Sudan Table of Contents

Since obtaining independence from Britain on January 1, 1956, Sudan has had a political history marked by instability. The military first intervened in politics in November 1958 by overthrowing the parliamentary government of Prime Minister Abd Allah Khalil. The ensuing regime of Major General Ibrahim Abbud lasted for six years before dissolving itself in the face of widespread popular opposition in 1964. The country then again experimented with civilian democratic government, which was terminated by a military coup in 1969. Colonel Jaafar an Nimeiri, leader of the junior officers who staged that coup, survived in power for sixteen years until overthrown by a military coup in 1985. The new government under Lieutenant General Abd ar Rahman Siwar adh Dhahab legalized political parties, scheduled elections, and handed over power to civilians in 1986. Sudan's third experiment in democratic rule was ended by yet another military coup on June 30, 1989.

The leaders of the 1989 military coup abolished all the existing executive and legislative institutions of government, suspended the Constitution, arrested many prominent civilian politicians, banned all political parties and partisan political activity, and restricted freedom of the press. They established the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation, which was designated the legislative authority of the country. The chairman of the RCC-NS was designated as head of state. The RCCNS also appointed a cabinet that served in many respects as the executive authority. Although the RCC-NS described its rule as transitional, pending the reestablishment of security and order throughout the country, as of mid-1991 the RCC-NS had not legalized political parties nor introduced permanent governmental institutions.

The Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation

In mid-1991 the RCC-NS remained the top decision-making body of the state. It consisted of fifteen members, all of whom were military officers. They were the original officers who joined Bashir to carry out the 1989 coup. The most important members included Bashir, the chairman; Major General Az Zubair Muhammad Salih, the vice chairman and deputy prime minister; Major General At Tijani Adam at Tahir; Colonel Salah ad Din Muhammad Ahmad Karrar, a naval officer and chairman of the RCC-NS's economic committee; Colonel Muhammad al Amin Khalifa Yunis, chairman of the RCC-NS's peace and foreign relations committee; Colonel Bakri Hassan Salih; and Major Ibrahim Shams ad Din, commander of the NIF's youth movement. Two members, Brigadier General Uthman Ahmad Uthman, chairman of the RCC-NS's political committee, and Colonel Faisal Madani, were reportedly placed under house arrest in 1991 after they tried to resign from the RCC-NS.

The RCC-NS had designated itself the legislative arm of government but in practice it exercised some executive functions as well. Its chairman also served as prime minister and president of the republic. Although the RCC-NS had not publicized the rules and procedures governing its deliberations, most political affairs analysts believed government decisions were based on a majority vote of members rather than the ultimate authority of the chairman. The RCC-NS also had not drawn up any regulations pertaining to membership tenure or the selection of new members. The primary responsibility of the RCC-NS appeared to be preparing legislative decrees. Legislation was drafted in special committees, including committees for political issues, the economy, and foreign affairs, then placed before the RCC-NS for approval. In 1990 the RCC-NS created appointive civilian consultative councils to advise its committees. As of early 1991, five members of the RCC-NS also headed ministries.

The RCC-NS appointed a secretary general who was responsible for running the day-to-day affairs of the RCC-NS. The secretary general in the early 1990s was a junior officer on secondment to the RCC-NS. Colonel Abd al Mahmud was the first RCC-NS secretary general. He was replaced in June 1990 by Colonel Abd ar Rahim Muhammad Husayn.

The Presidency

The president served as head of state. As of early 1991, however, the RCC-NS had not defined the powers and duties of the office nor specified the term of office. The presidency was neither an elective nor an appointive position. In accordance with an RCC-NS decree, the chairman of the RCC-NS was designated the president of the republic. Since the 1989 coup, RCC-NS chairman Bashir who was born in 1944, has been the president. At the time of the coup, Bashir only had achieved the rank of colonel. He was the commander of a paratroop brigade that was stationed at Al Mijlad in southern Sudan. He had returned to Khartoum with 175 paratroopers only a few days prior to the coup. Bashir's earlier experience included military training in Egypt and Malaysia, and service on the frontline with the Egyptian armed forces during the October 1973 Arab-Israeli War. In the late 1970s, he was a military adviser in the United Arab Emirates. Soon after the coup, Bashir promoted himself to lieutenant general.

The Council of Ministers

The RCC-NS appointed the Council of Ministers, or cabinet, which included civilian politicians and military officers. Cabinet composition varied, but in 1991 it included the prime minister; the deputy prime minister; some ministers of state; and finance; and heads of about twenty other ministries. The main ministries included agriculture and natural resources, construction and public works, culture and information, defense, education, energy and mining, finance and economic planning, foreign affairs, health, higher education and scientific research, industry, interior, irrigation, justice, labor and social insurance, trade and cooperation, transport and communications, and welfare and social development.

Although the Council of Ministers was the designated executive arm of the government and a majority of ministers were civilians, in practice the council had no power independent of the RCC-NS. The prime minister, RCC-NS chairman Bashir, had authority to appoint and dismiss ministers and reshuffled the cabinet several times between 1989 and 1991. The important portfolios of defense and interior were held by RCC-NS members, and at least three other ministries were headed by RCC-NS officers. The civilian ministers could not undertake independent initiatives and had to obtain advance approval from the RCC-NS for any major policy decisions.

Parliamentary Government

The RCC-NS dissolved the elected legislature when it seized power in 1989. As of mid-1991 no plans had been announced for new elections or for the creation of a new representative body. Nevertheless, Sudan's postindependence political history, characterized by alternating periods of parliamentary democracy and military rule, suggested that there was support for a popularly elected assembly. The country's first parliament, the Legislative Assembly, was established during the final years of British colonial rule, and the country's first multiparty elections were held in 1948. Subsequently, the Constituent Assembly drew up a transitional constitution that provided for a two-chamber legislature: an indirectly elected upper house, called the Senate, and a House of Representatives elected by direct popular vote. The British model of government was followed, that is, a parliamentary system in which the political party winning the most seats in the lower house formed the government. Multiparty elections for the House of Representatives were held in 1953 and 1958. The second parliament was in session only a few months before being forcibly dissolved by a military coup. Parliamentary government was restored briefly between 1964 and 1969, during which time there were two multiparty elections for the House of Representatives.

Following the precedent set by the 1958 military coup, Nimeiri dissolved parliament and banned political parties when he seized power in May 1969. Five years later, in 1974, he permitted controlled elections for a new People's Assembly. In this and subsequent balloting, candidates had to be approved by the government, and persons with known or suspected ties to the banned political parties were barred from participation. The People's Assembly never functioned as an institution independent of the executive and was dissolved after Nimeiri's overthrow in April 1985. The first genuinely democratic parliamentary elections since 1968 were held in April 1986, but no political party won a majority of seats. During the next three years, six successive coalition governments were formed. The assembly was dissolved and political parties again banned following the June 30, 1989, military coup.

Constitutional Development

One of the first acts of the RCC-NS after seizing power was to abolish by decree the transitional Constitution of 1985, drafted following the overthrow of the Nimeiri government to replace the 1973 Permanent Constitution. Bashir and other RCC-NS members initially promised that a constituent assembly would be convened to draw up a new constitution. During its first eighteen months, however, the RCC-NS government failed to address the issue of a constitution. Then in early 1991, in response to increasing criticism of its authoritarian and arbitrary rule, the RCC-NS announced the convening of a constitutional conference. Bashir invited civilian politicians, including those opposed to the government, to attend the conference and discuss without fear of reprisal legal procedures that might be set forth in a constitutional document. Although representatives of some banned political parties attended the constitutional conference in April, the conclave's lack of an electoral mandate, its government sponsorship, and a boycott by major opposition groups served to undermine the legitimacy of its deliberations.

The 1991 constitutional conference necessarily labored under a heavy historical legacy: drawing up a constitution acceptable to all elements of the country's diverse population has been an intractable political problem since Sudan became independent in 1956 with a temporary constitution known as the Transitional Constitution. The primary reason for this situation has been the inability of the country's major religious groups, the majority Muslims and the minority non-Muslims, to agree on the role of the sharia, or Islamic law. Islamic political groups, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, have insisted that any constitution must be based on the sharia. The non-Muslims have been equally insistent that the country must have a secular constitution. Despite the convening over the years of numerous committees, conferences, and constituent assemblies to discuss or draft a constitution, most Muslim and non-Muslim political leaders refused to compromise their views about the role of the sharia. The unresolved constitutional issue remained one of the major sources of disaffection in the predominantly non-Muslim south, where deepseated fears of Islamization have been reinforced by the government's Islamic education policies during the Ibrahim Abbud military dictatorship (1958-64), Nimeiri's September 1983 introduction of the Islamic sharia by decree, and the failure since 1985 to remove the sharia as the basis of the legal system.

Regional and Local Administration

Relations between the central government and local authorities have been a persistent problem in Sudan. Much of the present pattern of center-periphery political relationships-- local officials appointed by authorities in Khartoum--originated in the early part of the century. During most of the AngloEgyptian condominium period (1899-1955), the British relied upon a system called indigenous administration to control local governments in nonurban areas. Under this system, traditional tribal and village leaders--nuzara (sing., nazir), umada (sing., umda), and shaykhs--were entrusted with responsibility for administrative and judicial functions within their own areas and received financial and, when necessary, military support from the central authorities. Following World War II, pressures arising from younger and better educated Sudanese led the British in 1951 to abandon administration by local rulers in favor of a system of local government councils. As they evolved under successive national administrations following independence in 1956, a total of eighty-four such councils were created and entrusted with varying degrees of community autonomy. This system, however, was plagued by problems of divided power, the councils being responsible to the minister of local government whereas provincial governors and district commissioners remained under the supervision of the minister of interior. Effectiveness varied from one local authority to another, but all suffered from inadequate finances and a shortage of trained personnel willing to serve in small, isolated communities. In the south, such problems were compounded when hundreds of colonial officials were replaced by Sudanese civil servants, almost all of whom were northerners. In many rural areas of Sudan, the system in the early years of independence was little different from the old indigenous administration dominated by the conservative, traditional elite, while in most cities the effectiveness of councils was seriously weakened by party politics.

The Abbud regime sought to end the dual features of this system through the 1961 Local Government Act, which introduced a provincial commissioner appointed by the central government as chairman of the provincial authority, an executive body of officials representing Khartoum. The 1961 law was not intended to be a democratic reform; instead, it allowed the central government to control local administration despite the existence of provincial councils chosen by local governmental and provincial authorities.

Soon after coming to power in the military coup of 1969, the Nimeiri government abolished local and regional government structures. The People's Local Government Act of November 1971 designed a pyramidal structure with local community councils at the base and progressively higher levels of authority up to the executive councils of the ten provinces. By 1980 community councils included an estimated 4,000 village councils, more than 800 neighborhood councils in cities and towns, 281 nomadic encampment councils, and scores of market and industrial area councils. In theory, membership on these local councils was based on popular election, but in practice the councils were dominated by local representatives of the Sudan Socialist Union, the only political party that Nimeiri permitted to function. Above the community councils was a second tier of local government structures that included 228 rural councils and 90 urban councils. A third tier consisted of thirty-five subprovincial district councils, and at the apex were the province commissions, presided over by the province governor appointed from Khartoum.

Although there were some changes following Nimeiri's overthrow in 1985, the local government structures remained relatively intact. Parliament devolved more authority to community councils and reorganized the functions and powers of the province commissions. In February 1991, the RCC-NS instituted a major change in local government by introducing a federal structure. The federalism decree divided the country into nine states: Aali an Nil, Al Awsat, Al Istiwai, Al Khartum, Ash Shamali, Ash Sharqi, Bahr al Ghazal, Darfur, and Kurdufan. Generally, both the borders and names of the states are similar to the historical nine provinces of Sudan during the colonial period and early years of independence. The states were further subdivided into 66 provinces and 218 local government areas or districts. The RCC-NS appointed a governor, deputy governor, and council of ministers for each state. These officials were responsible for administration and economic planning in the states. They also appointed the province and district authorities in the states. The latter officials, for the most part the same persons who occupied local government posts before the federal structure was introduced, continued to be responsible for elementary and secondary education, health, and various government programs and services in the cities, towns, and villages.

More about the Government of Sudan.

Custom Search

Source: U.S. Library of Congress