First Sudanese Civil War

The First Sudanese Civil War (also known as the Anyanya Rebellion or Anyanya I, after the name of the rebels, a term in the Madi language which means 'snake venom')[14] was a conflict from 1955 to 1972 between the northern part of Sudan and the southern Sudan region that demanded representation and more regional autonomy. Half a million people died over the 17 years of war, which may be divided into three stages: initial guerrilla war, Anyanya, and South Sudan Liberation Movement.

First Sudanese Civil War
Part of the Sudanese Civil Wars
Date18 August 1955 – 27 March 1972[1]
(16 years, 7 months, 1 week and 2 days)


Anglo-Egyptian Sudan
(until 1956)
Republic of the Sudan
(until 1969)
Democratic Republic of the Sudan
(from 1969)
Combat support:
(Joint operations on Ugandan territory, 1965–69)[3]
(Combat involvement at least in 1970)[4]
Non-combat support:
 Soviet Union[1]
SDF mutineers, bandits, and unaffiliated separatist militias
ALF (1965-1970)
Anyanya (from 1963)[5]
 Israel (from 1969)[6][7][8]
Supported by:
 Uganda (from 1971, under Idi Amin)[7]
Commanders and leaders
Alexander Knox Helm
Ismail al-Azhari
Gaafar Nimeiry
Joseph Lagu
Gordon Muortat Mayen
David Ben-Uziel[11]
Military of Sudan:
Casualties and losses
500,000[12]–1 million[13] killed

However, the agreement that ended the First Sudanese Civil War's fighting in 1972 failed to completely dispel the tensions that had originally caused it, leading to a reigniting of the north-south conflict during the Second Sudanese Civil War, which lasted from 1983 to 2005. The period between 1955 and 2005 is thus sometimes considered to be a single conflict with an eleven-year ceasefire that separates two violent phases.


Until 1956, the British government, in collaboration with the Egyptian government (under a condominium governing arrangement) administered south Sudan and north Sudan as separate regions. At this time, the two areas were merged into a single administrative region as part of British strategy in the Middle East.

This act was taken without consultation with southern leaders, who feared being subsumed by the political power of the larger north. Southern Sudan was inhabited primarily by Christians and traditional African believers (Nuer Religion, Dinka Religion) and considers itself culturally sub-Saharan, while most of the north is inhabited by Muslims who were culturally Kushitic.

After the February 1953 agreement by the United Kingdom and Egypt to grant independence to Sudan, the internal tensions over the nature of the relationship of north to south were heightened. Matters reached a head as the 1 January 1956 independence day approached, as it appeared that northern leaders were backing away from commitments to create a federal government that would give the south substantial autonomy.


On 18 August 1955, members of the British-administered Sudan Defence Force Equatorial Corps mutinied in Torit, and in the following days in Juba, Yei, and Maridi.[15] The immediate causes of the mutiny were a trial of a southern member of the national assembly and an allegedly false telegram urging northern administrators in the South to oppress Southerners.[16] The mutinies were suppressed, though survivors fled the towns and began an uncoordinated insurgency in rural areas. Poorly armed and ill-organized, they were little threat to the outgoing colonial power or the newly formed Sudanese government. O'Ballance, writing in 1977, says that the 'period from 1955 to 1963 was simply one of guerilla survival, scarcely removed from banditry, and that it was successful due to a score or so of former southern army officers and warrant officers, and a small number of non-commissioned officers.'[17]

However, the insurgents gradually developed into a secessionist movement composed of the 1955 mutineers and southern students. These groups formed the Anyanya guerrilla army. (Anyanya is also known as Anyanya 1 in comparison to Anyanya 2, which began with the 1974 mutiny of the military garrison in Akobo.) Starting from Equatoria, between 1963 and 1969 Anyanya spread throughout the other two southern provinces: Upper Nile and Bahr al Ghazal. However, the separatist movement was crippled by internal ethnic divisions. O'Ballance writes that one of the Sudanese army's four infantry brigades had been stationed in Equatoria Province since 1955, being periodically reinforced as required.[18]

The government was unable to take advantage of rebel weaknesses because of their own factionalism and instability. The first independent government of Sudan, led by Prime Minister Ismail al-Azhari, was quickly replaced by a stalemated coalition of various conservative forces, which was in turn overthrown in the coup d'état of Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Abboud in 1958.

Resentment at the military government built up. A raid by security forces on a seminar on "the Problem of the Southern Sudan" at the University of Khartoum on the evening of 20 October 1964 sparked off nationwide protests and a general strike. Abboud ceded to the massive scale of civil disobedience by creating an interim government in October 1964. These events became widely known as the "October Revolution" of Sudan or the "October 1964 Revolution".[19]

These protests included the first appearance of Islamist Hassan al-Turabi, who was then a student leader. Between 1966 and 1969, a series of Islamist-dominated administrations proved unable to deal with the variety of ethnic, economic and conflict problems afflicting the country. After a second military coup on 25 May 1969, Col. Gaafar Nimeiry became Prime Minister[20] and promptly outlawed political parties.

In-fighting between Marxist and non-Marxist factions in the ruling military class led to another coup in July 1971 and a short-lived administration by the Sudanese Communist Party before anti-Communist factions put Nimeiry back in control of the country. That same year, German national Rolf Steiner, who had been clandestinely advising the rebels, was captured in Kampala, Uganda and deported to Khartoum, where he was put on trial for his anti-government activities. Originally sentenced to death, he would serve three years in prison before being released following pressure from the West German Government.

The South was first led by the late leader Aggrey Jaden; he left the movement in 1969 due to internal political disputes. In the same year Gordon Muortat Mayen was elected unanimously as the new leader of the South. Southern Sudan in this time changed their name to the Nile Republic and resumed warfare against Khartoum, however some of the former leader Jaden's troops would not accept a Dinka leader and fought against the Anyanya. In 1971, former army lieutenant Joseph Lagu formed a successful coup d'état against Gordon Muortat with help from Israel, which pledged him their support. He then gathered all the guerilla bands under his Southern Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM). This was the first time in the history of the war that the separatist movement had a unified command structure to fulfill the objectives of secession and the formation of an independent state in South Sudan. It was also the first organization that could claim to speak for, and negotiate on behalf of, the entire south. Mediation between the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC), both of which spent years building up trust with the two combatants, eventually led to the Addis Ababa Agreement of March 1972 ending the conflict.[21] In exchange for ending their armed uprising, southerners were granted a single southern administrative region with various defined powers. However, this agreement was denounced as a sellout by former leaders Aggrey Jaden and Gordon Muortat Mayen. The agreement's demise was predicted by both, with Muortat going on to form and lead the African National Front, an opposition movement against the Addis Ababa talks and agreement, and also in 1975, the Anyanya Patriotic Front a new liberation movement with the same aims as SSPG, NPG and the first Anyanya to liberate the South as a separate country from the North. The civil war was finally restarted, this time under John Garang.


Five hundred thousand people, of whom only one in five was considered an armed combatant, were killed in the seventeen years of war, and hundreds of thousands more were forced to leave their homes. The Addis Ababa Agreement proved to be only temporary respite. Infringements by the north led to increased unrest in the south starting in the mid-1970s, leading to the 1983 army mutiny that sparked the Second Sudanese Civil War, a conflict that lasted for almost 22 years and led to the independence of South Sudan.


  1. John Pike. "Sudan Civil War". Retrieved 6 December 2011.
  2. Shinn, David H, "Addis Ababa Agreement: was it destined to fail and are there lessons for the Current Sudan Peace Process?", p. 242
  3. Poggo, S. First Sudanese Civil War: Africans, Arabs, and Israelis in the Southern Sudan 1955-1972, p. 151. S.l.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.
  4. Poggo, S. First Sudanese Civil War: Africans, Arabs, and Israelis in the Southern Sudan 1955-1972, p. 166. S.l.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.
  5. Martell (2018), p. 72.
  6. Martell (2018), pp. 79–82.
  7. Johnson, Douglas (2011). The Root Causes of Sudan's Civil Wars: Peace Or Truce. Boydell & Brewer Ltd. pp. 36–37. ISBN 1847010296.
  8. Leach, Justin (2012). War and Politics in Sudan: Cultural Identities and the Challenges of the Peace Process. I.B.Tauris. p. 178. ISBN 1780762275.
  9. "Sudan, Civil War since 1955".
  10. Poggo, S. First Sudanese Civil War: Africans, Arabs, and Israelis in the Southern Sudan 1955-1972, p. 158. S.l.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.
  11. Martell (2018), pp. 80–81.
  12. De re Militari: muertos en Guerras, Dictaduras y Genocidios. Capítulo I.
  13. Martell (2018), p. 14.
  14. Matthew LeRiche, Matthew Arnold. South Sudan: from revolution to independence. 2012. Columbia University Press. New York. p. 16. ISBN 978-0-231-70414-4
  15. Edgar O'Ballance, The Secret War in the Sudan: 1955–1972, Faber and Faber, 1977, ISBN 0-571-10768-0, p. 41
  16. O'Ballance, 1977, p.42
  17. O'Ballance, 1977, p.57
  18. O'Ballance, 1977, p.62
  19. Suleiman, Mahmoud A. (20 October 2012). "Celebrate the 48th anniversary of Sudan's glorious October 1964 revolution". Sudan Tribune. Archived from the original on 16 October 2019. Retrieved 16 October 2019.
  20. Bernard Reich (1990). Political Leaders of the Contemporary Middle East and North Africa: A Biographical Dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 398. ISBN 9780313262135.
  21. Saskia Baas (2012). From Civilians to Soldiers and from Soldiers to Civilians: Mobilization and Demobilization in Sudan. Amsterdam University Press. p. 42. ISBN 9789089643964.


  • Assefa, Hizkias. 1987. Mediation of Civil Wars, Approaches and Strategies – The Sudan Conflict. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.
  • Eprile, Cecil. War and Peace in the Sudan, 1955 – 1972. David and Charles, London. 1974. ISBN 0-7153-6221-6.
  • Johnson, Douglas H. 1979. "Book Review: The Secret War in the Sudan: 1955–1972 by Edgar O'Ballance". African Affairs 78 (310):132–7.
  • Martell, Peter (2018). First Raise a Flag. London: Hurst & Company. ISBN 978-1849049597.
  • O'Ballance, Edgar. 1977. The Secret War in the Sudan: 1955–1972. Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books. (Faber and Faber edition ISBN 0-571-10768-0).
  • Poggo, Scopas Sekwat. 1999. War and Conflict in Southern Sudan, 1955–1972. PhD Dissertation, University of California, Santa Barbara.
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