1970-1989: A modicum of peace, then more coups

The Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972 precipitated the Southern Provinces Regional Act and saw the South become a self-governing region, comprised of the three provinces of Bahr El Ghazal, Equatoria, and Upper Nile – these were then further sub-divided into three additional provinces, namely Lakes, Jonglei and Eastern Equatoria. A framework of self-government was created, including a parliamentary system. For ten years, North-South relations were to run smoothly. In June 1983, however, Nimeiri decreed the creation of three regions in the South. The proposal for this declaration originated in Equatoria with Joseph Lagu, whose objective was to end Dinka domination of the South.

With his popularity in freefall, Nimeiri sought to pacify his critics and silence opposition by manipulation of religion – he Islamicised the laws by replacing al the statutes with the principles of Sharia. This angered the non-Muslim South in particular, where discontent was already brewing after Nimeiri announced his plans to re-divide the region. Out of this, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) was created, with a military wing, the Sudanese People’s Army (SPLA). The primary goal of the SPLM was not that of secession, but rather progressive change for Sudan as a whole.

For Southerners, Nimeiri’s changes were merely a means of limiting their access to the centre of power in Khartoum, especially in light of the new oil discoveries. The South believed that oil would bind Washington to the North. But Nimeiri’s regime was collapsing by this stage and in the period immediately preceding the coup that toppled Nimeiri, it seems likely that the US and other Western powers encouraged a campaign to get rid of him. On 6 April 1985, a bloodless coup took place, and Nimeiri was deposed.

The Transnational Military Council (TMC) ruled Sudan until elections were held in April 1986, where the UP’s Sadiq al-Mahdi won a majority; in the South, voting in 37 of 68 seats was suspended due to violence. In an effort to end the civil war, Mahdi held talks with Christian Dinka, Garang – nothing came of the talks. After re-election in 1988, Mahdi agreed with the three main parties (UP, DUP and NIF) to implement an Islamic code; he stressed, however, that this would not infringe the rights of non-Muslims.

Another bloodless coup took place in June 1989, by army officers who had been pressing for peace in the South. Negotiations had stalled due to the NIF wanting to impose Sharia on the South. The new government was headed by Gen. Omar al-Bashir, and was welcomed by Egypt and, more discreetly, by Britain and the US. Garang was distrustful of Bashir, however, and wanted to leave the question of Sharia to a national referendum. It soon became apparent that Sudan was set for military rule and Islamist politics when the NIF moved swiftly to repress other political parties.

Two coup attempts followed Bashir’s 1989 bloodless coup, however, by the end of 1990 Bashir appeared more secure; he continued the war with the SPLM. In October 1993, the Revolutionary Military Council disbanded and Bashir reverted to civilian rule, with Bashir as its president. Fighting grew fiercer in the South, with the government launching massive military campaigns which saw the displacement of another 100,000 people. In 1996, Khartoum accused Uganda of assisting the SPLA, who in turn accused Bashir of supporting the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda.