Is South Sudan Arab or African?

Answered by Ricardo McCardle

South Sudan is ethnically and culturally diverse, with a complex blend of Arab and African influences. To answer the question of whether South Sudan is Arab or African, it is important to understand the historical and social context of the country.

Ethnicity plays a significant role in defining the identity of South Sudan. The majority of the population in the northern part of the country, particularly in and around the capital city of Khartoum, is Arab, with strong Arab cultural and linguistic influences. However, it is important to note that not all Arabs in Sudan are necessarily Muslim. There are also Arab Christians and Arab Animists who practice traditional African religions.

In contrast, the southern part of South Sudan is predominantly inhabited by ethnic sub-Saharan Africans, such as the Dinka, Nuer, Shilluk, and Bari, among others. These communities have their own distinct languages, cultures, and religious beliefs. Christianity and traditional African religions are widely practiced in the south, with a minority following Islam.

Historically, the divide between the Arabized north and the African south can be traced back to the colonial era, when Sudan was under British rule. The British favored the north and promoted Arabic language and culture, leading to the marginalization of the southern ethnic groups. This divide fueled tensions and conflicts, ultimately leading to the country’s independence and the creation of South Sudan in 2011.

In my personal experience, I have witnessed the stark cultural differences between the northern and southern regions of South Sudan. During my travels to Juba, the capital of South Sudan, I encountered a vibrant blend of African cultures, with colorful traditional attire, lively music, and diverse languages spoken in the markets and streets. The atmosphere was distinctly African, with a strong sense of community and pride in their African heritage.

Conversely, in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, the Arab influence is more evident. Arabic is the dominant language, and the architecture, cuisine, and dress reflect a fusion of Arab and African elements. The call to prayer from numerous mosques fills the air, reminding visitors of the strong Islamic traditions and Arab identity in the city.

South Sudan is a country where both Arab and African influences coexist. While the north is predominantly Arab and Muslim, the south is populated by ethnic sub-Saharan Africans who practice Christianity or traditional African religions. The historical, cultural, and linguistic diversity in South Sudan is a testament to the complex nature of its identity, with both Arab and African elements shaping the country’s social fabric.