As conflict rages in Sudan, I am reminded of the First Civil War that lasted from 1955 to 1972, and the Second Civil War that erupted in 1983 and ended in 2005. These conflicts were the longest and deadliest conflicts in Africa’s recent history, claiming over three million lives. The root causes of these conflicts were complicated, with political, economic and social tensions that had been building up for decades. The social landscape of Sudan is marked by diversity, with many different ethnic and religious groups living side by side. However, this diversity has also been a source of tension, particularly between the northern Arab population and the southern African population. Identity has been one of the key social issues that has contributed to the current situation in Sudan. Historically, the southern population has demanded greater autonomy and self-determination, arguing that they have a distinct cultural identity that has been supressed by northern elites. To understand what ails Sudan, we need to rewind all the way back to British rule. Sudan was created as a British Egyptian condominium in 1899, following the Mahdi uprising and subsequent British reconquest of the region. The British and Egyptians divided Sudan in to two administrative regions, the north and the south. The north was predominantly Arab and Muslim while the south was mostly Animist and Christian. The colonial powers did little to integrate the two regions, preferring a policy of divide and rule. This favoured the north and marginalised the southern population, thereby creating deep rooted resentment and mistrust between the two regions. Following independence in 1956, the northern Sudanese elites sought to impose their culture and religion on the rest of the country, implementing policies that favoured the Arabic language, Islamic law and culture. The southern population, estranged by these policies, felt their religion and culture were being oppressed. The government also invested more resources in the north while neglecting the south to some extent. This led to economic disparity between the two regions, with the south being poorer. Political power and economic opportunities were concentrated on the north and the state was viewed as a tool of the Arab Muslim elite. This resulted in alienation, disenfranchisement and antipathy in South Sudan. Ultimately, this manifested in mutiny of the Equatoria Corps of the Sudan Defense Force in the city of Torit, which later morphed in to the Anyanya insurgency. The insurgency ended with the formation of the Southern Sudan Autonomous Region, a consequence of the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972, concluding the First Civil War. A national ethos that valued diversity and pluralism would have ensured harmony and co-existence. The discovery of oil resources in Sudan in the 1970s added a new dimension to the conflict. The oil resources were predominantly located in the south which meant that the population in South Sudan stood to benefit from oil revenues. However, the north sought to control the oil and the revenues that came from it. This led to a struggle for control of oil resources, with both sides jostling for control of the profits. This further intensified the power struggle between the two regions. To make matters worse, Sudan experienced a long history of political instability and military rule, exacerbating political tensions. Sudan went through a series of coups, destabilizing the country and undermining its institutions. A series of praetorian military regimes ruled the country from the 1960s to the 1980s. These governments were notorious for the repression of dissent. Since these regimes were dominated by the north, this further side-lined the population of the south. In 1983, President Nimeiry declared Sudan an Islamic state, abolishing the Sudan Autonomous Region. The disenfranchisement felt by the south eventually culminated in the formation of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army / Movement (SPLA/M). The SPLA/M was initially a guerrilla movement which sought to overthrow the government and establish a new one which would represent the interests of all Sudanese people. Led by John Garang, the group quickly gained support, many seeing it as a means of achieving their long – standing demands for self-determination and autonomy. The Sudanese government responded to the SPLA/M with force, launching a military campaign to crush what it perceived was rebellion. This sparked a cycle of violence and counter violence, which continued from 1983 to 2005 – today known as the Second Sudan Civil War. The war was characterised by atrocities committed by both sides, including the massacre of civilians, forced displacement, the use of child soldiers and war rape. The Second Civil War attracted international attention and involvement. Neighbouring countries were dragged in, either through supporting rebel groups or providing military assistance to the government. The Sudanese government was supported by Egypt, Libya and Iran while the rebels were supported by Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda. Mediation efforts by the US and Egypt stalled and the conflict dragged on, displacing million of people, many of whom fled to neighbouring countries as refugees. The UN sought to broker a peace agreement and after years of negotiations, both sides signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. The agreement provided for a power sharing arrangement between the government and the SPLA/M, ensured the establishment of an autonomous government in South Sudan and provided an option for a referendum for the south – which was held in 2011. The majority of the southern population voted for independence and South Sudan became one of the world’s newest countries. The independence of South Sudan was a significant moment in the history of Sudan and offered hope for a new beginning for the south. However, South Sudan has since experienced its own share of political instability and conflict, which highlights the need for continuous efforts to address the underlying causes of conflict in the region. After 2005, the political situation in Sudan was marked by a series of transitions, which brought both hope and uncertainty to the country. The overthrow of long-time dictator Omar al Bashir in 2019 was seen as a major victory for the pro-democracy movement. However, the transition to a civilian government was fraught with challenges, including political infighting, economic instability and social unrest. On the economic front, the situation deteriorated due to inflation, currency devaluation and shortage of basic goods. This led to widespread protests and unrest, with many Sudanese people calling for economic reforms and greater accountability from the government. The transitional government attempted to address these economic issues by implementing economic reforms and seeking debt relief from international creditors. However, these efforts were hampered by the Covid Pandemic, which had a significant impact on the economy. Economic woes were further exacerbated by the impact of climate change. Sudan has been experiencing severe droughts and desertification, which have aggravated food shortages. This has led to increased competition for resources and a rise in intercommunal conflict, particularly in rural areas. I will cover the period from 2019 onwards in a subsequent article. In any case, history could have been different if Sudanese elites had brought together different political factions and interest groups in a broad – based coalition that represented all citizens. A national ethos that valued diversity and pluralism would have ensured harmony and co – existence. This would have avoided the sense of marginalisation and disenfranchisement felt by vast swathes of the population and averted the north – south schism. Economic reforms and a more egalitarian distribution of oil revenues, could have addressed the underlying causes of the conflict. Alas, the history of Sudan is indicative of what happens in a country when political, economic and social tensions that have been building up for decades suddenly erupt violently. The writer is a freelance columnist.