On 1 January 1956 Sudan welcomed the New Year by declaring its independence from Egypt and England who were jointly running the country. The Anglo-Egyptian rule over Sudan lasted 58 years.
When Sudan finally gained its independence it was done without any conflict or violence, in fact a special ceremony was held where the British and Egyptian flags were taken down. Then Prime Minister Ismail al-Azhari raised the new Sudanese flag.
Sudan is celebrating 61 years of independence this year making it the third oldest democracy on the continent. To mark the occasion Africa.com looks at ten fascinating facts about the desert country.
HOW THE COUNTRY GOT ITS NAME
The name Sudan is reportedly derived from an Arabic phrase that translates to “Land of Blacks”. It was given to the country because of the skin colour of the inhabitants of the region. It’s believed the name was given by travellers and historians who went past the region.
THE THIRD LARGEST COUNTRY IN AFRICA
Sudan use to be the largest country in Africa but in 2011 that changed. South Sudan voted to separate from Sudan and became an independent state. Sudan lost 25 percent of its land mass and dropped to become the third largest country in Africa after the DRC and Algeria.
When Sudan gained its independence it used the blue, yellow and green flag. The flag represented the Nile (blue) the Sahara Desert (yellow) and the country’s farmlands (green). It was chosen because it represented neutrality between the vast ethnic groups in Sudan. But in May 1970 that all changed, the flag was replaced with one with colours similar to other Pan-Arab countries. The new flag represents the traditional colour of Islam (green), Sudan’s struggle for independence (red) peace, light and love (white) and the people of the country (black).
MARKED BY WARS AND COUPS
Since it gained its independence, the country has been plagued with coups and wars. There have been around 13 military coup attempts, three of them were successful in 1964, 1985 and 1989. The country has survived three major civil wars but more than 1.5 million people died. The first two wars were mainly between people in the north and south, over religion and the country’s scarce natural resources.
A COUNTRY OF FIRSTS FOR WOMEN
While Sudan still has a long way to go in promoting women’s rights it has opened doors for many women. It was the first country in Africa and the Middle East to have a female parliamentarian. Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim was elected to parliament in 1965. Then in 1974 they were the first to appoint a female Minister of Health. Sudan was the first country in the Middle East to have a female cinematographer, football referee, police officers and judge.
HOME TO MORE THAN 100 TRIBES
Sudan is home to some of the most historic tribes in Africa. The Nubian tribe in the far north used to practice scarification, the men and women would have three scars on each cheek. But now this practice seems to have been abandoned. The Fur tribe is the largest ethnic group in Darfur. Darfur actually means home of the Fur. There are more than 100 tribes in Sudan alone. Despite the large number many of them practice the same religion. 96 percent of people in Sudan are Muslims. Christianity accounts for only three percent.
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
Sudan has one of the worst records of human rights violation on the continent. Authorities regularly detain political activists and protesters without charging them. Human Rights Watch has accused government forces of rape and mass killings. In 2008 the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Omar al Bashir for crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur. The government has refused to grant humanitarian agencies access to rebel held areas. This has resulted in many children born in those areas to go without vaccination.
There are three UNESCO world heritage sites in Sudan. The island of Meroe is between the Nile and Atbara rivers. It was the capital of the Kingdom of Kush. The Kushite era lasted over a century. The Kush ruled as pharaohs over Egypt and Sudan. Because of this Egypt and Sudan’s histories are intertwined. The Gebel Barkal and the Sites of the Napatan region consists of five archaeological sites that represent the second kingdom of the Kush. They include unique tombs, temples, living complexes and palaces indicative of that era. They were declared heritage sites in 2003.
NATURAL WEATHER PHENOMENA
Sudan has tropical climate so it’s usually warm and hot. It also experiences Haboobs. Haboobs are violent dust storms that move like a gigantic wall covering the affected area. They have been known to reach more than 400 feet. They occur in desert areas usually in the summer. They are beautiful to see but when they occur visibility is reduced to almost zero. They last several hours. There are about 24 haboobs in Sudan annually. Due to the dust storms the Sahel is now a more significant source of dust than the Sahara.
INDEPENDENCE DAY CELEBRATIONS
Independence Day is an official holiday in Sudan and since it also falls on New Year’s there are massive festivals held around the country. Spectacular fireworks can be seen and President Omar al Bashir addresses the country. The speech is usually given during independence week. Because most governments and private businesses are closed many take the time to relax at home.