Until independence in 1956
North Sudan, which was Christian from the 6th century, became progressively more Arabic and Islamic over the next thousand years.
In 1821, Sudan was invaded by Egypt of Mohammed Ali Pasha.
Supported by the British, Egypt imposed a centralized authoritarian arabization of the South.
Black people were kidnapped as slaves or recruited into the army. "The conquest of the Sudan by the armies of Muhammad Ali was motivated by the desire repeatedly expressed by the vice-regent to “bring back negros” for his Army. But, unlike the Muslim Sudanese, who although they formed a very mixed race, were soon regarded as "Arab" and therefore could be used as auxiliaries in the Egyptian administration, animist groups were regarded as a reservoir of slaves. Subsequently, marshy areas south of the country were explored by a band of international adventurers and were subject to real seasonal manhunt campaigns." (excerpt from the report of the senatorial group «France-Sudan» after their visit to Sudan in June 1998).
In 1882 a nationalist revolt broke out: the followers of Muhammad Ahmad Abd Allah, self-declared "Mahdi" ("Messiah, hidden imam") took control of the north.
The internal situation deteriorated during the reigns of the Mahdi and after him, of the caliph al-Taaisha, who led a constant struggle against the Nilotic people of the South, annexing a portion of their territories to the Egyptian Sudan.
In 1896, the British and the Egyptian governments launched a military offensive against the caliph. Two years later, an Anglo-Egyptian condominium was established on Sudan.
The United Kingdom quickly turned out to be the true ruler of the country. Its policy was to avoid tensions between North and South. In reality, the U.K. lost interest in the South, but still wanted to ensure a minimum of order at the lowest cost possible. The power was based on local chiefdoms: London let its governors administer the region as they please. They became real "bog barons" reigning over their territories without reporting to their imperial government.
The first uprising in the South broke out in 1924.
The British then decided to run differently the north and the south, and prevented any contact between the two parts of the country. This policy of "closed districts" soon became a source of frustration and resentment.
In 1948, took place the election of a parliament dominated by parties representing the North. Members of the parliament demanded that the two colonial powers authorize the creation of a Sudanese government and denounce the condominium.
In 1951, Farouk of Egypt unilaterally declared himself King of Sudan. But a year later, he was overthrown by a military junta.
In the process, the Sudan was granted the right to self-determination.
The northerner stranglehold on power caused the first civil strife.
Finally in 1956, it was a government composed mainly of representatives from the North who established the “unitary” Republic of Sudan.
The new Republic was recognized by the two former colonial powers, and backed by the USSR in its struggle against the secessionist South.
Nearly 40 years of civil war
Independence marked the beginning of a deadly 40 years-long civil war between the Arab and Muslim North, and the South, almost entirely inhabited by black Animists and Christians.
During these times, Sudan experienced alternate periods of democracy and dictatorship, the latter caused by military coups and being much longer than the former.
There was a truce of eleven years under the military regime of General Nimeiri (1969-1985).
A progressive president, supported by the Sudanese Communist Party, Nimeiri did not want nor the secession of the South nor the continuation of a policy of forced Islamization, that had proved inefficient. He created a Ministry of the South, and put Southerners from the Dinka ethnic group in charge of it.
In 1972, the Addis Ababa Agreement sealed the peace between the government and southern rebels.
But in 1983 Nimeiri took some decisions that were unfavourable to the South (including the introduction of Islamic law, the "shariah"), bringing about a resumption of war.
On the top of that, the country suffered in 1988 a severe famine that made 250 000 victims.
The inability of the central government to put an end to the North/South conflict was one of the major causes of the 1989 coup, fomented by Sheikh Hassan Al-Turabi, the mentor of the ruling class.
Islamization and Arabization soon became the spearheads of the policy of General Omar el Bashir’s authoritarian regime, and were consistently implemented through the NIF (National Islamic Front) in political, judicial, executive, legislative, economic and social fields.
The conflict was nowhere near solved. Several peace conferences sponsored by neighbouring countries took place during this period, but with little result.
At the end of the century, an estimated 2.6 million people still suffered from famine in Sudan.
In the 90s, this devastated country was also home to hundreds of thousands of refugees from neighbouring states (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Chad, Congo).
More than half of the Southerners were forced to leave their homes.
Children (especially boys), hoping to join a possible parent in the North, set off in the direction of Khartoum. Those who made it alive and free (slavery was still valid), found only misery and tried to survive in the streets of the capital.
2 million people were gradually forced into crowded camps in the deserts around Khartoum, without any infrastructure.
In 2003, trouble stirs in the West, in the province of Darfur, causing a mass exodus to Chad or to Khartoum, where the escaping population swelled the ranks of displaced people.
In January 2005, a peace agreement between the Khartoum government and the southern rebels put an end to the longest civil war in the XXth century.
But the conflict in Darfur continued, causing thousands of victims every year. What has been qualified a "genocide" by the international community caused an estimated 300,000 deaths and 2,7 million displaced.
The key point of the peace agreement signed in 2005 was a self-determination referendum of the South, scheduled for six years later.
In January 2011, almost 99% of southerners voted for independence.
The birth of Southern Sudan was officially proclaimed July 9, 2011.