Sudan Census Will Avoid Religion, Ethnicity

April 7, 2008

Author: Edmund Sanders

Source: The Los Angeles Times,0,7968192.story

Census-takers will soon fan out across Sudan's vast and famously inhospitable terrain in the first nationwide head count in 25 years.

But the checklist of questions won't include two hot issues that lie at the heart of this nation's recent history of conflict: religion and ethnicity.

The government, led by President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir, has decided not to tally numbers for Muslims, Christians and other faiths, nor will it gather data about tribe or ethnic origin.

Officials say they are worried such information will open old wounds at a time when Sudan is struggling to quell an insurgency in the western region of Darfur and recover from a 21-year north-south civil war.

But critics say the Muslim-led government is afraid the new census will reveal demographic changes, such as high population growth in the non-Muslim south, that might pose a challenge to its authority. The country has long been divided between those who see Sudan as an Islamic nation leaning toward the Arab world and others who advocate a secular government oriented toward its African neighbors.