Sudan: Torn apart by decades of war

Khartoum, Oct 3 (AFP/APP):Sudan hopes that a landmark peace treaty signed on Saturday will help turn a corner on decades of conflict in one of Africa’s largest countries.

The partly desert nation sits between the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.

Military coups

Sudan gained independence in 1956 after a period of joint rule by Britain and Egypt. It has a mainly Muslim population of 42.8 million, according to 2019 figures from the World Bank. Arabic is the official language and Islamic Sharia law was put in force in 1983, before being put on hold and then applied again under the regime of Omar al-Bashir.

From June 1989 to April 2019, Sudan was led by Bashir, a career soldier who swept to power in a military coup backed by Islamists. Bashir was elected president in 2010 in the country’s first multi-party election since taking power, and re-elected in 2015. The opposition boycotted both votes. Unrest broke out in 2013 after petrol prices skyrocketed and security forces killed dozens of protesters.

Demonstrations against food price hikes erupted in early 2018 and again in December after the cost of bread tripled. The protests continued for nearly four months and dozens were killed in the violence, before the army on April 11, 2019 removed Bashir from power. On July 17, after three months of protests and dozens of deaths, military and protest leaders signed an accord on a three-year transition to civilian rule.

Bashir has since been convicted of graft and is now on trial over the 1989 coup that brought him to power.

South Sudan breaks away

Sudan endured a first civil war from 1955 to 1972, while a second lasted from 1983 to 2005. Millions died in the conflicts. In 2005, Khartoum signed a peace treaty with southern rebels, granting the south autonomy pending a referendum on independence in 2011.

South Sudan proclaimed its independence in July 2011, six months after voting by 99 percent to secede.
The split removed roughly a quarter of Sudan’s territory. Before then it had been Africa’s largest country.
In early 2012, relations with South Sudan deteriorated. Their armies clashed in oil-rich border zones.

Devastating Darfur

In 2003, rebels in Sudan’s vast arid western region of Darfur revolted against alleged political and economic marginalisation of black ethnic groups by the Arab-dominated regime in Khartoum. Khartoum responded by unleashing the dreaded Janjaweed militia, blamed for atrocities including murder, rape, looting and burning villages.

The violence, which has significantly eased in recent years, resulted in one of the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophes. The United Nations says about 300,000 people have been killed and more than 2.5 million displaced, many living in sprawling semi-permanent camps. The International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2009 and 2010 issued arrest warrants for Bashir on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur — accusations he denies.

Battered economy, COVID-19

The 2011 secession of South Sudan hit the Sudanese economy badly as it lost around three-quarters of its oil reserves. The country also suffered under a US economic embargo imposed since 1993 over its alleged backing of radical Islamist groups, including Osama bin Laden, who lived in the country for years in the 1990s.

The embargo was lifted in 2017, but Sudan remains on a US blacklist of alleged state terror sponsors, deterring investors. In July, the international community promised $1.8 billion for Sudan, whose political transition is threatened by a serious economic crisis.

Inflation is close to 150 percent and the currency has plunged against the dollar. The country is also affected by devastating floods. The country is one of the world’s poorest, ranked 168 out of 189 on the UNDP’s Human Development Index in 2019 that compares life expectancy, education and per capita income.

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