Roughly the size of Europe, the Sudan is Africa's largest country. Located in Northeast Africa and sharing its borders with Egypt, Chad, and Ethiopia, Sudan is bisected by the long Nile River. With lush tropics in the south and arid desert in the north, Sudan consists of mostly flat terrain bordered by mountains in the east and west. The religion of northern Sudan is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, while the people in the south are primarily Christian and animist.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century, Sudan was ruled by a British and Egyptian coalition. After Sudan declared its independence as a parliamentary republic on January 1, 1956, conflict began between the previously isolated north and south regions. Turbulent years followed in the government, including military coups, martial law declarations, and military rule. In 1983, the conflict with the south worsened, and in September of that year, the government adopted aspects of strict Islamic law, or Shari'a. The introduction of martial law soon after provoked the largely non-Muslim south to retaliate and return to armed conflict. The rebels organized into the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and its military wing the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA).
In 1985, the country was renamed the Republic of Sudan and a transitional constitution was signed. Numerous political groups emerged to prepare for the elections, which took place in April 1986. No single party won outright, however, and a coalition government was formed. In January 1988, the government and 17 political parties signed a transitional charter which aimed to move Sudan toward a multi-party democracy. It stipulated the government would return to the 1972 system of administration in the south and replace Shari'a law with a new legal code. By 1989, however, that government was overthrown and the reforms were never instituted.
Refugees and Immigrants
Complicating the human displacements caused by continuing warfare, severe drought conditions led to crop failures and massive famine. The lack of a good transportation system and the presence of about one million refugees fleeing war in neighboring countries further strained the distribution of the country's resources. Economic reforms were stymied by continued strife, massive movements of refugees, and the hesitance of foreign companies and governments to invest in a war-torn region.
In 2011, the nation of Sudan split, with South Sudan becoming an independent nation. However, war and the displacement of refugees continued.
Against this backdrop of sustained civil war and famine, about 200,000 Sudanese sought refuge abroad. Approximately 400 have found their way to Rochester where they are grateful for peace and are eager to work hard to build a new life.
Artwork by Jophina John Mawen Mavor. Photo of the artist from her personal collection.