The story of the Sudanese press is one of an industry that was set up by foreigners to further colonial interests and which for decades, after independence, continued to struggle under the grip of military dictatorships. 

The story of the Sudanese press is one of an industry that was set up by foreigners to further colonial interests and which for decades, after independence, continued to struggle under the grip of military dictatorships. It is a story of resilience and creativity on a mission to inform and educate the Sudanese people, treading very carefully to avoid the penalty for overstepping the ‘red lines’ imposed by those in power. Sudanese journalists have always faced the dilemma of a responsibility to maintain unity in a very diverse nation, and of reporting and commenting on the range of religious, ethnic, sectarian and ideological differences that exist in their society.

Printing itself began in Sudan when Mohamed Ali Pasha imported the lithography printing press from Egypt and used it for printing government documents. Following the Mahdi’s defeat of the Turco-Egyptian regime, the printing press was used by the Mahdi’s successor, the Khalifa, to print Mahdist literature which was used as a way to communicate with people.

The first newspaper-style publication distributed in Sudan was the Sudan Government Gazette, known as ‘Al-Ghazita’, following the 1899 Anglo-Egyptian agreement on how to govern Sudan. It included government laws, orders and advertisements, which some scholars believe was intended to show condominium rule in a transparent, law-abiding light, unlike the much hated and unjust previous rule of the ‘Turkiya’. Al-Sudan, an English/Arabic publication was the first newspaper to be published in Sudan in 1903. This was followed in 1913 by Ra’id al-Sudan, the Arabic supplement of The Sudan Herald. Both were owned by foreigners, but Al-Ra’id was the first paper where Sudanese writers were able to publish their work.

Amongst these pioneering Sudanese writers was Hussein Sharif, who is considered the father of Sudanese journalism and who is famous for saying ‘a nation without a newspaper is like a heart without a tongue’. Sharif established the first fully Sudanese paper, Hadarat al-Sudan known as ‘Al-Hadara’ around 1918.  

In 1930 the Press Ordinance was declared at a time when the British authorities sensed the press was advocating liberation. This gave powers to curtail and censor the press , for example, the Governor-General had the power to withdraw the license of a newspaper or to suspend it. Nevertheless, this decade witnessed an increase in publications including the dailies, Al-Nil and Sawt al-Sudan, and weekly and fortnightly magazines, Al-Nahda and Al-Fajr. However, cautious not to upset the authorities, content at this time was mainly focused on social, cultural or literary themes, but journalists did find ways to circumvent restrictions by gradually merging politics into other areas or, for example, by publishing patriotic poetry.

The 1936 Anglo-Egyptian agreement, which touched on Sudan’s future without involving it in the talks, prompted articles voicing national aspirations. Journalists began demanding press freedom and a lifting of censorship. ’How do we expect people to buy a newspaper which does not speak on their behalf, reflect their demands, express their wishes and picture their aspiration?’ asked Al-Sudan newspaper in an issue in 1938 (Salih, 1965). This drive eventually led to the formation of the Graduates Congress, a forum of educated Sudanese with a nationalist vision and that was the birthplace of Sudanese political parties, From these parties came their press.

Following World War II, negotiations between Britain and Egypt on the future of Egypt and Sudan began. The party-affiliated press in Sudan was split between independence versus unity with Egypt. Some advocated unity with Egypt while others shunned the idea, calling for independence from its neighbour and closer ties with Britain. Accusations were exchanged of being stooges for Egypt or Britain and society was split along these polarised lines. The issue of Sudanese national identity also came to the fore with rising criticism of the British policy of segregation in the south. It was a period of agitation and a time when the press played an important role in offering political education to its readers. Even literary magazines started openly writing about politics.

Some notable newspapers which began publishing before independence were Al-Sudan Al-Jadid in 1943 and Al-Ray al-Amm in 1945. That same year Al-Maydan, mouthpiece of the left-wing Anti-Imperialist Front, later the Sudanese Communist Party, was published. Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimin, mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood, started publishing in 1952. The most important regional newspaper was Kordofan, printed in the province’s capital Al-Obeid with an editorial line advocating regional government. Newspapers emerged relatively later in southern Sudan, the first party-political publication being The Vigilant, published from 1965 in English. The independent and progressive Al-Ayyam was the first paper produced using modern printing technology.

Post-independence, and until 1958, the press flourished thanks to its newly found freedoms. Yet, competition and antagonism along party lines were often reflected in the press, adding to a sense of instability. The first army takeover by Aboud, which aimed ‘to stop the chaos and completely put an end to it’, resulted in only the independents Al-Ayyam and Al-Ra’y al-Amm being allowed to publish. But even these were suspended on occasion. The newspaper Al-Thawra, launched in 1960, was the mouthpiece of the Aboud regime, stating that its name had been derived from the ‘valiant army’s revolution which came to achieve security and peace and wipe out hostility and enmity‘ (Abd-al-Latif 1992). The regime’s policies on the ‘southern question’ and its use of force in the region complicated matters, and a talk at the university of Khartoum about the south was the spark for the 1964 popular uprising against Aboud. Party and independent papers soon began pouring back into circulation but once again, they led to more splits along ideological and sectarian lines, creating further instability.

The Numeiri regime, which seized power in the second military coup in 1969, established a licensing committee that set out the aim of newspapers as being to ‘guide, prepare, organise, direct and mobilise the people in line with the May Revolution’. The regime abolished all newspapers and nationalised Al-Sahafa and Al-Ayyam, which were administered by the regime’s party of the Sudanese Socialist Union. Al-Quwat al-Musalaha, the armed forces newspaper, began publication in 1971. These were the only papers allowed to publish until the popular uprising in 1985. They were entirely state-controlled and were obliged to cover Numeiri’s public activities and always publish a picture of him on the front page.

After Numeiri, there was a gush of party-affiliated papers and independents, but this was a fierce press that was out to attack opponents and perform character assassinations. Conditions were further complicated by the weakness of the democratic government, the infighting among various political forces and the continuing unresolved situation in the south. Following the third military coup in 1989, all newspapers were suspended with the exception of Al-Quwat al-Musalaha and later Al-Sudan al-Hadith and Al-Inqaz al-Watani, a mouthpiece for the ‘Salvation’ regime. The regime stated that its aim was to establish ‘a free, independent press that abides by the national orientation’, as determined by the military Islamists in power.       

The industry suffered tremendously under the regime’s 30 years in power. Novel forms of restrictions were introduced, including pre-printing censorship. This involved a security agent at every newspaper office, combing through the entire edition before it was printed, with the authority to order the removal of offending articles. At other times, entire print runs were confiscated after the paper was published, inflicting huge financial losses on already cash-strapped papers. Journalists were detained and harassed or suspended. One period of relative freedom was following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with southern Sudan in 2005, and in the lead up to the general elections and referendum on southern Sudan independence in 2011. Ajras al-Hurriya, a liberal, pro-Sudan People’s Liberation Movement paper, was an example of this opening up where articles and opinion pieces critical of Al-Bashir’s regime could be found.

Today, following the 2019 December Revolution and overthrow of Bashir, a new era of press freedom has arrived in Sudan, leaving the press to face different challenges. The rising cost of printing and materials, coupled with competition by increasingly popular online and social media platforms, have pushed traditional media to the wire, with some folding and others being forced to set up their own online platforms.

The constant struggle to overcome adversity, that defines the story the Sudanese press notwithstanding, this industry continues to play a key role as a rich repository of the country’s modern history. By looking through the news, editorials, opinion pieces, reportages, advertisements, photos and caricatures that were published, but also considering what was omitted, the press offers a valuable archival resource for anyone interested in Sudan.


Salih, M. Mohamed, (1965), The Sudanese press, Sudan Notes and Records, Vol. 46, pp. 1-7, University of Khartoum.

Abd-al-Latif, Salah, (1992), A History and Documentation of the Sudanese Press 1899-1989 (Arabic).

Note to user

Dear user,

In response to current developments in the web technology used by the Goobi viewer, the software no longer supports your browser.

Please use one of the following browsers to display this page correctly.

Thank you.