The ongoing regional conflicts that have riven Sudan for the entirety of its fifty years of existence are testament to the folly of defining nation states according to boundaries drawn by European imperialists. In Sudan’s case, the British drew the country’s borders to include the Arab, Muslim north and the black, Animist south; a sure recipe for internal instability that has yielded only ten years of peace since Sudan’s independence in 1956. The rest of the time it has been plagued by a series of overlapping civil wars between Arabs and black Africans. Since 1983, an estimated two million Sudanese have died of war-related causes, while five million have been forced from their homes. Since 1993, Sudan has been the world’s leading debtor to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Sudan is currently ranked as the third most unstable country in the world according to the Failed States Index, for its military dictatorship and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Darfur. Sudan’s population of about 38 million is deeply divided ethnically and religiously. Although 52% of the population is black, minority Arabs have always ruled the nation. A census taken at the time of independence identified 50 ethnic groups, 570 distinct peoples and the use of 114 languages, although more than half the population speaks Arabic.
Lay of the Land: Sudan is located in northeast Africa, where the Arab world and black Africa meet, though not entirely happily. The largest country by area in Africa and the Arab world, and the tenth largest on the planet, Sudan borders the Red Sea to the northeast as well as nine nations: Eritrea and Ethiopia to the east, Kenya and Uganda to the southeast, Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic to the southwest, Chad to the west, Libya to the northwest and Egypt to the north. The dominant geographic features of Sudan include the River Nile, which bisects the country south to north, the Libyan and Nubian deserts of the north and the Sudd swamp of southern Sudan, created by the sluggish White Nile, which is the size of Belgium and the world’s largest swamp.
The people of Sudan have a long history extending from antiquity, which is intertwined with the history of Egypt, with which it was united politically over several periods. Sudan’s history has also been plagued by civil war stemming from ethnic, religious, and economic conflict between the mostly Muslim and Arab population to the north, and non-Arab Black Africans to the south and west. Christian missionaries arrived in the region in the 6th century and Islamic missionaries in the 7th century. As early as 652 a treaty was signed in which Muslim Egypt would provide goods to Christian Nubia in exchange for Nubian slaves. Slave raids in southern Sudan continued almost without a break for the next 1300 years, no matter who ruled the region: Egyptians, Turks or local sultans.
Sudan broke diplomatic relations with the US in June 1967, following the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli War. Relations improved after July 1971, when the Sudanese Communist Party attempted to overthrow President Nimeiri, and Nimeiri suspected Soviet involvement. US assistance for resettlement of refugees following the 1972 peace settlement with the south further improved relations.
Although oil exploration began in the 1960s, Chevron achieved its first significant strike, in South Kordofan, in 1980. Two years later another strike was made on the margin between Arab Sudan and black Sudan. In 1984, southern insurgents killed four Chevron employees, leading Chevron to withdraw from the country. Still, the lure of huge profits was too great to be ignored. Oil companies from China, Sweden, France and Malaysia would also ultimately take their chances in Sudan. Sudan has used various means, including sending fighter jets to bomb villages near the oil fields, to clear areas in the south intended for oil drilling. Since 2000, a pipeline has connected the southern oil fields to an oil terminal south of Port Sudan, reducing Sudan’s dependence on Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf oil states.
According to the US State Department “the government’s human rights record is poor, and there are numerous serious abuses, including: abridgement of citizens’ rights to change their government; extrajudicial and other unlawful killings by government forces and other government-aligned groups throughout the country; torture, beatings, rape, and other cruel, inhumane treatment or punishment by security forces; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention of suspected government opponents, and prolonged pretrial detention; executive interference with the judiciary and denial of due process; forced military conscription of underage men; obstruction of the delivery of humanitarian assistance; restrictions on privacy and freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement; harassment of internally displaced persons and of local and international human rights and humanitarian organizations; violence and discrimination against women, including the practice of female genital mutilation; child abuse, including sexual violence and recruitment of child soldiers, particularly in Darfur; trafficking in persons; discrimination and violence against ethnic minorities; denial of workers' rights; and forced labor, including child labor.
Should the U.S. Pursue Economic Sanctions and/or Military Intervention in Sudan
Arthur E. Beach
Sudan does not have an ambassador to the US at this time. Since Sept. 9, 2008, the head of the embassy has been the chargé d’affaires, Akec Khoc Aciew Khoc. Dr. Khoc, a member of the Dinka people of Southern Sudan, trained as a medical practitioner, earning a bachelor’s degree (M.B. B.S.) from the University of Khartoum Medical School, and a master’s degree in Blood Transfusion Medicine and Hematology from Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris. Khoc fled Sudan to Ethiopia at the outset of the second civil war in 1983, and then to France in 1991 after the political situation in Ethiopia deteriorated for the south Sudanese. While in Paris, he became a member of the Sudan Human Rights Organization, and a spokesman for the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the leading opposition group to the northern government and the political arm of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. He left Paris and settled for a time in Minnesota, working as a mental health counselor. In April 2006, as part of the national reconciliation process, he was appointed chargé d’affaires to the Sudanese embassy in the US.
On October 17, 2011, President Barack Obama announced his intent to appoint as ambassador to the small West African nation of Togo a veteran diplomat who has spent years focusing on Africa–US relations. Robert E. Whitehead was confirmed by the Senate on March 29, 2012.