Sudan Population

2008 census

For the first time since Sudan’s independence in 1956, a census was carried out in April 2008 that included the population of the former entire Sudan. Up until then there were several counts, the last one in 1993, but the conflict region of South Sudan was always ignored. The international donor community, especially the UN Population Fund, played a key role in the financing and preparation of the census. The result of the 5th Population and Housing Census, which was published in May 2009, found a total population of 39.15 million, of which 8.26 million were in South Sudan. The results were used to compile an electoral register for the 2010 elections in accordance with the peace agreement. The controversial results were decisive both for the distribution of political power by determining the number and delimitation of the electoral bodies and, above all, for economic resources. Even before the census began, it became a political issue. The entire census was through violent disputes shaped up to allegations of manipulation and calls for boycotts. The focus of the criticism was the very short-term deletion of questions about ethnic and religious affiliation in the questionnaires under pressure from the dominant coalition party NCP by the Sudanese presidency, which were already set in the preparations for the census. The census now only recorded the state in which a person was born. Further points of criticism were above all the use of the language of the questionnaires, which often did not match the respective population groups, and the implementation of the census in the rainy season of the south, which led to major logistical problems. Even before the results were published, the South Sudanese government announced that it would not recognize the results if the expected proportion of the population of South Sudan were not reached by a third of the total population. According to the census, 21% of the Sudanese lived in South Sudan at that time.

Carrying out the census in the conflict region of Darfur proved to be particularly tricky. Both the rebel groups such as the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the internally displaced persons in the refugee camps boycotted the census. A census can only take place if there is peace in the country. This explains why, according to the results of the census, the population in West Darfur, for example, is said to have decreased by 200,000 since 1993. International aid organizations estimated that only 60% of the population participated. The result for the proportion of the nomadic population was also accompanied by allegations of manipulation. This is said to have increased by 324% over the same period.

According to ezinereligion, the conflicts in Darfur and in South Sudan (also for Sudan within its current borders) caused severe population losses.

The next census was originally scheduled for April 2018, but has been postponed indefinitely. In addition to the Sudanese, the census should also include all foreigners residing in Sudan.

Children in Khartoum in Sudan

Demographic data

The results of the 2008 census can only be viewed with major reservations, at least in larger areas. The total population counted at that time of 39.12 million people was estimated at over 45 million in 2011 (calculations by the CIA’s World Factbook). For what is now Sudan, a population of around 42.81 million is estimated for 2020 (World Bank). The very young population is growing at 2.69% per year (estimated for 2020, CIA). Only 24.1 million people in Sudan are over 15 years old. The average age of the population is 19.7 years and life expectancy in 2020 is 65.3 years. Maternal Death Rates was 295 / 100,000 (World Bank) in 2017 and is falling continuously. Out of 1,000 children born alive, 42.1 died in 2020 at the age of up to five years. A Sudanese woman had an average of 4.41 children in 2018 (World Bank).

(Unless otherwise stated, all data are HDR estimates for the year 2020).


Sudan is a multiethnic state with around fifteen major ethnic groups, their several hundred subgroups and smaller ethnic groups. The information and statistics on the ethnic breakdown of the country vary widely. The 2008 census was also unable to provide any information on this for the reasons mentioned above. The term “Arabs”, which is widely used for the population groups of Sudan, is not an ethnic term but rather a collective term for those parts of the population with the same linguistic / cultural background. Few Sudanese would describe themselves as Arabs in their own self-image. About 70% of the population is part of the Arab-Islamic part of the population. Larger Arab groups such as the Ja’aliyin and the Shayqiya, traditionally farmers and cattle breeders, mostly also make up the political and economic educated elite of northern Sudanese society. The Kababish live mostly as camel and cattle nomads in North Kordofan and the Baggara in eastern Darfur and South Kordofan. The conflict between the Misseriye from the south of Kordofans, who belong to the nomadic Baggara and who traditionally drive their herds to the Abyei region, which is the disputed region between Sudan and South Sudan, and the Ngok-Dinka who live here, repeatedly leads to serious riots. The most famous non-Arab groups in Sudan include the Nubians living on both sides of the Egyptian-Sudanese border on the Nileand the ethnic groups of Darfur, including the Zaghawa, whose ecologically-related emigration from North Darfur is seen as one of the reasons for the Darfur conflict, and the Fur, who primarily grow millet, who gave the region its name (Dar Fur – Land of Fur), and the Beja who live as camel nomads in arid Eastern Sudan on the Red Sea.

The larger ethnic groups are often divided into subgroups, almost all of which have their own language. The official languages in Sudan are Arabic and English. The definition in Arabic documents the political will of those in power to be part of the Arab world. In addition to their mother tongue, Sudanese Arabic is spoken by the majority of Sudanese as a lingua franca, albeit in a very simplified manner.