Country Listing

Sudan Table of Contents



The size of the country's economically active labor force has been difficult to estimate because of different definitions of participation in economic activity, and the absence of accurate data from official sources, particularly the 1973 and 1983 censuses. In rural areas, large numbers of women and girls were engaged in traditional productive occupations, but apparently many have not been included in counts of the active work force.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimated in 1980 that the work force was about 6 million persons, or approximately 33 percent of the population. This figure included about 300,000 unemployed. It also included the many male Sudanese working in other Arab states, a loss to Sudan that may have amounted to as much as 50 percent of its professional and skilled work force. The drop in world oil prices in the 1980s caused the Persian Gulf states to cut back drastically on their expatriate workers, leading in turn to increased unemployment in Sudan. In mid-1989, a total of 7,937,000 people were employed in Sudan, according to an ILO estimate. In the early 1990s, Sudan's employment situation was exacerbated by the 1991 Persian Gulf War, which resulted in the departure of the thousands of Sudanese workers based in Kuwait and Iraq, leaving many of their possessions behind. Sudan's support of Iraq also contributed to the departure of thousands of Sudanese workers from Saudi Arabia.

Unemployment figures were affected by the severe drought that spread throughout Sudan in the 1980s. In 1983-84, for example, several million people migrated from the worst hit areas in both the west and the east to Khartoum and other urban areas along the Nile. Many remained in these areas once the drought had eased, living in shanty towns and contributing to unemployment or underemployment in the cities. In addition, more than 1 million people from the south migrated to the north, as a result of the civil war and famine in these areas.

Agriculture was the predominant activity in Sudan, although its share of the labor force has gradually declined as other sectors of economic activity have expanded. In the 1955-56 census--the only complete count of the labor force for which data have been published (detailed results of the 1973 and 1983 censuses had not been released as of mid-1991)--almost 86 percent of those then considered as part of the work force were involved in agriculture, livestock raising, forestry, fisheries, or hunting. The Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning estimated that by 1969-70 the total had declined to somewhat less than 70 percent and that at the end of the 1970s the sector accounted for less than 66 percent. In mid-1989, the ILO estimated that about 4,872,000 people were employed in agriculture. Services, which included a government work force that grew about 10 percent a year in the 1970s, emerged as the second largest area of activity, encompassing an estimated 10.4 percent of those economically active in 1979-80, compared with 4.6 percent in 1955-56. Nonagricultural production--manufacturing, mining, electric power, and construction--accounted for 6.7 percent during 1979-80 and about 5.6 percent in 1955-56.

Data as of June 1991