Southern Sudanese referendum

The vote to decide whether South Sudan will secede from the north was held between January 9 and 15. Preliminary results released on January 30 indicated 98.83% of South Sudanese voted for independence from the north and President Bashir has stated Khartoum will accept the outcome of the referendum. The official results were released yesterday in Khartoum and reflected the preliminary results of 30 January. Follow the vote through SAIL’s affiliate, SORA, the Sudan Tribune,, and the New York Times.

About Sudan

“There is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one’s native land.”- Euripides 431 B.C.

Quicklinks –
Sudan’s colonial past
Independence and civil war
Oil in Sudan
Statistics of war
Sudan and terrorism
Working towards sustainable peace
Outside pressures for sustainable peace

Majority of SAIL students are refugees from the Republic of the South Sudan and Sudan. Sudan borders with the Red Sea, the Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Libya. SAIL students have been forced to take refuge in at least one of these countries before coming to Australia.

Sudanese Statistics
Sudan is the largest country on the African continent and has a population of 34 million people. This comprises of a wide ethnic mix of some 570 groups. Seventy per cent of the population are Muslims, 25% have indigenous beliefs and approximately 5% are Christians.
Sudanese SAILors are largely from the south. Despite its vast resources, Sudan is under developed and bears all the statistical hallmarks of a country from the Economic South. The average life expectancy is 56. The infant mortality rate is high at 70/1000 and the average number of children per woman is 5.47. Only 46% of the population are literate.

Sudan’s colonial past

Sudan became independent in 1956 from both Egypt and the UK after 59 years of colonial rule. Before independence Southern Sudan received little attention from the British except to suppress slave trade and tribal warfare. The British justified this policy by claiming that the south was not ready for exposure to the modern world. To allow the south to develop, the British closed the region to the outside world except for a few Arab merchants who controlled the regions limited commercial activities and bureaucratic activities.

The earliest Christian missionaries were the Verona Fathers, a Roman Catholic religious order that had become established south before the Mahdiya. Other missionary groups were the Presbyterians from the US and the Anglican Church Missionary Society.There was no competition between the missionaries as each maintained a separate area of influence. The British government eventually subsidised education in the south. Mission graduates succeeded in gaining provincial civil service posts and where regarded as tools of British imperialism.
The few southern Sudanese who received higher education were sent to British East African (present day Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania) rather than Khartoum (Sudan’s capital which is in the north). This exacerbated further the division between the north and south.

In the 1920s the British Administration detached the south from the rest of the Sudan and barred northern Sudanese from entering and working in the south. They also discouraged the spread of Islam in the south.

In the 1930s the British Administration stated that the southern provinces were considered distinct from the northern Muslims and that the region should be prepared for eventual integration with British East Africa.

After World War II, some British officers questioned the economic and political viability of the Southern provinces as separate from the north. Britain has also become more sensitive to the Arab criticism of the southern policy. In 1946 the Sudan Administrative Conference determined that Sudan should be administered as one country.

The conference delegates also agreed to readmit northern administrators in the southern post, abolish trade restrictions, allow southern Sudanese to seek employment in the north and introduce Arabic as the official administrative language.

Southern Sudanese resented the imposition of Arabic as the official language of the administration as it deprived the educated English speaking Southerners of the opportunity to enter public service. In 1955, southern military units mutinied at Totil killing several hundred northerners including government and army officers.

The government quickly suppressed the revolt and eventually executed seventy southerners. Many rebels fled and disappeared with their weapons. In response, the southerners formed the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) to topple the regime.

Independence and civil war

Sudan has been plagued by civil war since 1956, when it became independent from both Egypt and the UK after a rule of 59 years. Until the Peace Deal of 2005, this war was the longest uninterrupted civil war on earth.

By the late 1960s, the war had resulted in the deaths of more than 500 000 people. Several thousands more hid in the forest or escaped to refugee camps in neighbouring countries.

By 1969 rebel forces in the south developed contracts with foreign countries such as Israel to obtain weapons and supplies while the Soviet Union supplied the government. In March 1972, the Nemeiri government and Southern Sudan Liberation Movement (SSLM) signed an accord that gave partial autonomy to the three southern states.

In addition to the war between north and south, Sudan has also suffered from inter-tribal warfare between the two largest southern tribes, the Dinka and the Nuer. This has threatened to split the SPLA.

Sudan has been ruled by an Islamic government since independence in 1956. The Nimeiri government introduced the Shari’a Law (Islamic Law) in 1983 despite bitter opposition from secular Muslims and Christians in the south. The growing economic problems, renewed the war in the south and introduction of the Shari’a Law eventually contributed to Nimeiri’s downfall in a coup in 1985.

In 1989, a military government came to power after a coup under the command of Omer Al Bashir. Bashir established the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation to rule Sudan and imposed the Shari’a Law in the south and supported a military solution over the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

On January 20, 1991 the legal system was altered to include an English common law on an Islamic Law base. Since this time the government has been democratically elected in between three successive coups. A multi-party system was reintroduced in 1999 but the violence and oppression have continued.

Oil in South Sudan

Unlike North Sudan, the south has a tropical climate. In recent years, the Sudanese government has cleared wholesale areas of southern Sudan, and uprooted thousands of mainly Dinka and Nuer people, in order to tap the vast oil reserves there.

In more recent times, Western oil companies have poured millions of dollars into Sudan. It has been widely reported that the revenue has greatly assisted the government in the purchase of weaponry. Amnesty International has condemned this practice and documented the ‘human price of oil’ in Sudan: ‘a pattern of indiscriminate killings, torture and rape – committed against people not taking active part in the hostilities.’

Statistics of war

The civil war has resulted in the deaths of 1.9 million people – one out of every five southern Sudanese. It has also given rise to the largest displaced population of any country in the world. 4.4 million Sudanese have left their homes because of the fighting and of these only 11% have managed to leave the country.

It is estimated that at least 15,000 people, mostly southern women and children, have been abducted by militiamen and used as slaves in the past decade.

As a result of the country’s insecurity, food supply is highly precarious in southern Sudan. The World Food Program announced recently that 3.2 million Sudanese were facing serious food and water shortages due to the combined effects of civil war and drought.

Sudan and Terrorism

Since the late nineties, Sudan has become a centre of attention because of its “suspected links with al Quaeda members” most especially, Osama Bin Laden who reportedly resided in northern Sudan for a period before being banished in 1996.

These suspected links resulted in the United States of America launching a missile into a “chemical warfare agents factory” in 1998. This factory later turned out to be a civilian factory producing a significant share of the pharmaceuticals for the country.

At present, some Sudanese banks are partly frozen because they are suspected of financing “terrorist cells”.

Working towards sustainable peace

On 4th February 2003, the government and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement / Army (SPLM/A) signed a memorandum of understanding for a cease-fire to end hostilities between the government and different rebel factions in the south. This enjoyed sporadic success.

After the visit of Colin Powell to Sudan in November 2003, the southern factions united behind Dr John Gerang (of the SPLA) who then entered the most comprehensive negotiations with the Northern government that have occurred since war broke.

As the new year, 2004, dawned a wealth-sharing agreement had been signed for the substantial oil reserves in the South. The parties have also committed themselves to a referendum in 2011. The choice for southern Sudanese people in this process will be for the nation to federate (like Australia) or for the south to separate.

At Naivasha, Kenya, representatives of the North and South moved closer to a negotiated settlement. The parties agreed to power sharing measures and settled a way to resolve tensions in the contested region of Abyei. In 2009, a final resolution of the wealth of this region will be reached.

This is the most recent in a series of attempts in recent years towards reaching a reconciled ideal. Again the dream of lasting peace seems a real possibility. The latest steps can be tracked at our affiliate, the Sudanese Online Research Association.

Outside pressures for sustainable peace

The profile of the conflicts and hardships within Sudan are increasingly brought to public attention. Alek Wek, supermodel and arguably the most internationally recognised Southern Sudanese person, is championing increased Western awareness and concern for the atrocities occurring in Sudan.

It is hoped that increased pressure from outside of Sudan will encourage all warring factions to reconcile their political and historical differences and seek a workable and long-lasting agreement that accounts for the wishes and dreams of all Sudanese people.

The birth of the Sudanese Diaspora

500, 000 Sudanese people were registered as refugees in other countries in 2000. Uganda hosts 180, 000 and Ethiopia, the next largest recipient of Sudanese refugees, hosts 70, 000. Australia became actively involved in the crisis in 1992 as a result of the first Human Rights Report tabled by the Australian federal government.

At present there are about 8000 Sudanese people living in Australia. As at 2001, Victoria was host to 1,079 Sudanese refugees. This is a 199% increase from the 1996 census making it by far the fastest growing ethnic group in the state (the second largest group are the Somalis who grew 97% in the same period).

The rapid growth of the community is also being felt in other centres in Australia causing the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs to classify the Sudanese community as one of a few Australian communities that is ‘new and emerging’.

Only a small handful of Sudanese arrivals to Australia have been put in ‘immigration detention’ as so-called ‘unlawful non-citizens’. Most of the Australian Sudanese population have come on a visa subclass 220 – an offshore humanitarian visa.

This visa entitles holders to permanent residency, onshore family reunification and eventually, citizenship. This, for most Australian southern Sudanese will be the first time they have ever held citizenship papers.

Sudan’s loss is Australia’s gain.

“Refuge has a value beyond price. It is a matter of life itself.”
– Anon

The Sudanese Community in Australia

The purpose of this page is to give SAIL volunteers some insight into the background and experiences of SAIL’s students. There are also a number of additional resources at page end.

In the 2002-03 financial year, Sudan became the Australian Humanitarian Program’s top source country and has since provided more than 33 per cent of programme arrivals. 62 per cent of all Sudanese settlers are aged 24 years old or younger on arrival.

In addition to settlers born in Sudan, a significant number of settlers born in Egypt or Kenya are ethnically Sudanese, the majority of them being children born of Sudanese parents in refugee camps in surrounding countries. Nearly a third of all arrivals from Sudan are settling in Melbourne. The majority of Sudan-born entrants (79 per cent) described their English proficiency as ‘nil’ or ‘poor’. This is not surprising as most Sudanese people speak Arabic, Swahili, Dinka or any number of tribal languages.

In South Sudan – where most Sudanese refugees who settle in Australia come from – less than 30 percent of children attend school. Those that do receive an education do so in very poor conditions. Only 10% of schools are in permanent buildings and 80% of school children have no seat to sit on. Only 6 percent of teachers have formal training. High dropout rates mean that only 2% of students completed primary school.

Adult literacy in South Sudan is poor. Only 12 percent of South Sudanese women are literate. This is particularly relevant to the Sudanese community in Australia as – due to the government’s prioritising of the women at risk visa category – many families from Sudan are headed by single mums. This low level of literacy is significant because, while it is hard to learn another language under the best of circumstances, it is especially difficult if you have no literacy skills at all.

In South Sudan civil war between 1983 and 2005 is estimated to have killed 1.9 million people, most of them civilians. Refugees from Sudan often have to walk out of the country, spending time in squalid camps in neighbouring countries. Along the way all families have lost relatives in the fighting and through disease and some have witnessed the violent deaths of family members.

What does all this mean for the situation of young Sudanese refugees in Australian? Firstly, there are a great deal of them. Secondly most of them have received some primary education before they arrive in Australia but it has often been interrupted and of a poor quality. Secondary schooling is rare. Thirdly, that proficiency in English, the sole language used in mainstream Australia schools, is low. Fourthly they will be affected by their refugee experience. And finally, no only will their mothers and fathers not speak English, there is little chance they will be literate in any language.

Read SAIL’s Sudanese-sensitive service provision two-page crash course here.

The SAIL Program is proudly affiliated with:
Sudanese Online Research Association (SORA): devoted to the issues, journeys, images and stories of the Sudanese Diaspora.