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Rift Valley Institute

Making local knowledge work

South Sudanese labour: refill the ‘kambo’

By Magdi El Gazouli

Sudan’s major grain producers, the landowners of Gedaref, complained bitterly to the press this week of an acute shortage of labour and warned of yet another failed agricultural season. The local farmers’ union in the state reportedly lobbied the central government to sanction the employment of Ethiopian guest workers in order to save the season without much success. In Gezira and North Darfur the state authorities seconded school children on vacation for service in the fields, a desperate measure that fell short of demand. …

There are two immediate reasons for the shortage in labour this season. The first, said the Secretary General of the Gedaref Farmers’ Union Abd al-Majid Ali al-Tom, is the loss of South Sudanese labour as a consequence of secession. The South Sudanese in (north) Sudan, congruent with a long history of exploitation extending back to the time when slavery constituted the dominant relation of production in Sudanese agriculture, provided a large chunk of the ultra-cheap labour force on which the profitability of agricultural production in Sudan’s technology-poor and labour-intensive fields relied. …

A second reason for the dearth in agricultural labour this season is Sudan’s artisan ‘gold rush’. The Ministry of Mining reported this past month that the quest for gold kept an estimated five hundred thousand people busy spread over eighty locations around the country, many of whom are likely to be escapees from the penury of agricultural labour. With this background in mind, I suggest, it is possible to explain in part the willingness of the ‘rational’ NCP high priests to invite the South Sudanese back into the rump Sudan with the ‘four freedoms’ ensured, rephrased the freedom to sell their muscle power, conveniently this time around as ‘brothers’ with no citizens’ claims to burden the exchange.

The author is a fellow of the Rift Valley Institute. He publishes regular opinion articles and analyses at his blog Still Sudan.

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