Sudan’s earliest civilisations sprung up along the Nile, growing into the Kingdom of Kush during the 8th century BC. Kush conquered Egypt and adopted many facets of Egyptian culture, including burying its kings in pyramids found at Meroe. The region converted to Christianity in the AD 6th century, and then to Islam in the 14th century.
Modern Egypt conquered Sudan in the 1820s, turning the country into a slave market, but within 60 years jointly administered it with Britain, which was keen to control the area around the newly-built Suez Canal. Sudanese resistance against foreign rule was led by Mahdi Mohammed Ahmed, a figure revered as both a mystic and a holy warrior.
The Mahdist armies kicked both the Egyptians and British out, holding Khartoum until the British re-conquered the territory in 1898. By the mid-20th century, the Sudanese were once more clamouring for independence, which was granted in 1956.
Resenting the political domination of the north, the mostly Christian and animist southerners launched an insurrection against the Khartoum government. This was the trigger for a conflict that raged on and off for five decades and claimed an estimated two million lives.
President Nimeiri ended the first civil war in 1972, granting the south considerable autonomy. He set about giant infrastructure projects aiming to turn Sudan into Africa’s breadbasket, but ended up driving the economy into the buffers. Pressure from northern political parties also meant the rescinding of Southern autonomy, the return of civil war, and an army coup.
A cycle of elections and coups has shaped much of Sudan’s post-independence history. In 1989, General Omar al-Bashir seized power. It wasn’t until the change of geopolitics brought about by 9/11 that Sudan started to shift from its hard-line Islamist position. Flush with money from its new oilfields it sought peace with the south, which became independent in July 2011, although clashes continue. At the same time, a struggle for resources in Darfur sprang into full rebellion. Repression from Khartoum led to President Bashir becoming the first head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity.
Did you know?
• There are more pyramids in Sudan than in Egypt.
• Sudanese weddings can last for up to a week.
• Sudan dropped from being the largest to third largest country in Africa after the independence of South Sudan.