Sudan Population and Language
In Sudan, hundreds of people live and some thirty different languages are spoken. Nearly seven out of ten people count as Arabs, but many of them originate in non-Arab peoples. Among the minorities are beja, fur and guhayna. Arabic is the official language.
Ethnic and religious differences, especially between Muslim Arabs in the north and Christian blacks in the south, were part of the conflict between northern and southern Sudan that caused the country to be divided in 2011 (see Modern History).
- COUNTRYAAH.COM: Key populations estimated size and data of Sudan, including population density of how many people per square mile. Also included are facts for population and language.
Politically, three Arab clans from the Nile Valley dominate north of the capital Khartoum. From there, all the Sudanese presidents have so far come. The difference is large between resident, agricultural Arabs in central Sudan and nomadic Arab clans in other parts of the country, such as in northern Darfur. The Khartoum rulers, however, encourage thoughts of Arab unity. Almost all Arabs are Muslims.
The Nubians are Muslims but not Arabs, though they are increasingly turning to Arabic. The Nubians have since lived ancient times along the Nile in northern Sudan and southern Egypt. They should not be confused with nuba, which is the collective name of a group of black, Nilo-Saharan people in the Nuba Mountains in South Kurdufan south of Khartoum. The vast majority of Nuba are Muslims.
Since Sudan gained independence in 1956, all the holders of Khartoum have wanted to “Arabize” the black nuba. Groups of Nuba and other peoples should also have been expelled from land areas that the governing authorities wanted to use for large-scale agriculture. Many Nuba joined the Sudan guerrilla movement SPLM / SPLA in the 1980s (see Modern History). The Khartoum regime responded with harsh military attacks and persecution of Nuba.
The war in the Nuba Mountains lasted until 2002 when a ceasefire was closed. From 2005, refugees, including former SPLA soldiers, began to return to South Kurdufan. However, planned development and integration projects were delayed, and disputes over land and pastures harmed many victims. Both Arabs and Nuba felt betrayed by their protectors from the war years (Khartoum and SPLM, respectively). In connection with Sudan’s split, new fighting broke out in South Kurdufan and the UN accused the Sudanese army of gross persecution of Nuba (see Conflicts within Sudan).
The beja people live in the mountains off the coast in the northeast and speak a Cushitic language, akin to Somali, but the beja is also becoming increasingly Arab. Since the 1980s, when livestock plague and drought ravaged the east, many bejays live in shanty towns around the Port of Sudan oil port.
Darfur in the west is dominated by black, Muslim peasants who speak Nilo-Saharan languages. The area has been named by the majority people. When a fur dynasty in the 17th century founded a mighty sultanate, the fur people adopted Arabic names and customs, but they retained their language and identity. Other major black people in Darfur are zagawa and masalite. In Darfur there are also nomadic people who count themselves as Arabs, and in the north they are in the majority. Competition for natural resources between blacks and Arabs was one of the factors behind the armed conflict that erupted in Darfur in 2003 (read more in Conflicts in Sudan).
Towards the end of the colonial era, Africans from other countries were encouraged to immigrate to Sudan, a call obeyed by many belonging to the Hausa people in countries west of Sudan. Hausa now lives mainly on agriculture.
Disputed population figures
Sudanese population statistics have long been considered uncertain. The referendum that preceded the 2005 peace agreement between northern and southern Sudan (see Modern History) was made as early as 1993 and did not include the south. Despite this, the peace agreement provided that 72 percent of the population belonged to northern and 28 percent to southern Sudan (current South Sudan). Based on these figures, among other things, political items and oil revenues were distributed between the two main parts of the country.
In April 2008, a new census was carried out, which became controversial even before it took place. The result would be the basis for the allocation of resources following a possible division of the country. South Sudan early accused the north side of using the census to manipulate the population figures to their advantage. These accusations were repeated when the result was finally published in May 2009. According to the census, Sudan had 39.1 million residents at this time. Of these, 79 percent were in northern and 21 percent in what was then southern Sudan. Southern Sudan objected to the result, saying that the south comprised one third of the entire population of Sudan, including between half a million and one million South Sudanese living in the north.
The majority of residents live in central Sudan, especially around the cities of Khartoum, Khartoum North and Omdurman. People have been attracted to this region since the 1950s by the good agricultural land and jobs in industry and services. The Nuba Mountains and Darfur are also quite densely populated. Otherwise, large parts of Sudan are uninhabitable.
During the second round of the civil war in southern Sudan, 1983-2005, more than four million South Sudanese fled. Three million went to central Sudan, where the authorities set up permanent refugee camps outside Khartoum. Perhaps a million went to surrounding countries.
From 2005, the refugees from the south began to return. In October 2009, according to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR had returned 2.5 million, including 328,000 of those who were in neighboring countries. Some South Sudanese who established themselves in central Sudan wanted to stay, but their circumstances became more difficult when they were deprived of their Sudanese citizenship after the country’s division.
When fighting broke out in South Sudan at the end of 2013, 300,000 to 350,000 South Sudanese were still living in Sudan, according to the UNHCR. The fighting led to refugees streaming from South Sudan to Sudan.
Several millions of people have been displaced by the conflict in Darfur. The vast majority of them are internally displaced persons in Sudan, while around a quarter of a million darfs live in refugee camps in neighboring Chad.
During the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea in 1998–2000, Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees were found in eastern Sudan, and from 2003, Eritreans in particular have once again applied for refugees, including young men on the run from military service.
More than 1.1 million registered refugees and asylum seekers are in Sudan, according to UNHCR’s 2019 figures. About 850,000 of them are South Sudanese, around 120,000 are Eritreans and just over 90,000 are from Syria. There are also small groups of refugees from Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, Chad and Yemen. Sudan also houses nearly two million internally displaced people, according to UNHCR.
People flee simultaneously from Sudan and through the country, from East Africa north to Libya and on to Europe.
Arabic is an official language, but many speak a local language alongside Arabic. Cushitic and Nilo-Saharan language groups are important. Among some thirty local languages are Beja, Fur and Nubian languages.
FACTS – POPULATION AND LANGUAGE
almost half the population counts as Arabs, the second largest population group is Dinka
Number of residents
40 533 330 (2017)
Number of residents per square kilometer
Percentage of residents in the cities
34.4 percent (2017)
Nativity / birth
32.9 per 1000 residents (2016)
Mortality / mortality
7.4 per 1000 residents (2016)
2.4 percent (2017)
4.5 number of births per woman (2016)
Percentage of women
50.0 percent (2017)
64 years (2016)
Life expectancy for women
66 years (2016)
Life expectancy for men
63 years (2016)
Arabic is the official language; English is spoken between different peoples in the south
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