Sudan: How much do you know?
2011 Place of the Year
1. What four factors have caused Sudan to be so unstable since independence in 1956?
(1) Its enormous size (it is the largest country in Africa geographically), (2) its very weak transportation infrastructure to tie its economy together, (3) its extraordinary diversity of languages, cultures, and tribes, and (4) the failure of its leaders since independence to find a broadly accepted formula to share wealth and power, and its attempt to impose through coercion and repression Islam and Arab culture on the South which is African, and practice Christian and traditional religions, and Arab culture on Northern tribes which speak African languages.
2. What proportion of the population of historic Sudan (Sudan before the South became independent in 2011) is racially Arab and what proportion is African?
Most Sudanese Arabs are descendants of the African tribes in the Northern Nile River valley and Sahara desert which adopted Arab culture and language after they converted to Islam. There are few Arabs in Sudan.
3. What are the two largest tribes in historic Sudan (Sudan before the South became independent in 2011)?
Dinka and Fur.
4. What are the three dominate tribes in historic Sudan which controlled the government, the military and business enterprise since independence in 1956?
The Ja’aliyiin, the Shayqiyya and Danagla.
5. During the joint British Egyptian rule between 1902-1956 what ethnic groups dominated the economy of Sudan?
Greeks, Lebanese Christians, Armenians, and Iraqi Jews. They were brought in by General Gordon in the 1880’s to develop a commercial economy and continued to play a major role into the 1970’s.
6. How many internal wars have taken place in Darfur over the past thirty years and which tribes fought them?
Three. The Fur vs. Arab War between 1986-1989; The Masalit vs. Arab War between 1986-1988; The Fur, Masalit, and Zaghawa vs. Arab War between 2002-present). During all three wars, the Arab tribes were proxies for the national government in Khartoum which provided weapons and funds for them to fight against the African tribes.
7. Where did the Darfuri African tribes in the third (and current) war get the weapons they fought with?
From the Libyan and Chadian governments and captured weapons from the Sudanese military after the rebels defeated them in battle between 2003-2004.
8. What political figure in Sudan is purportedly related by marriage to Osama bin Laden?
The Islamist leader Hassan al Turabi. He reportedly married Turabi’s niece while he lived in Sudan in the 1990’s at Turabi’s invitation.
9. Why did Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir agree in 2011 to a peaceful secession of South Sudan to form an independent state?
Bashir would have faced a high probability of military defeat in a new war with the South had he tried to stop Southern independence. The South Sudan military–called the SPLA–had more troops than the North, had purchased heavy weapons with oil revenues after the peace agreement of January 2005, and had arrayed their forces along the border with the North. Had the North invaded the South they would have faced a southern army which would have been defending their own homes and families, while the Northern army has suffered from increasingly poor morale.
Andrew S. Natsios served as Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development from 2001 to 2005, where he was appointed as Special Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan. He also served as Special Envoy to Sudan from October 2006 to December 2007. He is author of the forthcoming volume Sudan, South Sudan, and Darfur: What Everyone Needs to Know.