Demographics of South Sudan

Demographics of South Sudan
Rural schoolchildren participating in the USAID-funded Southern Sudan Interactive Radio Instruction project, July 2010.

South Sudan is home to around 60 indigenous ethnic groups among a 2008 population of between 8.3 and 9.3 million. Its economy is predominantly at the subsistence agriculture level. As regards religion, traditional beliefs predominate,[citation needed] although many are Chistians, as a result of Christian missionary efforts. Some people practice syncretisms of Christian and indigenous religions.

Linguistic diversity is much greater in the southern half of the country. In the north, over 90 percent of the people belong to either the Dinka (population over 1.5 million) or the Nuer (over 800,000), two peoples which are closely related linguistically and in other ways. These two groups are also the largest two in South Sudan overall. Both the Dinka and Nuer are fragmented into chains of socially and politically separate communities. Dinka is a sociolinguistic language and its dialects are not all mutually intelligible.


Population size

2008 census

The "Fifth Population and Housing Census of Sudan", of Sudan as a whole, was conducted in April 2008. However the census results of Southern Sudan were rejected by Southern Sudanese officials as reportedly "the central bureau of statistics in Khartoum refused to share the national Sudan census raw data with southern Sudan centre for census, statistic and evaluation."[1] The census showed the Southern Sudan population to be 8.26 million,[2] however President Kiir had "suspected figures were being deflated in some regions and inflated in others, and that made the final tally 'unacceptable'."[3] He also claimed the Southern Sudanese population to really be one-third of Sudan, while the census showed it to be only 22%.[2] Many Southern Sudanese were also said to not have been counted "due to bad weather, poor communication and transport networks, and some areas were unreachable, while many Southern Sudanese remained in exile in neighbouring countries, leading to 'unacceptable results', according [to] southern Sudanese authorities."[3] The chief American technical adviser for the census in the South said the census-takers probably reached 89% of the population.[4] If this estimate is correct, the size of the South Sudanese population is about 9.28 million.

The population count was a determining factor for the share of wealth and power each part of Sudan received. Among the accusations made against the census were that the Sudanese government deliberately manipulated the census in oil-rich regions such as the Abyei district, on the border between northern Sudan and southern Sudan. Another complication is the large population of South Sudanese refugees in the north. The central government inhibited their return.[5]

2009 census

In 2009, Sudan started a new Southern Sudanese census ahead of the 2011 independence referendum, which is said to also include the Southern Sudanese diaspora. However this initiative was criticised as it was to leave out countries with a high share of the Southern Sudanese diaspora, and rather count countries where the diaspora share was low.[6]


In South Sudan, the educational system is modelled after that of the Republic of Sudan. Primary education consists of eight years, followed by three years of secondary education, and then four years of university instruction; the 8 + 3 + 4 system, in place since 1990. The primary language at all levels is English, as compared to the Republic of Sudan, where the language of instruction is Arabic.[7] There is a severe shortage of English teachers and English-speaking teachers in the scientific and technical fields.

Illiteracy rates are high in the country. In 2011, it is estimated that more than eighty percent of the South Sudanese population cannot read or write.[8] The challenges are particularly severe when it comes to the girl-child. South Sudan has proportionately fewer girls going to school than any other country in the world. According to UNICEF, fewer than one per cent of girls complete primary education. Only one schoolchild in four is a girl and female illiteracy is the highest in the world. Education is a priority for the Southern Sudanese and they are keen to make efforts to improve the education system.[9]

Ethnic groups

South Sudan is home to around 60 indigenous ethnic groups.[10] About 95 percent of South Sudanese, among them the Dinka, speak one of the Nilo-Saharan languages, an extremely diverse language family. Nilo-Saharan languages spoken in South Sudan include both Nilotic and non-Nilotic. The other 5 percent speak languages from the Ubangian subdivision of the Niger-Congo languages; they occupy the southwest of the country. The most widely spoken Ubangian language in South Sudan is Zande.

In order to maintain ethnic harmony in a part of the world in which tribal conflict is relatively commonplace, one group has proposed the creation of a "House of Nationalities" to represent all 62 recognised groups in Juba.[11] President Salva Kiir Mayardit declared at the ceremony marking South Sudanese independence on 9 July 2011 that the country "should have a new beginning of tolerance where cultural and ethnic diversity will be a source of pride".[12]


There are over 60 indigenous languages in South Sudan. The indigenous languages with the most speakers are Dinka, Nuer, Bari, and Zande. In the capital city, an Arabic pidgin known as Juba Arabic is used by several thousand people. English is the country's official language.


Religions followed by the South Sudanese include traditional indigenous religions, Christianity and Islam.[13] Scholarly[14][15][16] and U.S. Department of State sources state that a majority of southern Sudanese maintain traditional indigenous (sometimes referred to as Animist) beliefs with those following Christianity in a minority (albeit an influential one). According to the Federal Research Division of the US Library of Congress: "in the early 1990s possibly no more than 10 percent of southern Sudan's population was Christian".[17] In the early 1990s, official records of Sudan claimed that from population of what then included South Sudan, 17% of people followed traditional religions and 8% were Christians.[citation needed] However, some news reports claim a Christian majority,[18][19] and the US Episcopal Church claims the existence of large numbers of Anglican adherents from the Episcopal Church of the Sudan: 2 million members in 2005.[20] Likewise, according to the World Christian Encyclopedia, the Catholic Church is the largest single Christian body in Sudan since 1995, with 2.7 million Catholics mainly concentrated in South Sudan.[21]

Speaking at Saint Theresa Cathedral in Juba, South Sudanese President Kiir, a Roman Catholic who has a Muslim son, stated that South Sudan would be a nation which respects the freedom of religion.[22] Amongst Christians, most are Catholic and Anglican, though other denominations are also active, and animist beliefs are often blended with Christian beliefs.[23]

See also


  1. ^ "South Sudan parliament throw outs census results". SudanTribune. 8 July 2009. 
  2. ^ a b Fick, Maggie (8 June 2009). "S. Sudan Census Bureau Releases Official Results Amidst Ongoing Census Controversy". !enough The project to end genocide and crimes against humanity. 
  3. ^ a b Birungi, Marvis (10 May 2009). "South Sudanese officials decry 'unfortunate' announcement of census results". The New Sudan Vision. 
  4. ^ Thompkins, Gwen (15 April 2009). "Ethnic Divisions Complicate Sudan's Census". NPR. 
  5. ^ Broere, Kees. "Uitstel voor census Soedan". de Volkskrant, 15 April 2008, p. 5.
  6. ^ "South Sudan says Northern Sudan's census dishonest". Radio Nederland Wereldomroep. 6 November 2009. 
  7. ^ In 2007 South Sudan Adopted English As the Official Language of Communication
  8. ^ South Sudan Works To Rebuild Higher Education
  9. ^ Severe Challenges Facing Female Education In South Sudan
  10. ^ United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), 24 December 2009. Distribution of ethnic groups in southern Sudan
  11. ^ "The House of Nationalities Leaflet". Sudan House of Nationalities Concept. 2010. 
  12. ^ Carlstrom, Gregg (9 July 2011). "South Sudan celebrates 'new beginning'". Al Jazeera English. Retrieved 9 July 2011. 
  13. ^ "South Sudan profile". BBC News. 8 July 2011. Retrieved 9 July 2011. 
  14. ^ Kaufmann, E.P. Rethinking ethnicity: majority groups and dominant minorities. Routledge, 2004, p. 45.
  15. ^ Minahan, J. Encyclopedia of the Stateless Nations: S-Z. Greenwood Press, 2002, p. 1786.
  16. ^ Arnold, G. Book Review: Douglas H. Johnson, The Root Causes of Sudan's Civil Wars. African Journal of Political Science Vol.8 No. 1, 2003, p. 147.
  17. ^ Sudan: A Country Study Federal Research Division, Library of Congress – Chapter 2, Ethnicity, Regionalism and Ethnicity
  18. ^ "More than 100 dead in south Sudan attack-officials" SABC News 21 September 2009 Retrieved 5 April 2011
  19. ^ Hurd, Emma "Southern Sudan Votes To Split From North" Sky News 8 February 2011 Retrieved 5 April 2011
  20. ^ "How many Anglicans are there in the Anglican Church in North America?"
  21. ^ World Christian Encyclopedia, eds. David Barrett, Geo. Kurian, Todd Johnson (Oxford: Oxford Univeristy Press, 2001), pp 699, 700
  22. ^ "South Sudan To Respect Freedom Of Religion Says GOSS President | Sudan Radio Service". 21 February 2011. Retrieved 9 July 2011. 
  23. ^ Christianity, in A Country Study: Sudan, U.S. Library of Congress.

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