Sudan's Perfect War

BORN INTO BLOODSHED

War has raged in Sudan for all but 11 of the 45 years since its independence. The most recent round of fighting began in 1983, after then President Ja`far Muhammad Numayri revoked the autonomy that had been granted to the country's south 11 years before and imposed Islamic law (the shari`a) throughout the land. These steps were the final insult to the predominantly non-Muslim, non-Arab population of southern Sudan, which had long been cut off from the distribution of national resources and otherwise marginalized.

At first, it was John Garang's Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) that took up the south's fight against government forces. But in the 19 years of bloodshed since, Sudan's civil war has been carried on by four different northern regimes and countless southern alliances. With two million fatalities so far, this war has produced more casualties than those in Angola, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo, Liberia, the Persian Gulf, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Rwanda put together. An astounding four million Sudanese -- out of a population of around 29 million -- have been made homeless. Yet militarily, the fighting has accomplished little. Today the government controls only key garrison towns in the south; the rest of the region is ruled by the SPLM or one of the many other factions that have evolved over the years.

Meanwhile, rather than moving the conflict closer to resolution, political and economic developments in Sudan over the last few years have made achieving a negotiated and just peace even more unlikely. Through deft maneuvering, Khartoum has consolidated its power and ended the international isolation from which it suffered for years. And it has cleverly engineered the war so that today, few of the combatants actually hail from the north. Furthermore, with the construction of a pipeline, oil extracted from the south is now earning Sudan's government well over a million dollars a day -- enough to pay for the military campaign and buy new friends abroad. From the north's perspective, therefore, the battle against the south has become self-sustaining, both politically and economically. It has become, in essence, a perfect war.

Register Now
Non-Subscriber
Register now to get three articles each month. Join us as a paid subscriber and get unrestricted access to all of Foreign Affairs, including on our iPad app.
Please note that we will never share your email address with a third party. Read our privacy policy.
Register for free to continue reading.
Registered users get access to three free articles every month.

Or subscribe now and save 55 percent.

Subscription benefits include:
  • Full access to ForeignAffairs.com
  • Six issues of the magazine
  • Foreign Affairs iPad app privileges
  • Special editorial collections

Latest Commentary & News analysis