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Africa - A continent of contrasts - Conflict in Sudan

Africa - a continent of contrasts

This lesson looks at the geography of Sudan, the causes of the conflict there and the impact it has on its people.

Key questions

  • Where in the world is Sudan?
  • What is Sudan's climate and environment like?
  • Who are the people of the Sudan?
  • What has been happening to cause conflict in Sudan?
  • Why has the conflict lasted so long?
  • What are the impacts of civil war on people in Sudan?

Key concepts

  • Place
  • Space
  • Physical and human processes
  • Diversity

Where in the world is Sudan?

Sudan is the largest country on the continent of Africa lying at latitude 15º north of the Equator and longitude 30º east of the Greenwich Meridian. It is located in north east Africa.

Sudan's land borders are with Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Chad and Libya. To the east, it is bordered by the Red Sea.

Sudan has an area of 2.5 million square kilometres. The area of the UK is 250,000 square kilometres. Sudan is roughly 10 times larger in land area than the UK. The official name of Sudan is Republic of the Sudan.

What is Sudan's climate and environment like?

  • Sudan's landscape is generally flat and featureless. There are mountains in the far south, northeast and west and desert dominates in the north. The Sahara desert occupies part of northern Sudan
  • The lowest point in Sudan is the Red Sea at 0m and the highest point is Kinyeti (in the southern mountains) at 3187m
  • Sudan suffers from natural disasters such as dust storms and periodic persistent droughts
  • The climate of Sudan is tropical towards the Equator in the South and arid in the northern desert. The rainy season varies depending on the region but generally occurs between April and November
  • Current threats facing the environment in Sudan are inadequate supplies of potable water; wildlife populations threatened by excessive hunting; soil erosion; desertification; periodic drought. Some of these problems have been exacerbated by the strain caused by the establishment of refugee camps due to the long running civil war

Nearly the entire country of Sudan is drained by the Nile and its two main tributaries - The Blue Nile and the White Nile.

Who are the people of the Sudan?

The total population of Sudan is about 41million. The ethnic groups are; black 52%, Arab 39%, Beja six per cent, foreigners two per cent, other one per cent. There is currently a process of "Arabization" in progress. The religious groups are; Sunni Muslim 70% (in north), indigenous beliefs 25%, Christian five per cent (mostly in south and Khartoum). The Official language of the country is Arabic, although English and tribal languages are widely spoken.

The capital city is Khartoum. The country has a very low GDP and approximately 40% of the population live below the poverty line. About 42% of the population live in urban areas.

Many people live in rural areas and about 80% of the population is employed in agriculture.

What has been happening to cause conflict in Sudan?

The civil war in Sudan began in 1983. During the course of the war, which ended in 2005, two million people were killed and four million were made homeless. The war was mostly fought between the government and the SPLA (Sudanese People's Liberation Army) who wanted control of Southern Sudan. The discovery of oil in the south caused further problems as the government did not want the south to take all the wealth from the oil. The Murahaleen - Arab fighters on horseback from the north of the country also assisted the government. Many homes were burnt down and entire villages destroyed. Women and girls were raped, children - especially boys - were kidnapped and put to work either as slaves or child soldiers. The SPLA could also be accused of similar atrocities. Many orphaned boys formed large walking groups and walked across the country to apparent safety in Ethiopia. For some this involved walks of up to several months. There was little food and water and many children died of thirst, starvation or by being taken by lions. Many refugees ended up in refugee camps in Ethiopia where conditions were not much better at first. Eventually, overseas aid arrived and food, clothes, medical aid and education were provided.

What are the impacts of civil war on people in Sudan?

Many Sudanese have never returned home since the peace treaty in 2005. There are many reasons for this. Some refugees know nothing other than the life they have had in the camps as they were young children at the start of the war. For some of them, they no longer speak the local dialect of the area they came from as, being orphans, there were no family members to keep the languages alive. Many people cannot afford to return home as they have nothing to go back to. Their homes were destroyed and any wealth they had (mostly in the form of cattle) was taken by the Murahaleen raiders. Not speaking the local dialect will make finding employment difficult.

The BBC news website contains many news stories on the subject if you perform a search on Sudan.

There have been many books written about the conflict in Sudan, if you can get hold of copies of certain books, some passages may prove useful, for example 'What is the What' by Dave Eggers, 'The Weekenders - Travels in the heart of Africa', written by a variety of authors (Garland, Deedes, Hawks...).

A recent interview with a Bishop in Southern Sudan on the BBC today programme.




What country am I?

The What country am i? PowerPoint gives you five clues about the country that you will be studying in this lesson. At what stage did you guess which country it was?

KWL grid

How much do you already know about Sudan? Complete the first two columns of  the 'Sudan KWL grid' with something that you already know about Sudan, and something that you would like to find out about the country. You'll get the opportunity to fill in the final column (something that you have learnt about Sudan) at the end of the lesson.



Quick mapping activity

Using the 'Sudan map handout', describe the location of Sudan. Try to incorporate as many key geographical words as you can in your description, for example directional terms (north, south, etc.), physical features such as the Red Sea and reference points such as the Equator and country borders. You should also use the larger scale map to describe some of the physical features of the country, such as the rivers.

Using your knowledge of the continent of Africa from previous lessons, discuss with your class what physical environments, ecosystems and climates might exist within the country.

Why does Betty speak a different language to her parents?

The Sudan mystery activity is a mystery for you to solve, which will help you to understand the civil war in Sudan and the impact that it has had on the population. You will find a set of statements which you should read and use to answer the questions on the accompanying sheet. Two sets of questions are provided - ask your teacher which ones you should attempt.

When you've finished, share your findings with the rest of the class. Do not forget to consider the extension questions too:

  • What impact would so many extra people - such as those in Mayo camp - have on the services of an area?
  • What impact would the additional people have on the environment?



KWL grid

You have now learnt quite a bit about Sudan, so you are in a position to complete the final column in your KWL grid. In this final column, you should write down at least three things that you have learnt about Sudan this lesson.


You have one minute to tell two other people in your class three things that you have learnt this lesson. Can you manage it?

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