Sudan Political Timelines Project

Sudan Political Timelines: A Visual Diagram of Political Dynamics

By D.K. Thompson

Scroll through timelines below, or search each timeline for specific leaders or political parties. Buttons below each timeline allow you to download.

Jump to: First Civil War (1960-1972); Addis Ababa Agreement (1972-1983); Beginning of Second Civil War (1983-1993); From Nasir to the CPA (1993-2004); South Sudan’s Independence (2005-2014)

Sudan’s political parties are confusing and complex even for those who follow developments there closely. The same names often appear in headlines as political leaders shift alliances or lead rebellions. Hassan al-Turabi, Salva Kiir. Riek Machar. Lam Akol. Taban Deng Gai. Malik Agar. Peter Gadet. And so on. The media attempts to provide some helpful background as to where these leaders are coming from, but the complexity and the length of Sudan’s political history often force simplistic summaries. On the other hand, numerous books have been written outlining the political history of Sudan and South Sudan, analyzing the motivations of various political actors, describing the proliferation of armed groups in the country, etc. My goal in the Sudan Political Timelines Project is to make the task easier, to allow analysts to quickly visualize the stances and alliances of prominent political figures in Sudan and South Sudan, and to see the history of some of the major parties present in the country.

Timeline Visualization
SPT_keyIn the interest of using two-dimensional space, I have conceptualized Sudan’s political and military struggles as taking place primarily along a continuum from centralization under the government in Khartoum, through a unified federal Sudan and a referendum on independence for peripheral areas, to complete independence (for the purposes of this analysis, complete independence of South Sudan). I have placed political parties and armed groups on this continuum and used arrows to trace their development, antagonisms, splits, and alliances. The representation on the continuum reflects the group’s stated desires, not necessarily reflecting the true designs of the group or of its members. The armed groups in particular often have not appeared to have cohesive agendas, and so are placed based on their alliances and alignments in cases where they have an unclear political agenda. The distinction between armed groups and political parties is blurred and can be misleading. Note that many political parties have armed groups associated with them. The pink/reddish boxes represent armed groups that operate fairly independently of political parties.

The aim of this exercise is to simplify Sudan’s complex political history into something visual and digestible. You can trace the history of individual leaders such as Joseph Oduho, John Garang, Salva Kiir, Riek Machar, Lam Akol or Taban Deng Gai through these timelines. The risk is oversimplifying, and so some caveats and clarifications are made for each timeline (see below). These are works in progress, so please feel free to contact me with any clarifications, updates, or corrections. Although I have spent time in Sudan and South Sudan myself, much of this history comes from books and online articles. I have drawn from numerous sources, but primarily rely on the works of Douglas Johnson and P.A. Nyaba.

You can search each timeline for relevant text (e.g., “Joseph Lagu”) by clicking the button in the upper right-hand corner of the timeline to open the document in a new window.


Although in most analyses the first civil war is dated 1955-1972, we will start with its more organized beginnings in 1960, because that is where more coherent oppositions and alliances began to emerge between North and South Sudan. Following the overthrow of Abboud’s military regime in 1964, not only did Northern Sudanese political parties proliferate, but splits began to emerge in Southern parties such as the Sudan African National Union (SANU), which split into an internal party in Khartoum and a party in exile in Uganda. Some of the figures that emerged in the political scene during this period, such as Joseph Oduho, Gordon Muortat Mayen, and Sadiq al-Mahdi (whose family had long been involved in Sudanese politics) continued to influence Sudanese political development for the following thirty years.

Ibrahim Abboud. Photo by Dragisa Modrinjak.

Ibrahim Abboud. Photo by Dragisa Modrinjak.

Ga'afar Nimeiry

Ga’afar Nimeiry







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Nimeiry’s loss of support in North Sudan brought him closer to a federal solution and facilitated agreement with Lagu. Many Southern Sudanese perceived decentralization of government as a step towards independence. Yet the irony is that the increasing decentralization under the federal system reserved most powers in the central government. Khartoum was willing to let the South secede, but only if borders were redrawn to place the oilfields in the North. The division of South Sudan into three separate weak states in 1983 precipitated another political crisis. As the timeline makes clear, the military crisis had already begun in 1975 with the defection of ex-Anyanya units who were scheduled to integrate into the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). John Garang and many of the others who were later to emerge as leaders of South Sudan’s liberation struggle remained in the service of the SAF until the defections of Battalions 105 and 104 (Kerubino Kuanyin Bol and William Nyuon Bany) at the beginning of the 1983 rainy season.

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The declaration of Shari’a law and the official division of Southern Sudan into separate weak states precipitated further collapse of the Addis Ababa Agreement that was already on its way out in 1975 with military defections and the 1977 “national dialogue” that brought back traditional parties. In 1983 and the following years, large-scale military defections among Southern units strengthened the nascent SPLM/A in Ethiopia. Due to its backing from Ethiopia and Israel, both of which had a strong interest in preventing the division of sovereign territory into smaller units, the SPLM/A could not propose secession and instead strove for the overthrow of the government in Khartoum and the establishment of a leftist-leaning political administration built on secularism and the equality of peripheral regions. The SPLM/A gradually coalesced southern military movements, but a group of “Anyanya-II” favoring secession split from the SPLM/A almost immediately, sparking a violent conflict between the SPLA and other militias. Ironically, many of the “secessionist” Anya-nya II militias were backed by Khartoum, setting up a theme in wartime politics that continued for the next twenty years. In 1991 as Mengistu’s Derg fell in Ethiopia, the SPLM/A was forced back into Sudan and split, again into “secessionist” and “unionist” groups. The SPLM/A-Nasir was not an ethnic movement, but its failure to overthrow the entire SPLM/A leadership and its violence against civilians in Bor and Kongor in 1991-2 created that perception and drove increasing fragmentation among secessionist forces.

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The alliance between the Nasir faction and Khartoum drove increasing fragmentation among the dissident SPLM/A groups. Each time major figures left, Riek Machar renamed the movement, thus the progression from SPLM/A-Nasir to SPLM/A-United to SSIM/A, to integration with the SSDF to Machar’s breakaway SPDF and finally reintegration back into the SPLM/A mainstream. This timeline in particular begins to give more context to the current dynamics of rebellion and political leadership in Sudan and South Sudan. Specifically, figures like Riek Machar, Lam Akol, Paulino Matip and Peter Gadet began swinging back and forth between seeking support from the NCP in Khartoum and aligning themselves with the SPLM/A, a trend that has continued up to the current (2013-2014) rebellion. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, political forces were drawing many of these southern leaders together, paving the way for the combination of military stalemate and international political pressure that led to the CPA in 2005.


Malik Agar. Photo: Sudan Envoy

As the SPLA regained strength in the mid-late 1990s, a more distinct northern resistance movement aligned with the southern rebels began to emerge. Malik Agar of Blue Nile led SPLA troops in that state; the Nuba politician and soldier Yousif Kuwa brought SPLA troops to the Nuba Mountains. Both of these leaders laid the foundations for the emergence of SPLM/A-North to rebel against Khartoum in 2011.

In Khartoum, alliances also began to shift. Having appeared fairly unified since the 1989 coup, the leadership began to split as the old NIF, led by Hassan al-Turabi, sought to gain the upper hand within the NCP, the only legal party since 1996. Sadiq al-Mahdi gauged his options and fell into alliance with Bashir as Hassan al-Turabi was ousted from the Assembly and placed under house arrest. Decades-old tensions in Darfur also came to the front as Ibrahim Khalil and Minni Minnawi broke away to form the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Darfur Liberation Front/Movement (subsequently Sudan Liberation Movement/Army – SLM/A), respectively.

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As the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005 brought the Second Civil War to an official close, the situation became, if possible, even more complex. The Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the SPLA were officially joined in some areas to form Joint Integrated Units (JIUs), although in reality the forces for the most part remained separated. Soon after the CPA was signed, SPLM/A leader John Garang, First Vice President of Sudan under the conditions of the Agreement, died in a plane crash. As Salva Kiir replaced him, the SPLM/A opened up to the integration of factions that were formerly part of the South Sudan Defense Forces (SSDF). Rebel leaders such as Paulino Matip were integrated into the SPLM/A hierarchy; others, like Ismail Konyi, were nominally integrated but their forces formed the base for later rebellions (in Konyi’s case, the rebellion of David Yau Yau in 2010); still others, such as Gordon Kong Chuol (or Cuol) remained aligned with the NCP and active along the border between Sudan and South Sudan. During peacetime, the SPLM shifted its talk from national unity to the 2011 referendum, and as it became increasingly clear that South Sudan would vote for independence, smaller groups began worrying about SPLM dominance. Following the 2010 elections, a number of rebellions emerged, some of which have been reintegrated. Gatluak Gai and George Athor were killed after rebelling. Ironically, SSLA forces under James Gai Yoach, Bapiny Monytuil, and Matthew Puljang ended up fighting against their former leader, Peter Gadet, when Gadet joined the SPLM/A-In Opposition in December 2013.

John Garang (d. 2005). Photo: public domain

John Garang (d. 2005). Photo: public domain

Like southern rebel movements, rebellions in Darfur often split into multiple separate factions. When Minni Minnaw accepted the Darfur Peace Accord in 2006 and was brought into the Government of National Unity (GONU), Abdel-Wahid Nur and Ahmed Abdel-Shafi Bassey chose to remain outside. This timeline also demonstrates the political maneuvering among northern parties in Khartoum when they were officially legalized for the 2010 elections.

The spectrum constructed for previous timelines is perhaps not applicable after South Sudan’s independence in 2011. I have changed the political spectrum somewhat, but it is still based on a gradation between centralized and decentralized power. What I have hoped to show is, in a rough manner, the origins of the main political groups and armed factions present in Sudan and South Sudan at the moment. Particularly for this timeline, information is limited and some connections are somewhat speculative, although I have done significant research amid conflicting information. Please contact Daniel at if you have updates or corrections.

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All timelines copyright (c) 2014 Daniel Thompson, If you have corrections or suggestions or would like to participate in the Sudan Political Timeline Project, please contact us at