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Analyzing Sudan's persistent Civil Wars, Recurring Coups, and Implications.

Abstract: The Civil war in Sudan, which started in April 2023 and is still going on, has caused millions of Sudanese to flee to neighboring countries, including Chad, South Sudan, and Egypt. The armed conflict stems from a power struggle between two opposition parties that once had led a coup together. However, tension escalated, and the two parties pursued power acquisition through conflict. A comprehensive examination of the long-lasting consequences of Sudan's history of coups and civil wars is vital for a nuanced understanding of the present civil war in Sudan.

Brief Background

Sudan is located in Northeast Africa, geographically neighboring Egypt to the north, Chad to the west, Eritrea to the northeast, Ethiopia to the southeast, Central African Republic to the southwest, South Sudan to the south, and Libya to the Northwest. It consists of different tribes and ethnicities, including both Arab and non-Arab ethnic groups. Between 1899 and 1956, the British and Egypt colonized Sudan. Egypt broke away from the 1899 condominium agreement, an Anglo-Egyptian rule in which Sudan was ruled until 1951, leading to a referendum of choosing independence or union with Egypt. The first successful ruling party emerged as the National Unionist Party (NUP), led by Prime Minister Ismail al-Azhari, who won the parliamentary election in 1953. Sudan gained its independence on January 1, 1956.

Sudan in its first phase of independece

Sudan, after it declared independence, dealt with state fragility. Prime minister Ismail al-Azhari served briefly, and he resigned in July 1956; the government transitioned to another party, the Umma Party (UP), where the first Military-led coup deposed in 1958 under the leadership of Lt. General Ibrahim Abboud of the Five-member Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The government emerged as the Democratic of the Republic of Sudan on November 18, 1958. The military-led government suspended the constitution, declared emergence-of-state, banned political parties, and dissolved the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces on October 26, 1964. Under Lt. General Ibrahim Abboud, Sudan experienced a suppression of freedom to express and speak. The state of the government became prone to rebellions from diverse civilians, including military personnel, students, and diverse ethnicities who were against the military government. The government resolved rebellions with military force and execution through law and order. The military government’s mantra was to defeat any dissidents and crack down on demonstrators militarily. However, the military government lost its power to the civilian-led coalition under Serkhatim Khalifah in 1964.

The period between 1964-1989

There was an unstable government ruling between 1964 and 1989. The rulings of the Umma Party and the Democratic Unionist Party continued to run for government. This period was marked by political unrest as there were multiple failed coups. The government was between the Umma Party (UP) and the Democratic Unionist Party, both leading the country briefly until a military coup deposed the government of Mohamed Ahmed Mahgoub of the Umma Party in 1969. The military coup led by Colonel Gaafar Muhammad al-Numaryi under the ten-member Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) suppressed multiple demonstrations and executed opponents and rebels. Coups and military rebellions happened repeatedly, and political unrest was prevalent. The Soviet Union provided military assistance to the government. The Sudanese government signed a 25-year joint defense agreement with Egypt on July 15, 1976. (Ronen, 2003). After shortly winning the legislative election as a president in 1983, Colonel Gaafar Muhammad al-Numaryi was deposed in a military coup in 1985, bringing the 25-year joint defense of 1974 and the RCC to an end. In the legislative election held in 1986, the Umma Party won, and Sadiq al-Mahdi was named prime minister until he also dissolved the government on March 11, 1989. (UCA)

Lt. General Omar Hassan Ahmad al-bashir (1989-2000)

General Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir led military coups backed by Sudan's National Islamic Front (NIF) party on June 30, 1989. He led the government under the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) as a prime minister, declaring a state-of-emergency, suspending the 1985 constitution, and banning political parties in 1989. The NIF wanted to install an Islamic state in Sudan, disregarding the diversity of religions and cultures in Sudan. Its way of implementing one language and one religion was not welcomed by the south of Sudan (now South Sudan) as, at the time, there were predominantly Christians rather than Muslims. However, the government continued implementing Islamic laws throughout the country, making the only religion Islam and the only language Arabic. General Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir employed military force to crack down on military rebellions and demonstrators and executed political opponents who participated in military rebellions. Intense crackdown on demonstrators and civilian execution continued and eventually grabbed the attention of the global community.

The government was accused of human rights abuses by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who condemned how the government handled rebels and student demonstrators at college campuses. (UCA). The government established the National Security Arrest (NSA) of 1995, in which it formally barred freedom of speech and expression under the name of security and threat to law and order, resulting in mass detention of civilians, including opponents and student demonstrators. The NSA allowed the government to practice broadly, arresting any opponent in security cases; for example, the government detained arbitrarily high-profile opponents like the former prime minister of the Umma Party, Sadiq al-Mahdi, on account of criticisms of the government and the NIF. (HRW, 1996). Bashir was prone to allegations of human rights abuses. The U.S. imposed economic sanctions against the government in 1997. The Call of the Homeland Accord, mediated by President Ismail Omar Gelle of the Republic Of Djibouti, an agreement of a four-year transition to democratic government, was supposed to democratize the regime. The transitioning period experienced political turmoil, and again, the National Congress Party won the legislative election in 2000, resulting in President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir's re-election on December 22, 2000.

During the Darfur conflict, the western party was mainly fought by both the government troops and rebels.
During the Darfur conflict, the western part of Darfur was mainly fought by both the government troops and rebels.

The Crises in the Darfur Region 2003-2010

 In the early 2000s, violence has been alarming, especially in the Darfur region. In 2003, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Sudan Liberation Army (SLM/SLA), rebels, and opposition parties started attacking the military forces in Northern Darfur on April 25, 2003. The government organized an army campaign in retaliation and employed an extremist militia group known as the Janjaweed militia group to carry on counterinsurgency in Darfur. Hundreds of people were killed, and millions were displaced during the conflict. The Janjaweed militia group, as a government-backed military and heavily weaponized even though they lacked basic military training, fought with SLM/SLA and vast non-Arab people in Darfur, committing crimes against humanity as they killed hundreds of innocent people in Darfur. The militia employed a "scorched earth Campaign burning villages and poisoning wells" (Astoundz, 2023). 2003-2004 marked the Darfur Genocide, and under the United Nations Genocide Convention recognized as nearly 400,000 people were killed, women were systematically raped, and millions of people were displaced. (Astoundz, 2023). Intense fighting escalated in the region, calling for global intervention where the African Union established the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS I) and the Ceasefire Monitoring Commission (CMC) to ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance and monitor a ceasefire in the Darfur region. However, multiple ceasefire negotiations failed, and the fighting resumed, intensifying the existing humanitarian crisis conditions. In response to the government's negligence in protecting the people in Darfur, the UN Security Council imposed military sanctions against the government, and another AMIS II was established. The AMIS II included protection of the ceasefire agreements. Multiple failed peace agreements, negotiations, and ceasefire agreements, including the Darfur Peace Agreement mediated by AU between the Sudanese government and the SLM in May 2006, significantly impacted the region as it regressed to worse conditions, such as widespread violence. Several other ceasefire and peace agreements mediated by Eritrea failed, and violent civilian and government clashes continued. The African Union/United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur was created on July 31, 2007. African Union and United Nations aligned to operate on the stability of Darfur militarily and supply humanitarian assistance to Darfur. Government military offenses, clashing with demonstrators and rebels, continued. The government troops committed violence against the displaced, attacking villages and refugee camps such as the Kalma Camp, where the government troops killed more than thirty people on August 25, 2008, in Darfur. (ReliefWeb, 2008). The government restricted humanitarian assistance and aid workers access to Kalma Camp. The International Criminal Court issued a warrant arrest for President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir for committing war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity in March 2009. The accounts were: 

five counts of crimes against humanity: murder – article 7(1)(a); extermination – article 7(1)(b); forcible transfer – article 7(1)(d);torture – article 7(1)(f); and rape – article 7(1)(g);

two counts of war crimes: intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities – article 8(2)(e)(i); and pillaging – article 8(2)(e)(v). (ICC, 2009)

International Human Rights Law and Humanitarian Law Violations

President Omar al-Bashir ruled Sudan for three decades. Those three decades marked by significant political instability, civil wars, and human rights abuses against the people of Darfur. He led the country as a dictator and enforced laws and policies that discriminated against certain groups in Sudan. President Omar al-Bashir dismissed accusations of human rights abuse, running the country with impunity. The Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have repeatedly condemned Sudan's government. The government of Sudan committed violations against human rights law as they targeted the people in Darfur multiple times. Human rights law protects the dignity of individuals regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, or gender. The laws of war prioritize the protection of civilians and civilian objects, including hospitals, schools, and homes. The International humanitarian law "minimizes unnecessary pain and suffering during wartime, particularly by protecting civilians and other noncombatants from the hazards of armed conflict" (HRW, 2023). Each party involved in the civil war abrogated cease-fire agreements, negotiations, and peace agreements, subjecting civilians to unnecessary suffering.

2010-2019 events

The government's troops and Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) clashed concurrently in South Kordofan State. The clashes between government troops and SPLM-N and student protesters were prevalent and brutal, indicating political unrest and government use of power over rebels. In 2019, a military coup led by Lt. General Ahmed Awad Ibn Aud overthrew President Omar al-Bashir's government. The country entered a democratic transition led by Lt. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan of the Transitional Military Council. UNAMID mission ended on December 31, 2020. Instabilities rose, and the UN established the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) on June 3, 2020. The UNITAMS was a special political mission to ensure Sudan's transition into a democratic government with the support of the UN for four years. (ReliefWeb, 2023)

General Abdel Fattah Burhan (Left), leader of the SAF  and General Mohammed Dagalo also known as Hamedti (right), Leader of the RSF.  (Myre, 2023).
General Abdel Fattah Burhan (Left), leader of the SAF and General Mohammed Dagalo also known as Hamedti (right), Leader of the RSF. (Myre, 2023).

Current Sudan Civil War

General Abdel Fattah Burhan and General Mohammed Dagalo, also known as Hamedti, were longtime friends until 2021, when they both ran for power. They participated in the Darfur region conflict in 2003, and both were involved in the government and the Janjaweed militia group fighting against the SPLM-N and the Justice, Equality Movement. Mohammed Dagalo (Hamedti) was the commander of the Janjaweed militia that carried out atrocities in the Darfur region in 2003-2004. The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), led by General Abdel Fattah Burhan, overthrew the government in a military coup in 2021. The opposition party Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by Hamedti increasingly demanded for more power in Khartoum. Failure to incorporate the RSF into SAF and the unmet needs of the paramilitary forces led to the outbreak of the civil war, which resulted in millions of people being forced from their homes. In April 2023, RSF accumulated victories in the Darfur region, but they are accused of committing genocidal acts, including ethnically cleansing non-Arabs and perpetrating sexual violence against women. The RSF are accused of carrying out sexual violence, including rape, against women and girls in West Darfur, in which Human Rights Watch reported 78 victims of rape between April 24 and June 26, 2023. (HRW, 2023). The RSF carried out ethnic cleansing in Ardama in West Darfur in November 2023, targeting the Masalit tribe, which violates international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

Since the beginning of the civil war, more than 10,000 people have died, and more than seven million people have been internally and externally displaced. (Sen, 2023). With crossfire caught between, Civilians in Sudan are facing dire situations where diseases such as measles and cholera broke out. More than

1,200 children under five have died due to measles and malnutrition in White Nile State, and 13,000 are facing malnutrition camps in Chad. Logistical challenges have prevented humanitarian assistance delivery in certain regions like West Sudan and South Sudan. The SAF carried military strikes in populated cities like Khartoum, which violates the laws of war as indiscriminate attacks, inflicting unnecessary suffering on civilians.


Since the country's independence, Sudan has had numerous coups. Due to the frequent occurrence of coups and civil wars over the years, Sudan has never had a government that served the interests of its diverse population.

The present conflict involves parties responsible for past injustices in Darfur and running for power which is still not the best interest of Sudanese people. It is imperative to avoid the repetition of historical injustices and those responsible for such actions, according to International Criminal Court, should not be entrusted with leading of the country. Sudan is still bound by the laws of war, despite the fact that international law characterizes the Sudan's civil war as a non-international armed conflict, meaning that the two opposing parties are not the legitimate government of Sudan.


University of Central arkansas: UCA. Government Public Service and International Studies. (n.d.).

Astoundz. (2023, August 3). Genocide in Darfur - Holocaust Museum Houston. Holocaust Museum Houston.

Ronen, Y. (2003). Sudan and Egypt: The swing of the pendulum (1989–2001). Middle Eastern Studies, 39(3), 81–98.

ICC issues a warrant of arrest for Omar Al Bashir, President of Sudan. (n.d.). International Criminal Court.

UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan. (2023, November 13). ReliefWeb.,Description,political%20transition%20to%20democratic%20rule.

ACCORD. (2022, August 22). Environment, Conflict and Peacebuilding: Addressing the Root Causes of Conflict in Darfur – ACCORD.

Myre, G. (2023, May 10). Why is Sudan so prone to civil war? NPR.

Civil war pushes Sudan to the brink of humanitarian disaster. (n.d.). United States Institute of Peace.

Questions and answers on Sudan and the laws of war. (2023, April 25). Human Rights Watch

Darfur: Rapid support forces, allied militias rape dozens. (2023, August 21). Human Rights Watch


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