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Sudan Profile (A Brief History)

Updated: Oct 31, 2020

Sudan, officially the Republic of Sudan, located in north-eastern Africa, has a population of 43 million people and is Africa’s third largest country by area. Prior to the succession of South Sudan, Sudan was the largest country by area in Africa. Sudan’s capital Khartoum is located roughly in the center of the country where the Blue Nile and White Nile rivers meet. Khartoum is the largest urban area in the country and is the center of commerce and government. Since ancient times Sudan has been at the center of interactions between African nations and those of the Mediterranean kingdoms.

Early history of Sudan

The earliest records of inhabitants of Sudan were Ancient Nubians who lived in area of Sudan sometime between 30,000 – 20,000 BCE. They were hunter- gatherers of African origin who could be found around Khartoum. These ancient Nubians practiced pottery and created objects from sandstone. Later eras around the Neolithic period (10,000-3000 BCE), started domesticating animals.

The ancient Nubians interacted with pre-dynastic Egyptians (pre-2925 BCE) who were residing in modern-day Egypt to the north and by the end of the 4th millennium BCE, the Egyptian Kingdom would conquer the upper region of Nubia.

Kingdom of Kush

Despite the presence and colonization of northern Nubia by the Egyptians, the rest of ancient Sudan would flourish. During this period (1630-1540 BCE), Nubians spent their time as mercenaries defending them from invasion by the Asian Hyksos. The Nubian presence would go on to influence the Egyptian culture with that of African culture. Once the Asian Hyksos were defeated the Egyptians once again returned their concentration to conquering Nubia. Sudan was fully conquered under Thutmose 1 (1493-c.1482 BCE). The third occupation of Sudan by the Egyptians was the longest and covered the entire nation.

They divided Sudan into two administrative regions Wawat to the north and Kush to the south. The Viceroy was a member of the royal court and reported to the Egyptian pharaoh. The Viceroy governed Nubia and had deputies who governed Kush and Wawat. The administrative personnel were comprised of priests, traders, and other Egyptians and very few Nubians. Nubians were allowed to continue with their way of life despite their invasion and this led to different cultures in the two regions. The north had a predominant Egyptian influence while the south remained predominantly influenced by African culture.

The region of Kush had immense wealth from the hills of gold in the Nile and emerald mines that financed Egypt, eventually the Viceroy of Kush using that wealth and with support from the Nubian armies gained independence from Egypt during their decline around the 11 century BCE.

The Kings of Kush were Egyptianized Nubians who had no relation of any sort to the Egyptian royalty by the 8th century BCE. The Kings of Kush would later conquer the whole of Egypt up to the Mediterranean under the reign of Piye (c. 750-c. 719 BCE). Their reign did not last, and they were driven back to Nubia by the Assyrians.

The kingdom of Kush continued to rule for over 1000 years using the hills to the north as fortification. They would go on to develop their own language and script, however the influence from Egyptian culture remained, they had pyramids as burial sites and worshipped Egyptian gods. Overtime their Egyptian ties were diminished and disappeared, and the southern influence of African culture dominated.

The Kingdom of Kush slowly decayed over time and ended when the Ethiopian King of Aksum invaded.

Sudan was divided into three regions Nobatia, Maqurrah, and Alwah and during this period of (543-575), all three regions converted to Christianity and old temples were renovated into churches.

By the 7th century, Arabs had invaded Nobatia marching south up to Dunqulah destroying the churches they encountered. The king of Maqurrah sought a ceasefire with the Arab leader, and they developed an Arab-Nubian relationship by exchanging gifts.

Funj Sultanate

By the late 15th century Bedouin tribes would dominate most of Sudan, until the Funj Sultanate would conquer the federation of Bedouin tribes. They occupied the region in the Upper Blue Nile between the border of Ethiopia and Sudan. Their capital was in Sennar (1607-08) and was against Arab settlement around the Blue Nile. For the next several hundred years the Funj Sultanate would be in constant war with either Ethiopia or other aggressor nations.

Ottoman Rule

In the early 19th century, Muhammad Ali who was the Viceroy of Egypt sent his son to conquer Sudan for its gold resources and slaves. The Sultan of Darfur and the Funj surrendered their regions by 1821 to the rule of Muhammad Ali. His reign would cause revolt due the confiscation of gold and livestock as tax. The revolt was unsuccessful and relations between Egypt and Sudan would improve only when a new governor was appointed in 1826. He consulted the Sudanese and was responsible for the development of administrative capital of Khartoum.

Colonization of Sudan

By 1882 Britain invaded and conquered Sudan with the help of Egyptian soldiers, after retaking control of Egypt they would push further south to established a base to avoid further invasion by other European powers and further ensure Egyptian control of the Suez Canal which had become a strategic waterway for commerce. They also wanted their invasion of Egypt to remain intact by controlling the Nile waters, which Egypt relied on heavily for irrigation. In 1899 Britain and Egypt would rule Sudan as a Protectorate effectively making Sudan a Crown Colony.

As in many other Crown Colonies around the world, Britain would effectively divide Sudan by ethnic groups. Northern Sudan would be controlled by the majority Muslim Arabic-speaking people and the south would be controlled by Animist, Christian, and English-speaking locals.

Independence of Sudan

Sudan’s Independence drive would be heavily influenced by Egypt’s own push for self-rule from Britain. By 1943 Ismail Al-Azhari had won control of Northern Sudanese Congress and began pushing for the independence of Sudan. In the election for legislative representation of 1948, Azhari and representatives from the eight other regions of Sudan would work together and negotiate for Independence with Britain and Egypt. In 1953 an agreement was made between Sudan, Egypt, and Britain that would grant Sudan self-rule, a year later Sudan would be granted full independence.

On January 1, 1956 after parliamentary elections Ismail Al-Azhari would become Sudan’s first Prime Minister. A decade later the government would be forced out by a military takeover led by Gaafar Nimiery who suspended the constitution. In 1989 another military coup lead by Omar al-Bashir would take over the government. Bashir would run a ruthless regime killing many people and eventually would be accused of genocide in Darfur during the civil war with South Sudan, leading to global sanctions on Sudan. Eventually in 2011 South Sudan would gain independence from Sudan.

Economy of Sudan

The GDP of Sudan in 2019 was 31 billion dollars. The GDP of Sudan took a significant downturn after the the independence of South Sudan in 2011, the new borders meant South Sudan would take 80% of the oil fields located in the country. As South Sudan is landlocked, the oil produced in South Sudan would need to travel through ports in Sudan to be exported. After years of negotiations the two countries would eventually agree on transit fee royalties that Sudan would collect. Conflict in South Sudan led to reduction in oil being produced and falling oil prices would further put economic strain on the government and people. Increasing inflation and rising cost of goods would eventually lead to the ouster of long-time President Omar al-Bashir.


The service industry revolves around oil production and the processing of oil from South Sudan and accounts for almost 60% of GDP and employs 13% of the workforce.


Farming and livestock accounts for 40% of GDP but employs 80% of the workforce, most of those are families providing food for their families. Sudan produces cotton, ground nuts, Arabic gum, millet, wheat, sugar cane and many other products. Sudan has vast arable lands throughout the country but lack of investment in agricultural has led to food shortages.

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