KHARTOUM May 15 In a cramped government office
in Khartoum, engineer Ahmed Taha and dozens of other Sudanese,
lured by local newspaper adverts for jobs in the Gulf, sit
waiting to get a permit to leave the country and work abroad.
"I've had enough of Sudan and will go to Saudi Arabia," said
Taha. "I am so tired of this country, the (economic) crisis, the
Taha, who has been working in an office accounts department
for two years because he could not find a professional post, has
just been hired as an engineer by a construction firm in Saudi
Arabia - a move that will increase his salary sevenfold to 2,500
Saudi riyals ($670) a month.
"I also want to find my wife a job as a teacher in Saudi
Arabia because she makes only 600 (Sudanese) pounds ($95) a
month here. We cannot live on our salaries."
Like thousands of other Sudanese, Taha is escaping a country
gripped by economic crisis since losing 75 percent of its oil
production, its lifeline, when South Sudan seceded in July 2011.
Analysts estimate unemployment is running at between 20 and
30 percent, although there is no official data.
Annual inflation topped 41 percent in April and the Sudanese
pound has more than halved in value against the dollar since
South Sudan's independence, making life unbearable for many.
Nearly 95,000 Sudanese, from labourers to teachers, nurses
and engineers, left the country last year compared to only
10,032 in 2008, according to official data. Some analysts say
the number is even higher because travel movements are hard to
Net migration contrasts with some other African countries,
including South Sudan, that are seeing skilled professionals
return home as the continent's economic development and
increasing foreign investment create career opportunities.
For Sudan, struggling with a high budget deficit and a
shortage of foreign currency needed to pay for imports,
migration has economic benefits.
The World Bank estimates migrant workers remitted $1.13
billion to Sudan last year, up from $442 million in 2011. That
helped to offset the country's goods and services trade deficit,
estimated at $6.7 billion by the International Monetary Fund.
The exodus of workers should also help reduce unemployment.
A prolonged "brain drain" of professionals, however, would put
further pressure on the country's deteriorating public services,
adding to the country's economic problems.
"We are suffering under the economic hardship," said Omar El
Fadli, who left Sudan in 1974 to study in Britain and then
worked in France and the United States before coming back in
2005 to buy a restaurant in central Khartoum.
"To be honest with you we have been trying to sell (the
restaurant) for over two years ... It's not profitable anymore."
At the visa office in Khartoum, women in dark blue robes,
representatives from government-approved employment agencies,
are on hand to help applicants fill in the required paperwork.
"We sort out the paperwork for doctors going to the Gulf,
especially Saudi Arabia which is requesting a large number of
Sudanese doctors to work there," says Hamda Kassem, one of the
employment agency staff.
While the Sudanese government allows labour agencies to
arrange work contracts for doctors heading to the Gulf, a
government-commissioned study published in January also
expressed concern about the exodus of healthcare professionals.
More than 6,000 Sudanese doctors left for Saudi Arabia alone
between 2009 and 2012, according to the government study,
commissioned to assess the reasons for migration. Around another
1,000 doctors have gone to Libya since the ousting of ruler
Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, it says.
That is leaving health services in Sudan vulnerable as
countries in the Gulf and elsewhere snap up the country's
leading specialists. Newspaper reports of patients dying in
Sudan hospitals after being misdiagnosed by ill-qualified
doctors are not uncommon.
"There is a very bad effect on medical services," the
government study says. "The emigration to Saudi Arabia will
result in the loss of specialists which will be felt directly
... in the provinces."
Sudanese medical colleges pump out up to 4,000 doctors
annually but some colleges use textbooks that are more than 10
years old and have no surgical equipment.
The study forecasts that emigration from Sudan will continue
to increase in the next few years due to economic, social,
security and political reasons.
Sudan has for been plagued by insurgencies. Long confined to
remote regions such as Darfur, rebels struck a central region
last month, triggering fears they might attack Khartoum again
like in 2008.
Few Western engineering firms operate in Sudan due to a U.S.
embargo in place since 1997, making the country reliant on
mostly Chinese companies to build infrastructure and they tend
to import their own workers.
Sudanese government efforts to combat unemployment by hiring
more young people for public sector jobs and starting
infrastructure projects have been hampered by the budget crisis.
Young people complain that corruption also makes it hard to
find work - jobs in the public sector, the biggest employer,
often go to people with the right connections, known as wasta,
"You cannot find a job without wasta," said Hisham Hassan,
who graduated in civil engineering from the Sudanese university
of Atbara in 2008 but has yet to find work.
"I can't afford to get married or anything," he said after
receiving his exit permit at the visa office.
He has landed a job at a Saudi builder paying him a monthly
salary of 3,000 riyals - in Qassim, one of the most conservative
regions of Saudi Arabia. "It will be fine. I have no choice
anyway," he said.
Concerns about personal freedom in Sudan are also
encouraging emigration. Security agents have cracked down hard
on small street protests organized mainly by students dreaming
of an "Arab spring". Divisions in the weak opposition and the
army's support for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir mean Sudan
has avoided the uprisings seen in Egypt or Tunisia.
Sudanese professionals have a tradition of going overseas to
gain experience and make money. In the 1960s and 70s, they
flocked to the Gulf as those economies took off.
Opportunities dried up after the 1991 Gulf war when
President Bashir failed to back the U.N.-led military operation
to end Saddam Hussein's occupation of Kuwait. In retaliation,
Gulf countries deported thousands of Sudanese once Kuwait was
With governments in the Gulf spending billions of dollars on
roads, schools and universities again, Sudanese are back in
demand although prospects in Saudi are dampened by a crackdown
on illegal workers and policies to replace foreigners with
Sudanese are also looking further afield. At the Goethe
Institute in Khartoum, run by the German government, there's a
waiting list of up to three months to enrol in German classes.
Ahmed Shamun is making a living from the rise in migration.
Having worked in Abu Dhabi as an English translator for 13
years, he returned in 1993 and now runs an employment agency in
Khartoum, fixing up Sudanese with jobs in the Gulf. Yet, he
still laments the trend.
"It's not just doctors or engineers leaving, most of them
are workers," he said, sitting in his small office next to a
travel agent selling air tickets to Saudi Arabia.
"I don't like it but what else can young people do? There
are no jobs here."