Sudan, its Long History of Turmoil and How The Latest Chapter Can Affect India

Civil upheaval in Sudan can have far-reaching ramifications for India, notably in terms of oil supply, investment, food security, and diplomatic relations.

Sudan’s political condition has once again ignited concern, as the country continues to experience turmoil resulting from political insecurity, economic difficulties, and conflicts between military and political factions. The international community has been calling for a peaceful settlement of the conflict and the restoration of civilian authority.

However, Sudan’s current situation is not isolated; it is rooted in a long history of sociological, political, economic, and civil unrest.

Sudan, in northeast Africa, declared independence from the United Kingdom and Egypt on January 1, 1956, after a long and gruelling battle led by Sudanese nationalists. The nation’s modern history can be traced back to the late 19th century when the British colonised Sudan, establishing the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium in 1899. This division of Sudan into two regions, the north ruled by Egypt and the south governed by Britain, set the stage for future conflicts between the country’s northern and southern provinces.

In the early 20th century, Sudanese nationalists began advocating for liberation from foreign authorities. Political parties, such as the Sudanese Congress Party, Umma Party, and Democratic Unionist Party were formed, primarily led by northern Sudanese elites. However, aspirations for independence took a different form in the southern region, where calls for separation and greater autonomy were prominent. The Sudan African Closed Districts Union (SACDU) was established in 1947, representing the desire for a distinct southern state.

As Sudanese nationalists intensified their efforts for independence in the late 1940s and early 1950s, riots and demonstrations erupted, leading to a protracted and often brutal struggle for freedom. Sudan was eventually granted independence in 1956, becoming the first African country to do so. However, political conflicts between the northern and southern regions persisted, driven by the economic and political marginalisation of the south.

Sudan’s internal instability continued in the years following independence.

Also read: As India Abstains, Thin Margin Helps UNHRC Pass Sudan Resolution

Military coups, such as General Ibrahim Abboud’s in 1958, suspended democratic governance and led to brutal crackdowns on the opposition. Transitional administrations and democratic regimes emerged but were short-lived, as military interference persisted. Colonel Jaafar Nimeiry took power in 1969, ruling with authoritarianism but also implementing significant economic and social reforms. His regime signed the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972, offering autonomy to the southern region, but tensions resurfaced in 1983 when Nimeiry imposed Sharia law throughout the country. This decision reignited the civil war between the government and southern rebels, which lasted over two decades.

Sudanese prime minister Ibrahim Abboud in a state visit to Ljubljana. Photo: Dragiša Modrinjak, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Nimeiry’s government was overthrown in a popular revolt in 1985, leading to a transitional administration that struggled to address the issue of southern Sudanese autonomy due to ongoing civil war and internal disagreements. In 1989, General Omar al-Bashir seized control in another coup, imposing a more restrictive regime and overseeing violence against southern insurgents. Sudan’s political landscape faced significant challenges, including the independence of South Sudan in 2011 following a referendum stipulated by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

The separation of South Sudan created further difficulties for Sudan, including conflicts in Darfur and other regions, economic collapse, and political unrest. In 2019, a popular revolt and civil unrest resulted in the ousting of Bashir after his 30-year rule. A transitional administration took over, tasked with guiding the country towards democratic elections.

Sudan’s political situation in 2019 triggered widespread protests as citizens demanded the restoration of democracy. The military regime responded with brutality, leading to numerous casualties. The international response to the crisis has been largely muted, with factors such as the 1998 US missile attack on Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, contributing to hesitancy among some countries.

Sudan: A poor nation despite its oil reserves

Sudan has substantial oil reserves, but its economy has not benefited as much as that of several Arab countries. This is due to several factors, including:

  1. Sudan’s leadership has been chastised for improperly handling its oil resources and neglecting to spend oil money on infrastructure and development. Corruption is also a major issue in Sudan, with several officials accused of skimming oil profits.
  2. Sanctions and international isolation have limited Sudan’s capacity to trade with other nations and attract foreign investment. The sanctions were imposed in response to concerns about human rights violations and support for terrorism, among other things.
  3. Sudan has been plagued by violence and instability for many years, including the civil war in the south, the Darfur crisis, and more recent crises in other regions of the nation. Economic activity has been hindered as a result of these wars, making it harder for Sudan to attract international investment.
  4. There has been a lack of infrastructure and development. Historically, agriculture has dominated Sudan’s economy, and the country has lacked the infrastructure and development required to support a modern oil-based economy. Many sections of the country lack basic utilities like power and safe drinking water, and transportation infrastructure is inadequate.
  5. Limited oil output and low oil prices are also to blame. Sudan has considerable oil reserves, but its oil production levels have been relatively modest compared to other oil-producing countries. Furthermore, global oil prices have changed dramatically in recent years, affecting Sudan’s economy.

Violence in Sudan. Photo: Twitter@UNHumanRights

Sudan’s failure to capitalise on its oil deposits is the consequence of several issues, including mismanagement, corruption, international sanctions, recurrent wars and instability, and a lack of infrastructure and development. Addressing these difficulties is critical if Sudan is to realise its potential as an oil producer and enhance its residents’ standard of living.

Furthermore, India has been actively involved in developmental projects in Sudan. It has provided technical assistance and financial aid for various infrastructure development initiatives, including roads, railways, and power projects. The political instability in Sudan can hamper the progress of these projects and hinder India’s efforts to contribute to Sudan’s development.

India has also been supportive of peace and stability in Sudan. It has actively engaged in diplomatic efforts to promote dialogue and peaceful resolution of conflicts in the region. India has participated in international forums and supported United Nations peacekeeping missions in Sudan. The political turmoil in Sudan poses challenges to these peacekeeping efforts and can have wider implications for regional security and stability.

Also read: Unpacking Sudan Clashes: Who Is Who and How Did We Get Here?

Sudan’s civil instability concerns not just the country but also the international world, particularly India. India and Sudan have extensive commercial relations, notably in the oil and agriculture industries. As a result, any disturbance in Sudan’s political and economic stability will influence India.

Oil prices

Sudan is a major crude oil supplier to India. Any disruption in Sudan’s oil production and supply might have an impact on India’s oil import bill, causing oil prices to rise. This, in turn, has the potential to affect India’s inflation and overall economic development.

Investment in Sudan

Indian firms have made significant investments in Sudan, mainly in the oil sector. Sudan’s ongoing upheaval may worsen the investment climate, making it difficult for Indian enterprises to operate there. This may influence India’s commercial connections with Sudan as well as the general investment climate in Africa.

Food security

Sudan is a major supplier of gum arabic, a vital component in the food business. Any disruption in Sudan’s production and supply of gum arabic might have an impact on India’s food industry, which is largely reliant on imports.

Civil upheaval

This may influence India’s diplomatic ties with the nation. India has long backed Sudan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Any unrest in the nation might cause a shift in the political atmosphere, making it harder for India to retain diplomatic relations.

Finally, civil upheaval in Sudan can have far-reaching ramifications for India, notably in terms of oil supply, investment, food security, and diplomatic relations. As a result, India must constantly monitor the situation in Sudan and take necessary actions to protect its economic and strategic interests.

Vikram Raj is an independent journalist.