Overview | Government

This series of profiles of foreign nations is part of the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The profiles offer brief, summarized information on a country's historical background, geography, society, economy, transportation and telecommunications, government and politics, and national security. Derived from The Library of Congress.


Government Overview: The national government is an authoritarian regime with the trappings of a parliamentary system. A new constitution, approved in 1998, provides for separate executive, legislative, and judicial functions and contains guarantees of freedom of association, religion, and thought. Some clauses have been in suspension since late 1999. The executive branch is headed by a president, who currently serves also as prime minister and commander in chief of the armed forces. Cabinet members are appointed by the president with approval by parliament. The legislative branch is composed of the 360-seat National Assembly, of which 270 members are popularly elected and 90 specially selected by a National Congress composed of influential interest groups. Parliamentarians serve four-year terms and have been supportive of the government. Sudan’s government is run by an alliance of the military and the National Congress Party, formerly the National Islamic Front, and has generally pursued an Islamist agenda. The current president is Lieutenant General Umar Hassan Ahmad al Bashir, who came to power in a military coup in 1989. He was popularly elected in 1996 and 2000.

Administrative Divisions: Sudan is divided into 26 states (wilayat): A'ali an Nil, Al Bahr al Ahmar, Al Buhayrat, Al Jazirah, Al Khartum, Al Qadarif, Al Wahdah, An Nil al Abyad, An Nil al Azraq, Ash Shamaliyah, Bahr al Jabal, Gharb al Istiwa'iyah, Gharb Bahr al Ghazal, Gharb Darfur, Gharb Kurdufan, Janub Darfur, Janub Kurdufan, Junqali, Kassala, Nahr an Nil, Shamal Bahr al Ghazal, Shamal Darfur, Shamal Kurdufan, Sharq al Istiwa'iyah, Sinnar, and Warab.

Provincial and Local Government: Beginning in 1983, Sudan was divided into five regions in the North and three in the South, each headed by a military governor. In 1997 the eight regions were replaced with 26 states, whose senior officials are appointed by the president. State budgets are also allocated from Khartoum.

Judicial and Legal System: The constitution provides for a High Court, an attorney general, and civil and special religious courts; it also grants recognition to tribal courts. The legal system is based on English common law and Islamic law. As of March 1991, strict Islamic Law was imposed on the country except for the three southern provinces. It applies in the northern states regardless of religious affiliation.

Electoral System: A national electoral commission determines guidelines for elections and referendums. Voting eligibility is defined as 17 years of age. The last national elections, held in December 2000, were boycotted by opposition parties, who viewed them as unfair.

Political Parties: Following the military coup of 1989, all political parties were banned. The constitution of 1998 permits political “associations” provided that they register with the government, accept the legality of the 1998 constitution, and do not practice violence or advocate the overthrow of the present regime. More than 30 parties are registered with the authorities. Among the most important parties and their leaders are: the National Congress Party (NCP) under President al Bashir and party secretary general Ibrahim Ahmed Umar, successor to the former National Islamic Front (NIF); Popular National Congress (PNC) under Hassan al Turabi; Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) under Osman al Mirghani; and Umma Party (UP) under Sadiq al Mahdi. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a grouping of several opposition parties under the chairmanship of Osman al Mirghani, is based in Asmara, Eritrea. Among its members are the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), under Colonel John Garang, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), under Mansour Khalid (the SPLM is the political wing of the SPLA).

Mass Media: Sudan has a large number of local and national newspapers. The major national dailies are published in Arabic or English. Sudan Television broadcasts 60 hours of programming a week. The Sudan National Broadcasting Corporation airs radio programming in Arabic, English, French, and Swahili. Radio and television stations are state-controlled entities and serve as outlets for the government viewpoint. Journalists and the papers they serve, although subject to government censorship, operate with more freedom and independence than in most neighboring countries or Arab states. The Voice of Sudan, sponsored by the National Democratic Alliance, broadcasts in Arabic and English. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army issues its own newspapers and journals.

Foreign Relations: Throughout the 1990s, Sudan’s foreign relations have been governed by the desire to spread Islamism throughout eastern Africa and the Middle East, in keeping with the program of the National Islamic Front, and by the course of the civil war between Northerners and Southerners. Relations with Arab countries as well as its neighbors have varied from cordial and supportive to antagonistic and quarrelsome according to the degree that the regime pursued or relaxed its Islamist agenda or pressed or accommodated its Southern opponents. At times, Sudan has supported regional insurgencies against several of its fellow Arab states. In 1995 the government was accused of complicity in the attempted assassination of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Although this action brought down international sanctions upon the country, Egypt eventually withdrew its charges and the matter passed. Relations with Libya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Uganda have experienced wide swings; in the case of the latter three, the degree of their support or opposition to the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and other opposition groups has been the overriding consideration. By the late 1990s, Sudan’s relations with its neighbors were either strained or broken. Since 2000, the al Bashir regime has sought to improve its standing through rapprochement and accommodation. Relations with several European nations have been relatively good, especially those with France. Relations with the United States have been far less so, although there has been some improvement since 2000.

Membership in International Organizations: Sudan holds membership in a number of international organizations. Among them are: the League of Arab States, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the Nonaligned Movement as well as the United Nations and its subsidiary organizations, including United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Health Organization, and the World Trade Organization (observer status). Within Africa, Sudan belongs to the African Union and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development. It is a member of such international financial institutions as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (membership temporarily in abeyance), the African Development Bank, and the Islamic Development Bank, and is one of the Africa-Caribbean-Pacific group of states that receive economic aid from the European Union.

Major International Treaties: Sudan is a signatory of the Convention on Biological Diversity; Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna; Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling, and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction; Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer; Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea; United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa; and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Sudan is also a party to all twelve international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism, including the African Union’s Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism; Convention of the Organization of the Islamic Conference on Combating Terrorism; and International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism.


Armed Forces Overview: As of 2004, the Sudanese People's Armed Forces numbered an estimated 105,000 members. The army is by far the largest unit, the air force and navy being much smaller. Irregulars, including former rebel militias and tribesmen, supplement the army’s strength.The armed forces are charged with defense of Sudan’s external borders and with preservation of internal security. Sudan’s military forces have historically been hampered by limited and outdated equipment, poor maintenance capabilities, and inadequate training. Capabilities were further eroded during the 1990s by dismissals in the professional officer corps. These constraints are such that Sudan’s army must rely on Arab militias and even former rebels as it campaigns against opposition forces in southern and eastern provinces and in Darfur. At least some of the rebels in these regions are former army personnel. Since the late 1990s, the government has used oil revenues to purchase modern weapons, most of which come from Libya, China, and Russia. Other sources of modest military support include Syria, Iran, and, in the past, Iraq. There is no evidence that Sudan has access to biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons.

Foreign Military Relations: China, Russia, and Libya are the major suppliers of military equipment, with lesser amounts coming from Iran and Syria. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) receives assistance from Kenya and Uganda; in the past, Zimbabwe and Namibia also supplied the SPLA with equipment. The National Democratic Alliance receives both military and political support from Eritrea. The extent of foreign assistance to the Darfur rebels is unknown at present.

External Threat: Although Sudan has had troubled relations with several of its neighbors in the past, Eritrea in particular, it faces no significant external threats at present.

Defense Budget: The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated the defense budget for 2004 at US$465 million.

Major Military Units: The Sudanese army numbers 105,000 soldiers, including 20,000 conscripts, organized into 10 divisions, including 1 armored, 1 mechanized, and 6 infantry divisions. The navy, with bases at Port Sudan and Marsa Gwiyai on the Red Sea and at Khartoum, has 1,800 personnel, and the air force, 3,000, including air defense forces. All figures are 2004 estimates from the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Major Military Equipment: The army has 270 tanks, 218 reconnaissance vehicles, 316 armored vehicles, 470 artillery pieces, 635 multiple rocket launchers, 40 recoilless launchers, 40 attack guns, 1,000 air defense guns, and 54 surface-to-air missiles. The navy has 2 inshore patrol craft and about 16 river patrol boats. The air force has an estimated 27 combat aircraft (serviceability questionable), 10 armed helicopters, 25 unarmed helicopters, and 5 batteries of surface-to-air missiles.

Military Service: Eligibility for service begins at age 18 and runs to age 30. Conscripts serve for two years.

Paramilitary Forces: The Popular Defense Force, the military wing of the National Islamic Front, consists of 10,000 active members, with 85,000 reserves. It has been deployed alongside regular army units against various rebel groups.

Foreign Military Forces: Sudan and Uganda have agreed to allow their armed forces to operate across their mutual border in pursuit of various groups of insurgents. As of mid-2004, the Uganda People’s Defense Forces were in pursuit of Ugandan rebel forces in southern Sudan. In mid-November 2004, the African Union had nearly 800 military observers and peacekeeping troops in Darfur to monitor a cease-fire between the government militia and local rebels. More than 3,000 peacekeepers are foreseen by early 2005.

Police: Sudan’s police are composed of a number of separate units known collectively as the United Police Forces. These include the States’ Police, who function on the federal level as well as in each of the 26 states, and the Utilities’ Police, who work in various state utilities, institutions, and corporations. All are under the control of the Ministry of Interior.

Internal Threat: The central government faces armed resistance from a number of opposition groups, several of which have joined together in the National Democratic Alliance: the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), consisting of 20,000–30,000 men divided into four factions and located mainly in southern Sudan; Sudan Alliance Forces, with an estimated strength of 500 fighters, who operate along the Eritrean border; Beja Congress Forces, with an estimated strength of 500 men, who operate on the Eritrean border; and New Sudan Brigade, whose forces number some 2,000 and who are also located on the Eritrean border. Since February 2003, two guerrilla groups, the Sudanese Liberation Army and the Justice and Equality Movement, have taken up arms in Darfur. The SPLA’s fortunes have waxed and waned, and at times it has controlled wide swaths of territory in the South. Its successes have helped compel the al Bashir regime to enter into peace negotiations on several occasions, most notably since 2002. The smaller groups along the Eritrean border are far less significant, but the Darfur groups control territory in the far West and attack government outposts and towns at will. Aside from these major groups, a number of smaller rebel units pursue their own agendas. Government control is tenuous outside the central populated region surrounding Khartoum.

Terrorism: Sudan has a long history of protecting terrorists and of condoning their actions. In March 1973, Palestinian terrorists murdered the American ambassador to Sudan. In the early to mid-1990s, Khartoum was home to several well-known international terrorists, including Abu Nidal and Osama bin Laden, and in 1995 the Sudanese government was accused of complicity in the attempted assassination of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa. In 1993 the United States designated Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism because of the National Islamic Front’s reported links with international terrorist networks, and in 1998 the United States launched missiles at an alleged chemical munitions factory in Khartoum in response to terrorist attacks in East Africa. Sudan also has been accused of providing training facilities for various terrorist organizations. Since 2000, Sudan has reversed its policies and begun to cooperate with international counterterrorism efforts. Sudan is a party to all twelve international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism.

Human Rights: The government’s attitude toward human rights has been conditioned by its Islamist convictions. The al Bashir regime has regarded Islam as a state religion and sharia as the law of the land without regard for other religious beliefs and practices. It has pursued policies of Arabization and Islamization, although recently there has been some relaxation of this stance with regard to Southerners. It has placed important restrictions on freedoms of assembly, speech, religious practice, and political association. The media, although tightly controlled, operate with a greater degree of independence than in many neighboring countries. Personal rights are often not respected, especially with regard to women. The judicial system is not independent and is subject to government interference, including proceedings in the country’s courts. Conditions in prisons are harsh and long sentences common. Security forces, including the police, routinely disregard basic human rights; similar abuses have been perpetrated by Southern opposition forces. Recent accords between Southerners and the government provide for respect of legal and religious differences in the South. In Darfur, soldiers and government-sanctioned militias continue to destroy villages and crops, engage in murder and rape, and drive the inhabitants into refugee camps. The al Bashir regime has restricted or blocked delivery of humanitarian aid in Darfur, but access to the South has improved significantly. Northerners continue their age-old practice of enslaving black Africans from the South; Southerners practice their own version of enslavement.

Index for Sudan:
Overview | Government


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