On today's edition of #56DaysofAfrica, we will be highlighting the Northeast African country of Sudan.
Sudan, officially the Republic of Sudan, has a population of 43 million (2018 estimate) and occupies 1,886,068 square kilometres, making it Africa's third-largest country and also the third-largest in the Arab world. Sudan was the largest country in Africa prior to the secession of South Sudan in 2011. The name derives from the Arabic bilād as-sūdān (بلاد السودان), or the "Land of the Blacks".
What is now northern Sudan was in ancient times the kingdom of Nubia, which came under Egyptian rule after 2600 B.C. An Egyptian and Nubian civilization called Kush flourished until A.D. 350. Missionaries converted the region to Christianity in the 6th century, but an influx of Muslim Arabs, who had already conquered Egypt, eventually controlled the area and replaced Christianity with Islam. During the 1500s a people called the Funj conquered much of Sudan, and several other groups settled in the south, including the Dinka, Shilluk, Nuer, and Azande. Egyptians again conquered Sudan in 1874, and after Britain occupied Egypt in 1882, it took over Sudan in 1898, ruling the country in conjunction with Egypt. It was known as the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan between 1898 and 1955.
From 1820 to 1874 the entirety of Sudan was conquered by the Muhammad Ali dynasty. Between 1881 and 1885, the harsh Egyptian reign was eventually met with a successful revolt led by the self-proclaimed Mahdi Muhammad Ahmad, resulting in the establishment of the Caliphate of Omdurman. This state was eventually toppled in 1898 by the British, who would then govern Sudan together with Egypt.
The 20th century saw the growth of Sudanese nationalism, and in 1953 Egypt and Britain granted Sudan self-government. Sudan proclaimed its independence on 1 January 1956. Since independence, Sudan has been ruled by a series of unstable parliamentary governments and military regimes. Under Maj. Gen. Gaafar Mohamed Nimeiri, Sudan instituted fundamentalist Islamic law in 1983. This exacerbated the rift between the Arab north, the seat of the government, and the black African animists and Christians in the south. Differences in language, religion, ethnicity, and political power erupted in an unending civil war between government forces, strongly influenced by the National Islamic Front (NIF) and the southern rebels, whose most influential faction is the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). In 2011 though, Sudan split into two countries (North Sudan and South Sudan) after the people of the south voted for independence; the last official census recording the population of Sudan in 2008 included the populations of Eastern, Western and Northern Sudan and recorded over 30 million citizens.
Sudan after independence
When Sudan won its independence in 1956, a rebellion was already underway in the South. Southern Sudanese, black and overwhelmingly non-Muslim, feared that national independence simply meant a replacement of British imperial rule by Northern Sudanese Arab colonialism. Their fears were well-founded, as Southerners suffered discrimination and abuse from Northern governments seeking to create a Muslim and Arabized country. This war lasted seventeen years until a peace accord was signed in 1972. A decade’s interlude of peace followed, but the political travails that marked those years–including half a dozen attempted military coups–cemented Sudan’s reputation as Africa’s most dysfunctional country.
Although the politics of Sudan formally took place within the framework of a federal representative democratic republic, between 1989 and 2019, Sudan experienced a 30-year-long military dictatorship led by Omar al-Bashir accused of widespread human rights abuses including torture, persecution of minorities and notably, ethnic genocide due to its role in the War in the Darfur region that broke out in 2003. Protests erupted in late 2018, demanding Bashir's resignation, which resulted in a successful coup d'état on April 11, 2019, led by Vice President Ahmed Awad Ibn Auf.
On 14 December 2019 Bashir was sentenced to two years in a correctional facility after being found guilty of corruption and illegitimate possession of foreign currency.
For the culture
Khartoum, in Arabic Al-Khurṭūm, (“Elephant’s Trunk”) city, is the executive capital of Sudan. Originally an Egyptian army camp (pitched in 1821), Khartoum grew into a garrisoned army town. The Mahdists besieged and destroyed it in 1885. Reoccupied in 1898, Khartoum was rebuilt and served as the seat of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan government until 1956, when the city became the capital of the independent republic of Sudan.
Currently, the Arab presence is estimated at 70% of the Sudanese population and they are mostly Arabized Nubians. Others include North Sudan Nubians, Zurga (South and West Sudan), and Copts. Although the official languages spoken in the country are Arabic and English, anthropologists and social scientists have identified more than 100 languages and dialects that are used in Sudan. The Afro-Arab ethnic and linguistic diversity remains one of the most complex in the world. Nearly 600 ethnic groups speak more than 400 languages and dialects, many of them intelligible to only a small number of individuals.
Amidst its political and economic strife, Sudan had one of the first and most active women’s movements in the African and Arab world during the 1960s–70s. In addition, Sudanese women are also pioneers in science, politics and activism. Sudan boasts the first female parliamentarian in Africa and the Middle East
(1965), the first female Minister of Health (1974); and the Middle East’s first female judge, cinematographer, football referee, army and police officers.
An interesting cultural aspect of Sudanese culture is that many contemporary Sudanese homes take inspiration from Sudan’s indigenous Nubian heritage, a point that many Sudanese architects advocated for post-independence — a choice made as a reaction to colonial architecture which often dismissed local design. Many homes around sharie al-nil (Nile Street) opt for concave roofs and Nubian patterns, in stark contrast to the colonial architecture of prominent buildings in the same area. Islamic inspired design is also prevalent around Khartoum, particularly in mosques like Al-Neelain in Omdurman, a move made by local architects for the same aforementioned reasons.
To get an understanding of Sudan’s diverse cuisine, it is interesting to note Sudan’s staple foods. Sudanese families might consume or prefer a certain food over another simply due to their cultural heritage. A close comparison of asida, gurrasa and kisra is an example. All three items are Sudanese types of bread and are eaten alternatively.
While asida often originates from western Sudan and is a very African type of carb, kisra is typical and indigenous to central Sudan. Gurrasa, on the other hand, is a northern Sudan speciality. Some Sudanese staple foods are also staples in other African kitchens. Asida can be found in Algeria and Libya, where it’s consumed with honey, and in Ethiopia and Uganda (called Posho in Swahili) and even in West Africa (called Fufu) and can also be made using cassava.
The crowning glory and jewel of a Sudanese seniyya, or food tray, is considered the kisra and mullah. The former are wafer-thin sheets of fermented sorghum with a mild tangy taste that provide a carb base for stews such as mullah—a thick meat-based gravy bursting with flavour. Sweetened semolina is also known as kuindiong. This is a traditional dessert prepared by the Dinka people in South Sudan. The main ingredients of kuindiong are yogurt, milk, semolina, sugar, and butter. When the semolina turns pale and a bit nutty in color, it is removed from the heat and topped with milk before serving.
Surprisingly, Sudan is home to more pyramids than it’s neighbour; Egypt has over 100 pyramids, whereas Sudan has more than 230. There is a group of almost 200 ancient pyramids, called the Meroë pyramids, after the Meroitic Kingdom that reigned over the area for over 900 years, in a desert in the eastern part of Sudan. They were built over 2,000 years ago.
One of the biggest archaeological sites in ancient Nubia, Kerma, is located in Sudan. It existed over 5000 years ago and included an enormous tomb structure called the Western Deffufa. Khartoum has bridge connections with its sister towns, Khartoum North and Omdurman, with which it forms Sudan’s largest conurbation. The White Nile and the Blue Nile are the two tributaries of the Nile. These two tributaries merge at Khartoum—the capital of Sudan—becoming the Nile River proper before flowing into Egypt. Its other major tributaries are the Bahr el Ghazal, Sobat and Atbarah rivers.
With its historical richness, the land of the blacks is a sight to see and to learn from. We cannot wait to continue to share more information about Sudan with you all.
"We Are The Ones We've Been Waiting For"