Proud to a Nuer: The Nuer became part of the Sudanese polity in the 1820s

Related imageOctober 18, 2017, Like all other South Sudanese peoples, the Nuer became part of the Sudanese polity in the 1820s, when the nation-state was taking shape, beginning with the Ottoman invasion from Egypt in 1821. Their incorporation began with the slave trade. Like the other South Sudanese groups, the Nuer have resisted incorporation into the Sudanese political structure. This resistance has led to the development of two distinct parts of the country: the north and the south. Northerners self-identify as Arabs and are Muslim, while Southerners identify themselves as black, African, and, increasingly, Christian. The north has held state power because of its long history of benefiting from contact with the Arabs and then the Turks, the British, and the Arabs again after independence from Britain in 1956.

All these governments attempted to force Nuerland into the structure of a united Sudan. A combination of that effort and neglect of social and economic development in the south have caused rebellions. Two civil wars have ensued, the latest of which continues into the beginning of the twenty-first century. Nuer participation in these wars has two sources. The first is resistance to the authority of the Khartoum government, which keeps them Sudanese but does not provide education and health care. The other is cultural differences such as Islamic beliefs in the north and Christianity and traditional religions in the south. This conflict reflects an uneven distribution of resources that favors the north.

Demography. In the 1930s the Nuer population was estimated at around 200,000. The British colonial government’s census of 1952 put their number at 250,000. Sudan gained independence in 1956, but the country had already plunged into a north-south civil war in 1955 that continued through 1972. The first government census after the war indicated that the Nuer numbered nearly 300,000 in a country of 15 million. That number was said to have risen to 800,000 when the civil war resumed in 1983. Over the last eighteen years of the war, at least a quarter of the 2 million estimated casualties are thought to have been Nuer, and their current population is estimated as approximately 500,000 of Sudan’s total estimated population of 26 million.

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