Historical and Contemporary Aspects of Psychology in Sudan

This article examines the history of psychology in Sudan, particularly as it developed in academic institutions.

By Adil Ishag Abdallah


This article examines the history of psychology in Sudan, particularly as it developed in academic institutions. The author is a member of the Faculty of Education, Department of Educational Psychology, at the International University of Africa in Khartoum, Sudan, and has taught courses in educational psychology, psycholinguistics, and behavioral science.

The history of psychology in Sudan as a scientific and academic discipline dates back to the early 1950s, when the Bakht-er-Ruda Institute collaborated with British scientists to conduct intelligence tests. Bakht-er-Ruda Institute’s faculty, along with that of the Omdurman Islamic University, were among the first to include teaching educational psychology within the curricula. Another outstanding contribution to the history of psychology in Sudan at this time was the founding of Cairo University Khartoum Branch 1955. This university introduced psychology as a part of the sociology and philosophy curricula. A few years later, Cairo University of Khartoum set up a Diploma of Education, in which some psychology courses were offered.

In the 1960s, the development of psychology in Sudan was linked to the beginnings of educational psychology and psychotherapy in psychiatry. In 1961, Psychology courses were taught at the Department of Philosophy in the Faculty of Arts, University of Khartoum, and in 1962, the Department of Psychiatry was established at what is now the Khartoum Teaching Hospital.

Contributions to psychometrics in Sudan were made at this time, including an important study conducted in 1964 by the Egyptian psychologist Dr. Mustafa Fahmi to measure the intelligence of Shuluk tribes' children in Southern Sudan.

In 1967, the first Sudanese university department of psychology was established at Ahfad College for Women to meet the increasing interests and needs in teaching psychology, and to qualify and train female psychology students (Ramadan & Gielen, 1998). At first, Ahfad College offered a diploma in psychology, which was upgraded to a bachelor’s degree in 1984. Ahfad University, which admits only female students, is perhaps the largest institution for psychology students in Sudan. Ahfad University is now chaired by the psychologist, Professor Gasim Badri, who has championed Psychology as a discipline in Sudan.

The first applied psychology department was founded at the Faculty of Education, University of Khartoum in 1976, and was chaired by Professor Malik Badri (Haroun, 2009). In the 1980s, mental health and abnormal psychology courses were partially taught within the syllabus of the Faculty of Medicine, University of Gezira (Khaleefa, 2009). These courses were taught by both psychiatrists and psychologists. Later, when the Faculty of Education was founded at the same University in 1985, the first lecturer of psychology, Professor Ahmed Shanan, was appointed in 1987.

Although a few courses of Psychology had been taught at Omdurman Islamic University for a number of years, the Department of Psychology was opened in 1986, and started recruiting psychologists from Arab countries such as Syria and Egypt (Al-motwakil, 2009). Kamal Doussequi, an Egyptian psychologist who worked as an assistant professor of psychology at Omdurman Islamic University and Cairo University in Khartoum, conducted several studies on personality and social psychology. Additionally, he taught and supervised many theses at Omdurman Islamic University, and also lectured for a short period of time at Psychology Department, University of Khartoum.

In 1990s, a revolution in higher education began by establishing new universities in the different states of Sudan. Accordingly, a Department of Educational and Psychological Sciences was opened at Al-Fashir University and another Department of Psychology at Al-Dalang University in 1991; they are both in Western Sudan. Additionally, at Gezira University there is a Department of Health Psychology at the Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences. In 1999, the psychology department was established at the Faculty of Arts, Neelin University (El-Tayeb, 2009) and in 2000, a Department of Applied Psychology was founded at Faculty of Education, Sudan University of Sciences and Technology (Sharif, 2005). In 2003, a department of educational psychology was founded at the Faculty of Education, International University of Africa and another department of general psychology was established at the same university at the Faculty of Arts this year 2009. There are now 16 departments of psychology attached to the faculties of education and Arts. Most psychology departments are small sized except those at Al-Neelin University and Ahfad University for Women.

There are also other psychology departments at some colleges and institutions such as Africa University College, Wad-Madani College, and Al-Imam Al-Mahdi University.

Psychology at the University of Khartoum

Psychology came into the University of Khartoum through the Department of Philosophy in 1961. Professor Anthony Cavendish, the Head of Philosophy Department, was instrumental in having two courses in psychology taught in the Philosophy Department for final and semi-final students by Dr. Mowafag Al-Hamdani, an Iraqi in the 1960s. Cavendish was keen to see psychology advanced as a subject in its own right in the Faculty of Arts. He pressed this issue in the Faculty. Some attempts were made to that end but at the level of Senate they were blocked over disputes about the Faculty to which Psychology should be attached.

In 1975, the case for psychology was revived again (by this time Professor Cavendish had left Khartoum University for England) and a small Committee from Philosophy Department was established to reconsider the issue of psychology as a subject within the Faculty, and report to Faculty and Senate. As a result of the Report, the Senate approved of the establishment of psychology at the Faculty of Arts and so Professor Cavendish's earlier efforts were not forgotten, but in fact, appreciated and incorporated into the committee’s final recommendations (Miller, 2009). Professor W. A. Miller, who had academic qualifications in both psychology and philosophy, became Head of the psychology department in 1976. During his tenure, Prof. Miller took a more cross-cultural approach, encouraging students to think about how psychology related to Sudanese society as well as to other cultures.

Also during this time, three talented graduate students from the English and Philosophy Departments – Jean George Mosley, Al-Zubair Bashir Taha, and Yousif Hassan Yousif – were sent to universities in the United Kingdom to obtain doctorates in psychology. All returned to join the staff at Kahrtoum University, where Dr. Mosley became not only the first woman to hold a teaching position in any psychology department in Sudan, but briefly chaired the department before leaving Sudan in 1982. Dr. Al-Zubair headed the department from 1984–1986, succeeded by Dr. Yousif from 1986 –1989.

The psychology program at the Faculty of Arts was designed to offer a general bachelor degree of psychology in four years. However, the outstanding students were allowed to study a fifth year to get a bachelor of psychology with honors degree.

More importantly, the students had only to specialize in psychology in the second year because the first preliminary year was general. This is based on the consideration that psychology students have to be open-minded and sophisticated in different disciplines. So, the students in the preliminary year would be taught all the subjects in the Faculty of Arts and have an optimum background in its various subjects (Miller, 2009) and (Farah, 2009).

The admission requirements to the Psychology Department at that time were high and intellectually challenging. For instance, students who wished to join the psychology department were required to score high grades in English language and mathematics in their school leaving certificates and they must demonstrate academic distinction in the preliminary year (Amir, 2009). Additionally, experimental design and statistics courses were compulsory from the first to the final year in the psychology department.

The first master's thesis at Khartoum University was defended by the student Mohamed Al-Amin Al-Katib - he is now associate professor of psychology at University of Khartoum - in 1980 at the Faculty of Education, whereas the first master's thesis at the Faculty of Arts was defended in 1986. The first doctoral degree at Khartoum University was offered in 1989 at the Faculty of Education, and in 1992 at the Faculty of Arts (Attalla & Elshik 2003).

Current Status of Psychology in Sudan

By international standards, psychology as a scientific and academic discipline has rather low status in Sudan and the quality of psychological research is deteriorating. There is a substantial absence of fields such as cognitive psychology and neuropsychology, which require experimental and laboratory facilities that are no longer available in Sudanese universities and institutions. There is also a lack of cross-cultural studies.

Regarding admission requirements, most psychology departments including Khartoum University do not now normally require any academic distinction. Since the early 1990s, Arabic has replaced English as the medium of instruction. Thus, psychology students and even university academicians have experienced less command of English and this in turn has led to an increasing disconnection with international psychological research and with colleagues abroad.

There are approximately 1100 psychology graduates each year, at the bachelor and intermediate diploma levels, 91% of them from universities in and around Khartoum. Although most of psychology students in Sudan are female (89%) (Mahmoud, 2002) a Sudanese woman has never held a professorship in psychology. After Jean George Mosely left the University of Khartoum in the early 1980s, the department did not appoint another woman until 1993 when Dr. Intisar Abu-Nagma Hamid was recruited as a teaching assistant. There is currently no professor of psychology among the psychology staff at the premier Sudanese university, Khartoum University, neither at the Faculty of Education nor at the Faculty of Arts. (Compare this, for instance, to a relatively rural Egyptian university such as Al-Mansora University that has currently 11 professors of psychology at the Faculty of Education and many other staff professors in various domains of psychology at the Faculty of Arts.)

Furthermore, in the history of psychology at Khartoum University, only four graduates from University of Khartoum held professorship in psychology they are: Al- Zubair Bashir Taha, Shams Eldin Zain Alabdin, Taha Amir and Ahmed Shanan, who is now Dean of Faculty of Education, University of Gezira. The first Sudanese professor of psychology, Malik Badri, is a graduate from American University of Beirut, Lebanon.

Future of Psychology in Sudan

There are two psychological associations in Sudan: the Sudanese Psychological Association founded in 1995 and chaired by Prof.  Al-Zubair Bashir Taha and the International Association of Muslim Psychologists, founded in 1997 and chaired by Prof. Malik Badri. In addition, there is one Sudanese psychological journal entitled "Psychological Studies" which has published seven volumes (through 2009). There is, however, no Mental Health Act or governmental regulations to set guidelines or rules for the profession of psychology in Sudan. Hence, the practice of psychology is not fully accredited and psychologists are among the least employable of all university graduates.

Psychology in Sudan has developed in a country whose social-cultural system underestimates the value of psychology as a discipline and attributes mental health disorders to myth, lack of religiousness, superstition, witchcraft, and devils. Accordingly, there is a social stigma associated with mental health issues. Counseling centers are only located at universities, while secondary schools do not have any psychological counseling and guidance, nor are psychology courses taught at secondary level.

The factors behind the low status of psychology in Sudan are complicated and multiple, but comprehensive reform of the educational system in Sudan is a key factor in improving psychology as a profession in particular, and education in general.

Some observations and recommendations are:

  • Set considerably higher standards in recruiting and selecting new psychology students. To improve appreciation for the discipline, psychology has to be attached to scientific faculties, in addition to its affiliation with the traditional location of psychology in Sudan in the Faculty of Education, as educational psychology or in the Faculty of Arts, as general psychology. Students in scientific Faculties are formally and socially distinguished and enrolled in disciplines considered prestigious, such as medicine, engineering, pharmacy, and the like.

  • Mathematics, statistics and related experimental subjects should be taught and included in the psychology syllabus. This will attract the open-minded and scientifically-distinguished students, and will, in turn, improve the attitudes toward psychology in Sudan, make psychology a more prestigious profession, and encourage top-rate students to enroll in psychology by their own choice and interest.

  • Encourage sound research activities that address both local and international needs.

  • Establish Student counseling centers at secondary schools, and include psychology subjects at this level in the curriculum. This will create positive attitudes towards psychology as a scientific discipline among Sudanese students and the public through solid scientific knowledge from an early educational stage.

  • Develop opportunities for Sudanese psychologists to train and qualify abroad as well as encouraging them to participate in international psychological conferences, activities and research.

  • Revive the tradition of international visiting professors of psychology and international external examiners as well as cooperating with psychological institutions and associations worldwide.

  • Advocate for adoption of government regulations for psychology practice and a mental health act to elevate psychology on a par to other professions.

And lastly,

  • Work toward scientific and academic independence from political agendas. This is crucial for any educational development, including psychology.


The author is indebted to Professor W.A. Miller and Dr. Ali Farah for providing me with invaluable historical information and to Dr. Abdelwahid Awadalla for proofreading, penetrating ideas, and comments on the paper.