South Sudan population data raises political heat

Sunday April 16 2023
South Sudan census

An enumerator (L) from the South Sudan's Commission for Census and Statistical Evaluation, interviews residents of Juba in April 22, 2008 ahead of the first democratic elections. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


South Sudan’s recent attempt at a population census has run into political headwinds, with politicians saying the released figures point to plans to rig an election whose date is yet to be determined.

A number of opposition politicians and some in the civil society questioned the estimates that put the total of the country’s population to 12,444,018 and are demanding what they term “a proper census” as per the 2018 peace agreement. UN estimates had put the population at 11,556,069 even though the current survey was partly supported by the UN itself.

Early this month, Juba published its Population Estimation Survey showing the country’s population has risen by more than four million to 12.4 million people. The country’s last census was in 2008, when it was still an autonomous region of Sudan.

Satellite imagery

While releasing the results, Isaiah Chol Aruai, the chairperson of NBS, explained that the figures are based on satellite imagery and enumeration across 10 states and three administrative areas.

“We believe these figures can only be used for policy formulation, planning, and service delivery,” he said.


The government began the population estimate survey in April 2021. The $1.7 million process was conducted between May and June 2021 by 647 trained enumerators and supervisors. The National Bureau of Statistics was funded by the United Nations Population Fund.

Northern Bahr el Ghazal is estimated to be the second most populous state with a population of 1,924,342. Central Equatoria State, which serves as the seat of the national government, is host to a population of 1,324,521.

Suspicion abounds

Lakes State is home to a population of 1,265,473, while Eastern Equatoria State has 981,902. Oil-rich Unity State has an estimated 892,780, Upper Nile State (790,147) and Western Bahr el Ghazal State at 562,555.

The Greater Pibor Administrative Area has 240,102 people, while the Ruweng Administrative Area is 234,416.

Dut Majokdit, a member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition National Liberation Council cast doubts on the estimates and called for fresh census to prevent election manipulation.

Also in with doubts is Dr Peter Biar Ajak, an activist living in exile in the US, who terms the numbers “extremely suspicious.” Some critics doubt President Salva Kiir’s home, Warrap State, had a population increase of 171 percent from 720,898 in 2008 to 2.6 million.

“It is hard to believe that the population of Warrap State alone is equal to that of three states of Greater Upper Nile combined,” he said.

Not affected by war

Jervasio Okot, a political analyst based in Kenya said it is possible that the population of Bahr-el-Ghazal remains intact because it is the place where the president comes from and the population was not affected by the war.

“The people of Bahr-el-Ghazal have not left the country for they are secure and protecting their son in power, while in all other regions, people were fled to refugee camps in neighbouring countries and beyond,” he said.

Mr Okot pointed out that the estimate of the population in South Sudan is more political than scientific. On the other hand, he said the people of Jonglei have died in the hands of their enemy, the Murle, and also that the people of Jonglei who have scattered all over Equatoria have been killed.

Others, like Dr Lam Akol, the leader of the National Democratic Movement Party, say the population census should be transparent especially since it is part of transitional tasks provided for in the revitalised peace agreement

However, the government argues this was the best bid given the scarce resources and insecurity in the country.

While the government says that is does not have money to conduct the national census, it is necessary for the delineation of the constituencies before the 2024 elections.