Politics in Southern Sudan is not just complex, it is also delicate. It is also much longer than many people know. Many people, however, are aware of the civil wars that have ravaged the region for decades. Indeed, politics was the cause of the Sudan's multiple wars. The region is known for its gallant resistance to the foreign aggressors for many years; a clear contrast with the cowardly north. Even before the organization of Southern Sudan, communities fought invaders under the leadership of the traditional chiefs. For instance, the Azande fought under King Gbudwe; the Dinka under chiefs Kon Anok of Aliab, Dhieu Alam of Atuot, and Biar Abid of Bor North; while the Nuer fought under prophet Guek Ngundeng'. Apart from the motivation to resist plunder of their natural resources and wealth, the Southerners' resistance was also exacerbated by the utter hatred of Islam and a-Jallaba Arabs which they (Southerners) saw as the embodiment of their suffering and loss. This explains why Islam, as a religion, does not generally appeal to the Southerners.


The first national political elections were held in 1953 following the Cairo Conference to deliberate Sudan's road to independence and self-rule from the British. Four political parties - Umma Party, National Unionist Party, Liberal Party and People's Democratic Party - participated in this election. Most Southern Sudanese supported Liberal Party which stood for a federal national government with separate states for the North and South. However, the election was won by National Unionist Party under Ismail el Azhari who then became the Prime Minister of the new internal self-rule government. It was noteworthy that this party had advocated the union of Sudan and Egypt; an Arab supremacist stance seeking to unite with the greater Arab world in Northern Africa and the Middle East. Nonetheless, this government steered the country to full independence on January 1, 1956 with el Azhari as the first president of independent unitary Sudan. Though lauded by the northerners, this election sealed the marginalization of the Southern Sudanese and precipitated numerous liberation revolts by the southerners.


Father Saturnino Lohure


The independence government was thrown out in 1957 due to feuds amongst the Northern parties. As a result, fresh elections were held in February the same year in which el Azhari lost his position as premier. It is also noteworthy that a Southern MP in the new parliament, Father Saturino Lohure, contested the premiership. Though he lost, he demonstrated that Southerners were not inferior as touted by the Notherners and that they were equally capable of managing the political affairs of the country. Sayed Abdalla Khalil of Umma Party won the premiership but his tenure lasted barely two years. Parliament could not agree on the contents of a permanent constitution for the country as Southerners routed for a federal system while Northerners preferred a unitary system. This bickering and political vacuum was exploited by the army which staged a coup on 17 November 1958 under Gen. Ibrahim Abboud. The military dissolved parliament and ruled the country through decrees until 1964 when it was also overthrown in a coup. Several coups were to follow later; the last one being in 1989 staged by the current president, Omar el Bashir.



Basically, three issues have influenced politics in the Southern Sudan, and by extension the greater Sudan:


  1. The role of British imperialists and the impact of their favouritism towards the Arab elite in the North and against the Southerners;
  2. The rise of Islamism in the country and its misuse by the Arab elite in the North to serve their personal selfish interests; and
  3. The rise of strong liberation movements in the South; first by the Anya Nya Movement, then the South Sudan Liberation Army (SSLA) and ultimately by the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A).


The first modern political resistance, however, was the mutiny of August 18, 1955 on the eve of the independence. Though this war had been catalyzed by a hostile telegram allegedly sent by el Azhari instructing his Northern wingers in the South to mistreat the locals, the root causes were much deeper. During the civil strife, many Southern Sudanese, especially the educated, were forced into exile. But they did not forget the fight at home but kept abreast with all liberation activities within Sudan. They also formed political parties to champion for the rights of the Southerners. The first of such parties was the Sudan African Closed Districts Union (SACDU) under the leadership of Mr Joseph Oduho as president which was formed in February 1962 in exile. The party also founded a military wing called Anyanya Army which fought within Southern Sudan. This party changed its name to Sudan African National Union (SANU) in April 1963 and demanded full independence for the Southern Sudan territory. SANU converted itself to an interim government called Nile Provisional Government (NPG) in 1966 with its headquarters at Balgobindi near the Sudan/Zaire border. The NPG assumed the normal functions of government in the liberated areas of Southern Sudan - maintaining law and order and collecting taxes. NPG remained the face of Southern Sudanese liberation movement until 1967.


Mr Joseph Oduho


There was a coup within the movement spearheaded by Mr Joseph Lagu in 1967. Mr Lagu held the view that the existence of the NPG was repugnant. He therefore changed the name of the liberation movement to Southern Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM) and became its chairman and commander-in-chief of its military wing, the Anyanya Army. It is SSLM which negotiated the Addis Ababa Accord in 1972 which temporarily ended the 17-year civil war. This accord gave Southern Sudan local autonomy and self-rule. It also made a provision for the Regional Assembly in Southern Sudan to which members were elected in 1973. But this relative peace was only short-lived because the Khartoum hard-liners violated it blatantly including the dissolution of the Regional Assembly. Consequently, another civil war broke out  May 16, 1983 under the Sudanese Peoples' Liberation Movement and Army (SPLM/A) led by Dr. John Garang. This war was to continue for 22 years until the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in January 2005 in Nairobi.


Mr Joseph Lagu


The CPA ended the war between Khartoum based government under the National Congress Party (NCP) led by President Omar al Bashir and the SPLM/A led by Dr. Garang to form a Government of National Unity (GNU) for six years after which the future of both regions will be determined through a national referendum in 2011. The CPA was a result long negotiations between the parties chaperoned by the international community through the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).


The main provisions of the CPA are as follows:


  1. Self-Determination. Signed at Kenyan town of Machakos in July 2002. The protocol provided for the south to hold a referendum after a six-year transition period to determine secession. During the transitional period, to start six months after the signing of the CPA, the south was to be exempted from Islamic law.
  2. Security Arrangements. Signed in September 2003. Government troops in Southern Sudan and SPLM/A troops in Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile will withdraw under international monitoring. Command of the two forces will be assumed by a new Joint Defense Board made up of top officers from both sides. Both the government army and the SPLA will remain separate and shall be considered and treated equally as Sudan’s National Armed Forces (SNAF).
  3. Wealth-Sharing. Signed in January 2004. It provided for wealth sharing mechanisms, including the oil industry.
  4. Power-Sharing. Signed in May 2004. SPLA and government to form a Government of National Unity with a decentralized system of administration. SPLA was also to set up a separate semi-autonomous administration in the south. SPLA leader Dr. John Garang was to hold the post of first vice president in the national government and president of the autonomous Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS). General elections at all levels of government were to be held at the end of the third year. English and Arabic were to be the official languages in the country and people from Southern Sudan were to make up 30% of the country's post conflict civil service.
  5. Administration of Nuba Mountains and Southern Blue Nile State. Two protocols to this effect were signed in May 2004. These disputed regions will each have their own government headed by a governor directly appointed by registered voters. The destiny of these regions is to be determined through popular consultation to determine whether they join north or south. 
  6. Abyei State. Signed in May 2004. The oil-rich state, is accorded special status under the GNU presidency. Its residents will be citizens of both Western Kordofan in Northern Sudan and Bahr al-Ghazal state in Southern Sudan and will be administered by a local executive council elected by the residents of Abyei. A separate referendum will be held to determine whether the special status will continue or whether it will become part of the south.


The late Dr Garang and Osman Taha hold hands during the signing of the CPA in January 2005 as Presidents El Bashir and Kibaki watch.


The sudden death of SPLM/A leader Dr John Garang in a plane crash dampened the mood and slackened the momentum towards the achievement of the dream of a "New Sudan" devoid of any shade of marginalization and injustice. Being the Chairman of SPLM and Commander-in-Chief for SPLA, Dr. Garang was both the image and soul of all hopes for liberty and justice over all of Sudan. Many people saw his death as an abortion of the recently conceived peace accord hence the spontaneous and concurrent riots that followed his death both in the north and south. However, the implementation is back to normal and the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) reports in a 2006 document the following progress:


  1. No major outbreak of hostilities
  2. The establishment of a UN Peace Support Mission (UNMIS)
  3. Verification, monitoring, complaints and obligations
  4. Freedom of movement of goods, services and people
  5. The formation of the Joint Defense Board (JDB)
  6. Redeployment of Forces
  7. The formation and redeployment of the Joint Integrated Units (JIUs)
  8. The establishment of DDR Units
  9. Formation of law enforcement agencies
  10. Initiation of the merger process of the security services
  11. The signing of the Juba Declaration incorporating major Other Armed Groups (OAGs)


Many political movements and armies operated in Southern Sudan prior to the signing of the CPA. However, after the CPA, they all transformed into political parties and joined SPLM in the new government. SPLM currently enjoys wider support and membership. Some of the other parties include:


  1. National Congress Party (NCP)
  2. South Sudan Defense Force (SSDF)
  3. United Democratic Front (UDF)
  4. Union of Sudan African Parties 1 (USAP1)
  5. Union of Sudan African Parties 2 (USAP2)
  6. United Democratic Sudan Forum (UDSF)


This article was updated on Oct 25, 2009

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This article was updated on Jan 29, 2010