Sudan, located in northeastern Africa, is the largest country on the continent. As a whole, the country is (2.5 million sq. km. or 967,500 sq. mi.) almost the size of continental U.S. east of the Mississippi River. The capital city, Khartoum, has an estimated population of 1.4 million; other major cities include: Omdurman (2.1 million), Port Sudan (pop. 450,000), Kassala, Kosti, Juba (capital of southern region). It borders the countries of: Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, and Uganda.
The terrain of Sudan is generally flat with mountains in east and west. Khartoum is situated at the confluence of the Blue and White Nile Rivers. The southern regions are inundated during the annual floods of the Nile River system. Sudan's climate is desert and savanna in the north and central regions and tropical in the south.
Sudan’s population is one of the most diverse on the African continent. Within two distinct major cultures (Arab and black African) there are hundreds of ethnic and tribal subdivisions and language groups, which make effective collaboration among them a major political challenge.
The northern states cover most of the Sudan and include most of the urban centers. Most of the 30 million Sudanese who live in this region are Arabic-speaking Muslims, though the majority also uses a non-Arabic mother tongue (e.g., Nubian, Beja, Fur, Nuban, Ingessana, etc.). Among these are several distinct tribal groups: the Kababish of northern Kordofan, a camel-raising people; the Ja’alin and Shaigiyya groups of settled tribes along the rivers; the semi-nomadic Baggara of Kordofan and Darfur; the Hamitic Beja in the Red Sea area and Nubians of the northern Nile areas, some of whom have been resettled on the Atbara River; and the Nuba of southern Kordofan and Fur in the western reaches of the country.
The southern region has a population of around 8 million and a predominantly rural, subsistence economy. Except for a 10-year hiatus, southern Sudan has been embroiled in conflict, resulting in major destruction and displacement since independence. The conflict has severely affected the population of the South, resulting in over 2 million deaths and more than 4 million people displaced between 1983 and 2005. The Southern Sudanese practice mainly indigenous traditional beliefs, although Christian missionaries have converted some. The South also contains many tribal groups and many more languages than are used in the north. The Dinka is the largest of the many black African tribes in Sudan. The Shilluk and the Nuer are among the Nilotic tribes. The Azande, Bor, and Jo Luo are Sudanic tribes in the west, and the Acholi and Lotuhu live in the extreme south, extending into Uganda.
Military regimes favoring Islamic-oriented governments have dominated national politics since independence from the United Kingdom in 1956. Sudan was embroiled in two prolonged civil wars during most of the remainder of the 20th century. The first civil war ended in 1972 but broke out again in 1983. Peace talks gained momentum in 2002-04 with the signing of several accords. The final North/South Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), signed in January 2005, granted the southern rebels autonomy for six years. After which, a referendum for independence was scheduled to be held.
Polling for the referendum of Southern Sudanese independence began January 9th, 2011.
CIA World Factbook; U.S. State Department Background Notes, 12/2010; 11/2010