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