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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 April 2011

Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)


Historians usually trace the start of the first civil war in the Southern Sudan to the Torit mutiny of 1955. However, organized political violence did not reach the level of civil war until 1963. This article argues that 1955–62 was a period of increasing political tension, local low-intensity violence, and social and economic stagnation. It shows how these conditions influenced the attitudes of government officials, informed the policies that they pursued, and made a Southern insurgency likely. This historical analysis helps explain why a full-scale civil war began in late 1963 and why it was not avoided.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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1 ‘Speech at the signing ceremony of Comprehensive Peace Agreement’, 9 Jan. 2005, reproduced in Sudan Tribune, (consulted 1 March 2011).

2 See, for example, J. Howell, ‘Political leadership and organization in the Southern Sudan’ (unpublished PhD thesis, Reading University, 1978); D. H. Johnson, The Root Causes of Sudan's Civil Wars (Oxford, 2003). For the historiography of the first civil war, see Ø. H. Rolandsen, ‘Civil war society: political processes, social groups and conflict intensity in the Southern Sudan, 1955–2005’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Oslo, 2010).

3 Sambanis, N., ‘Using case studies to expand economic models of civil war’, Perspectives on Politics, 2:2 (2004), 259–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar; R. Jackson, ‘The social construction of internal war’, in R. Jackson (ed.), (Re)Constructing Cultures of Violence and Peace (Amsterdam, 2004), 61–78.

4 C. Clapham, ‘Introduction’, in C. Clapham (ed.), African Guerrillas (Oxford, 1998), 5–6.

5 C. Cramer, Civil War is Not a Stupid Thing: Accounting for Violence in Developing Countries (London, 2006); Sambanis, N., ‘What is civil war?’, Journal of Conflict Resolution, 48:6 (2004): 814–58CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

6 See, for example, cases in Clapham, African Guerrillas; Cramer, Civil War, 139–44.

7 M. O. Beshir, The Southern Sudan: Background to Conflict (New York, 1968).

8 O. Albino, The Sudan: A Southern Viewpoint (London, 1970), 47.

9 Howell, ‘Political leadership’, 187–8.

10 This line resonates in recent northern Sudanese academic writing. See, for example, A. A. G. Ali, ‘Sudan's civil war: why has it prevailed for so long?’, in P. Collier and N. Sambanis (eds.), Understanding Civil War: Evidence and Analysis (Washington, DC, 2005), 193–220.

11 The Conference was an attempt to mediate an end to the conflict in the South: M. M. Vambheim, ‘Making peace while waging war: a peacemaking effort in the Sudanese civil war, 1965–1966’ (unpublished MA thesis, University of Bergen, 2007). See also Beshir, Southern Sudan, passim; D. M. Wai, The African–Arab Conflict in the Sudan (New York, 1981), 97–105.

12 Sirr al-Khatim al-Khalifa, ‘Nature and development of [the] Southern Problem: Africanism, Arabism and new policy’, in Abd al-Rahim (ed.), Fourteen Documents on the Problem of the Southern Sudan (Khartoum, 1965), 42. The editor presents a critique of British policy, including references to contemporary debates in British newspapers on colonial policy: see ‘Part 1: The legacy of British colonial administration’, in ibid. 1–32.

13 Wai, African–Arab Conflict, 65. Wai later states that ‘between 1955 and 1963 there was mere tension without serious open violence’ (90). Another example is B. Yongo-Bure, ‘The underdevelopment of the Southern Sudan since independence’, in M. W. Daly and A. A. Sikainga (eds.), Civil War in the Sudan (London, 1993), 51–77.

14 M. W. Daly, Imperial Sudan: The Anglo-Egyptian Condominium, 1934–1956 (Cambridge, 1991), 398–9; Johnson, Root Causes, 9–19; Willis, J., ‘Violence, authority, and the state in the Nuba Mountains of Condominium Sudan,Historical Journal, 46:1 (2003), 89114CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15 H. Sharkey, Living with Colonialism: Nationalism and Culture in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (Berkeley, 2003).

16 Cf. Burton, A. and Jennings, M., ‘Introduction: the emperor's new clothes? Continuities in governance in late colonial and early postcolonial East Africa’, International Journal of African Historical Studies, 40:1 (2007), 125Google Scholar.

17 L. M. Passmore Sanderson and G. N. Sanderson, Education, Religion & Politics in Southern Sudan, 1899–1964 (London, 1981), 421, 430–1; J. Howell, ‘Political leaders in the Southern Sudan’, unpublished paper presented at the 8th annual conference of the Social Science Council of East African Universities, Nairobi, 1972, 2–3.

18 Wai, African–Arab Conflict, 85.

19 Johnson, Root Causes, 26–7.

20 Sanderson and Sanderson, Education, 342–3. See also note 26 below.

21 Details of the mutiny are chronicled and analysed, not without political bias, in Report of the Commission of Enquiry into the Disturbances in Southern Sudan during August 1955 (Khartoum, 1956); and later reproduced (often with limited source criticism) in numerous publications. Important exceptions: Daly, Imperial Sudan, 384–8; Howell, ‘Political leadership’, 104–51; Sanderson and Sanderson, Education, 325–46. See also, The National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom (TNA) FO 371/113614, no. 116, ‘Inward telegram no 192 from W. H. Luce to FO reporting early signs of unrest in Torit’, reproduced in D. H. Johnson (ed.), British Documents on the End of Empire: Sudan (London, 1998), 427–9; R. O. Collins, Shadows in the Grass: Britain in the Southern Sudan, 1918–1956 (New Haven, 1983), 454–6. Evidence of Southern political sentiments may be found in the letters by Southern politicians and barely literate police officers, civil servants, chiefs, teachers, and others reproduced in Y. Wawa, The Southern Sudanese Pursuits of Self-determination: Documents in Political History (Kampala, 2005), 23–149.

22 In Equatoria, Kapoeta, Kateri, Terakeka, Yei, Loka, Maridi, and Yambio/Nzara, as well as Torit, were severely affected; in the Upper Nile, Malakal; and in Bahr al-Ghazal, Wau. Commission of Enquiry, ‘Southern Sudan’, 47–77.

23 Ibid. 80.

24 For example, the Southern Record Office, Juba (SRO), EP/TOR/16.C.1, Sudan Ministry of the Interior, ‘Memorandum’, 9, and ‘Minutes’; Beshir, Southern Sudan, 73. See also M. A. al-Rahim, Imperialism and Nationalism in the Sudan: A Study in Constitutional and Political Development, 1899–1956 (Oxford, 1969), 267–8.

25 Johnson, Root Causes, 28–9; Sanderson and Sanderson, Education, 343–5.

26 P. Woodward, Condominium and Sudanese Nationalism (London, 1980), 147–56; Sanderson and Sanderson, Education, 343–6, 352–3, 378 n. 4; Report of the Commission of Enquiry, 53, 71–6; Sudan Archive of the University of Durham (SAD) 830/1/92, ‘The Southern Mutiny – August, 1955’.

27 A. Yangu, The Nile Turns Red: Azanians Chose Freedom Against Arab Bondage (New York, 1966), 43–9. This polemic must be treated with caution. See also S. S. Poggo, ‘War and conflict in the Southern Sudan, 1955–1972’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of California, Santa Barbara, 1999), 335–7, referring to interviews by John Ukec and Ben Lou Poggo.

28 TNA, PRO FO 371/125962/no. 26, ‘Southern Sudan: report on tour made by Sir E. Chapman-Andrews between the 1st and 21st April [1957]’, 2.

29 Cf. Johnson, Root Causes, 28; Wai, African–Arab Conflict, 65; SAD 890/1/38, H. P. Logali, ‘Autobiography’ (unpublished); S. Fuli Boki Tombe Ga'le, Shaping a Free Southern Sudan: Memoirs of Our Struggle, 1934–1985 (Limuru, 2002), 187–93; Sanderson and Sanderson, Education, 352, 378 n.2.

30 The Equatoria Corps numbered 1,146 at Torit, including 380 ‘boys’ (very young cadets), and 234 in the rest of the region. At Torit, 425 (including 11 ‘boys’) surrendered, and 36 in the rest of Equatoria, TNA, PRO FO 371/113701, no. 139, ‘Letter from Sir K. Helm to C. A. E. Shuckburgh reporting the political situation in the Sudan’, reproduced in Johnson, British Documents, 471–3.

31 Daly, Imperial Sudan, 387.

32 Interviews with Sovronio Okilan Atari and Korino Ite Ocho, Torit, 3 Feb. 2007.

33 The title of the highest-ranking official at the district level varies across the period investigated, but for simplicity the title ‘district commissioner’ is used throughout.

34 SRO, TD 1, ‘Appointment of H/Chief to Ikotos Local Govt. Centre’, M. A. Nur to Governor Equatoria Province, 9 Apr. 1957.

35 National Record Office, Khartoum (NRO), UNP 1/20/168, Intelligence Reports Other Provinces, El Tahir, ‘Bahr el-Ghazal Intelligence Report 1 September – 30 November 1955’.

36 S. S. Poggo, The First Sudanese Civil War: Africans, Arabs and Israelis in the Southern Sudan, 1955–1972 (New York, 2009), 60–2.

37 Sudan African National Union (SANU), ‘The memorandum presented by the Sudan African National Union to the Commission of the Organisation of African Unity for Refugees’ (Kampala, November 1964) strengthens this impression; since it was in SANU's interest to report incidents of government suppression and injustice, it is probable that the security situation was no worse than it reported. Poggo, ‘War’, 357–61, provides information from interviews in the Yei area and from John Ukec Lueth, an ex-Anya-Nya officer, in ‘A manuscript of the rise of the Anya-Nya movement’. Ukec interviewed a number of veterans from the Anya-Nya in the early 1980s. S. Simonse, Kings of Disaster: Dualism, Centralism, and the Scapegoat King in Southeastern Sudan (Leiden, 1992), 313, by mentioning an SRO file entitled ‘Southern corps mutiny’, indicates the existence of a more extensive compendium on the disturbances and later events.

38 SAD (Collins), 919/6/96, ‘The elections of 1958 and the army coup’. This is part of a larger draft manuscript by Storrs McCall (SAD 919/6/85–153, hereafter ‘SAD (Collins)’).

39 Simonse, Kings, 357, referring to Akec's account, mentions Madok mountain as the location of Latada's camp. A government intelligence report corroborates his operations ‘8 miles from Kiyala’, NRO, UNP 1/20/168, S. K. M. Ahmed, ‘EP HMIR 16·8–15.9.57’. When the author visited in 2007, ‘Jebel Latada’ (Latada Mountain) was pointed out.

40 SAD (Collins), 919/6/96, ‘Elections’. According to the US embassy in Khartoum, the DC at Torit was the target, but he was not in the car: National Archieves and Records Administration, College Park, United States (NARA), RG 59/1955–59 Central Decimal File/745W.00/3–2359 (Box 3250), ‘Unrest in the South’, US Embassy, Khartoum to Department of State, Washington, 23 March 1959.

41 Ibid.

42 Simonse, Kings, 311–14.

43 Interview with Sovronio Okilan Atari.

44 NRO, UNP 1/20/168, Ahmed, ‘EP HMIR 1–15.12.57’ and Ahmed, ‘EP MIR 16·10–15.11.57’.

45 Most sources agree that Latada died in 1960; the cause of death is disputed: compare Poggo, ‘War’, 358, with SAD (Collins) 919/6/117, ‘The rise of the Anya-Nya/Eastern Equatoria’.

46 NRO, UNP 1/20/168, Ali Baldo ‘EP HMIR for 1st half of March 57’. See also SAD (Collins), 919/6/96v, ‘Elections’; Poggo, ‘War’, 340–1.

47 In the Bahr el-Ghazal, a certain Madut Chan, a Dinka former non-commissioned officer in the Equatoria Corps was supposedly active.

48 Sanderson and Sanderson, Education, 427–8.

49 See Ibid. 429; F. M. Deng, War of Visions (Washington, DC, 1995), 136.

50 The Southern opposition in exile reported that Northern soldiers cuckolded Southerners and shot children, allegedly because they thought that they were monkeys: SANU, ‘Memorandum’, 9, 11, 42–3.

51 J. M. Jok, War and Slavery in Sudan (Philadelphia, 2001), 60.

52 SANU, ‘Memorandum’, passim; Yangu, Nile, 49–50. District reports and province intelligence reports corroborate these observations: for example, ‘38 huts in which the natives were harbouring that mutineer [sic] were burnt. They have [sic] been abandoned by the natives one day before the incident as they knew what was going to happen … [Following a different incident,] special military operations were launched and extensive general searches were carried out in the surrounding neighbourhood but the mutineers involved entered Uganda. Two civilians were killed on their attempt to spear search parties’. NRO, UNP 1/20/168, MAT Malik (for Gov), ‘EP MIR Aug–Oct 56’.

53 NRO, UNP 1/20/168, A/Gov Saied, ‘Equatoria Province Intelligence Report July/Aug 56’, reports that villages in Yei district were burnt in July or August 1956. Other sources erroneously mention 1957, such as K. D. D. Henderson, Sudan Republic (New York, 1965), 185–6. The SANU ‘Memorandum’, 20, also reports the burning of Lobira village in September 1957. The burning of Maiji and Haifourere was supposed to have taken place in September 1959: SANU, ‘Memorandum’, 17–20. The villagers of Haifourere were forcibly resettled at a new site on the Torit–Kapoeta road: SRO, 24/B/1, Ministry of Local Government, ‘Torit rural council: monthly reports for the month of April 1960’.

54 SRO, EP/57.E.3/1–1954/1955, Freigoun to Governor Equatoria Province, ‘Annual report – Eastern District’, 18 July 1955.

55 NRO, UNP 1/20/168, S. K. M. Ahmed for A/Gov, ‘Equatoria Province MIR 1–31 July 1957’.

56 SANU ‘Memorandum’, 27, 29–30.

57 SRO, Pibor District/57.C.3, ‘Monthly diary – Eastern District for March, 1960’.

58 These monthly reports were written for the DCs' superiors, and their rendering of local events would be biased by Northern officials' general outlook and by their need to please these superiors (see p. 122 below).

59 SRO, Pibor District/57.C.3, ‘Eastern District monthly diary for the month [of] June 1959’. (Cf. Poggo, ‘War’, 357–8).

60 SRO, Pibor District/57.C.3, ‘Kapoeta monthly diary for September, 1959’.

61 Based on: SRO, Pibor District/57.C.3, Eastern District monthly diaries, March 1959–April 1960; SRO, Ministry of Local Government, 24/B/1, Torit rural council monthly reports January 1954–August 1961.

62 For example, SRO, Ministry of Local Government, 24/B/1, ‘Monthly report for June 1960’.

63 SRO, Ministry of Local Government 24/B/1/195, 202, 244, 249.

64 Sanderson and Sanderson, Education, 369, 402; Poggo, ‘War’, 360–1.

65 Interview with ‘Alusjo’ Louis Ohoro Loyie, Torit, 26 Feb. 2006; interview with Sovronio Okilan Atari; Voice of Southern Sudan, 1:2 (1963). See also Rolandsen, ‘Civil war society’, 109–39.

66 Taffeng, a veteran of the Equatoria Corps and one of three Southerners promoted to officer rank shortly before the 1955 disturbances, was perhaps the most prominent leader of the Anya-Nya rebellion during the first five years, but was increasingly marginalized by Joseph Lagu in the late 1960s.

67 Wai, African–Arab Conflict, 92.

68 SANU, ‘Memorandum’.

69 Sirr al-Khatim al-Khalifa, ‘Nature’, 44.

70 Sanderson and Sanderson, Education, 293–4, 297–301, 310–11.

71 Some measures seem to have been relaxed during 1956–7: TNA, FO 371/125962/no. 26, ‘Southern Sudan’.

72 SRO, EP/SCR/16.C.2/11–21, ‘Minutes of the District Commissioners' meeting held in Juba on 6th–9th December 1955’.

73 Daly, Imperial Sudan, 25–45 et passim.

74 C. Leonardi, ‘Knowing authority: colonial governance and local community in Equatoria Province, Sudan, 1900–1956’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Durham, 2005), 151–61.

75 Howell, ‘Political leadership’, 152–3.

76 E.g. Deng, War, 211–16; Wai, African–Arab Conflict, 85.

77 SRO, EP/SCR/16.C.2/25–30, ‘Minutes of District Commissioners’ meeting held on 29th March 1958 at 10.30 a.m. at Governor's residence', 8 April 1958.

78 SRO, SCR/EP/10.B.23/69–70, Baldo to Asst. Governor Juba District (‘Permission for collection of donations’ attached).

79 See below; Sanderson and Sanderson, Education, 356–7.

80 SRO, EP/SCR/16.C.2/25–30, ‘Minutes’.

81 Ibid. See also SRO, TD/1, Kn. P/SCR/1.A.1, Governor of Kordofan to Permanent Under Secretary, Ministry of Interior, 23 Dec. 1956; MI/SCR/1.F.1, Minister of Interior to Governor Kordofan Province, 30 Dec. 1956; EP/SCR/1.F.12, Governor Equatoria to DCs, 5 Jan. 1957.

82 For a comprehensive analysis, see Rolandsen, ‘Civil war society’.

83 Sharkey, H. J., ‘Arab identity and ideology in Sudan: the politics of language, ethnicity and race’, African Affairs, 107:426 (2007), 2143CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

84 Sudan Ministry of the Interior, Memorandum on Reasons That Led to the Expulsion of Foreign Missionaries and Priests from the Southern Provinces of the Sudan, 5 March 1964, 16–17; R. Gray, ‘Some reflections on Christian involvement 1955–1972’, in Y. F. Hasan and R. Gray, Religion and Conflict in Sudan (Nairobi, 2002); Sanderson and Sanderson, Education, 367.

85 [Verona Fathers' Mission], Sudan Government Secret Plans Against Christian Missions in the South … During the Years 1957–1960 (n.p., 1965?); Verona Fathers' Mission, The Black Book of the Sudan on the Expulsion of the Missionaries from Southern Sudan: An Answer (Milan, 1964), 62–86 and passim.

86 See Sudan African Closed Districts National Union (SACDNU), Petition to the United Nations (1963); J. Oduho and W. Deng, The Problem of the Southern Sudan (London, 1963), 59–60.

87 See, for example, Deng and Oduho, Problem, 55–8; J. J. Akol, I Will Go the Distance: The Story of a ‘Lost’ Sudanese Boy of the Sixties (Nairobi, 2005), 177–80. See also Gray, ‘Reflections’.

88 Sanderson and Sanderson, Education, 336, 362; Albino, Sudan, 81.

89 R. O. Collins, The Southern Sudan in Historical Perspective (New Brunswick, NJ, 1975; 2nd edn 2006), 75; SACDNU, ‘Petition’, 10–11; SAD (Collins), 919/6/99v–100, ‘Elections’.

90 Pupils above village school level numbered 16,985 in 1953–4 and 30,908 in 1961–2: Sanderson and Sanderson, Education, 361–77. See also Wai, African–Arab Conflict, 203 n. 22; Akol, I Will Go, 178–9.

91 Sanderson and Sanderson, Education, 337–9; Howell, ‘Political leadership’, 184–7.

92 This attitude was not limited to Northern officials. In 1957 the British ambassador made this observation: ‘The Northerner is quite unlike the marissa [beer]-drinking, banana-eating, lazy, immoral, squat black forest people who seem to live for little but the Saturday night dance’: TNA, FO 371/125962/no. 26, ‘Southern Sudan’, 3.

93 Sanderson and Sanderson, Education, 364.

94 Ibid. 357–69; Deng, War, 135–6.

95 On the 1960 and 1962 strikes, see Sanderson and Sanderson, Education, 368–9.

96 Ibid. 377.

97 Collins, Shadows, in particular 293–364. Se also C. C. Reining, The Zande Scheme: An Anthropological Case Study of Economic Development in Africa (Evanston, IL, 1966); Southern Front, ‘The Southern Front memorandum to O.A.U. on Afro-Arab conflict in the Sudan, Accra, Oct. 1965’ ([Khartoum], 1965).

98 SRO, TD/1.G/60, ‘Agriculture in Torit District’, 1959. In Yei there was a labour shortage: SANU, ‘Memorandum’, 45. See also J. Cookson et al., Area Handbook for the Republic of the Sudan (Washington, DC, 1960), 373–4.

99 TNA, FO 371/165683, ‘Short Tour of Equatoria, October 28–November 6’, 4 Dec. 1962.

100 G. M. Salih, ‘The heritage of local government’, in J. Howell (ed.), Local Government and Politics in the Sudan (Khartoum, 1974), 23–4; G. M. Salih and J. Howell, ‘Local government after independence’, in Howell, Local Government, 33–44.

101 Leonardi, ‘Knowing authority’.

102 A set of minutes from council meetings in the period 1948/9–1954 is available in SRO, EP/1.C.1/3. See also Howell, ‘Political leadership’, 52–3.

103 SRO, TD/1 (JUD/A/10.B.1).

104 Wai, African–Arab Conflict, 83–4. See also M. El-Beshir, ‘The political role of the local government officer’, in Howell, Local Government, 81–2.

105 SRO, TD/1 (SCR/ED/1.C.1/1), Freigoun to Governor Equatoria Province, 24 March 1956.

106 SRO, TD/1, Basit to Governor Equatoria Province, 7 April 1956.