duty; higher-ranking officers were assigned full-time cars and drivers. Gasoline was also available at low prices. In addition, senior officers had numerous opportunities to travel abroad at government expense. Retirement income was virtually as high as the active duty salary, and most of the privileges of military service continued.

The behavior of government soldiers in the south and in the areas where the SPLA was active was the subject of critical reports by Amnesty International, Africa Watch, and other international human rights groups. Amnesty International described numerous incidents in which the army was responsible for the deliberate killing or mistreatment of civilians from ethnic groups suspected of supporting the SPLA. Very few SPLA prisoners of war were held by the government; many cases were documented of captured SPLA fighters, including wounded, being executed without trial.

Few if any prosecutions resulted in connection with the alleged violations. The United States Department of State has confirmed Amnesty International's conclusion that the Sadiq al Mahdi government appeared to condone human rights abuses by the military, citing the cases of generals who received promotions after service in areas where atrocities occurred. There was limited evidence of a shift in attitude by the Bashir government after it assumed power in 1989. Two of the implicated generals were forced to retire from government service, and some soldiers were relieved, although not disciplined, after a series of revenge killings and other violations against civilians in Waw.

Although the Bashir government had announced its intention of purging the armed services of women after it came to power in 1989, large-scale dismissals did not take place. As of 1991, it was reported that about 2,000 women were in uniform, 200 of them officers through the rank of lieutenant colonel. The women were assigned to a range of military duties in the medical service as nurses, dietitians, and physical therapists, and in administration, translation, military intelligence, communications, and public affairs.

Data as of June 1991

Country Listing

Sudan Table of Contents