Gulf states’ oil wealth reverberates throughout rural Sudan


“I love Abu Dhabi as much as I love Sudan. I always say jokingly that Abu Dhabi is my father and Sudan is my mother!” exclaimed Yousif Alhaj Ali.

Aged 56, he worked for 37 years as a plumbing supervisor in Abu Dhabi. Today, Ali expresses “indescribable gratitude” to the United Arab Emirates at the clothing store he opened in his home village of Tanoob, filled with colorful shoes and children’s clothes imported from the Emirati capital.

Ali is not alone in describing emotional ties to Abu Dhabi. Since the 1990s, remittances sent from the United Arab Emirates have provided a lifeline for Tannoob. Omar al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for 30 years until 2019, cut public funding for the village, and “emigrating to the Gulf was the only way”, summarized Yousif Khair Allah Alsamani , a local leader.

However, remittances had to be sent through informal channels. The United States added Sudan to its list of state sponsors of terrorism in 1993 because Sudan hosted Osama bin Laden in Khartoum in the 1990s. This cut Africa’s third-largest country from the global banking system. until 2020.

Following the fall of Bashir, the villagers of Tanoob, more than 10% of whom work in the Gulf region, took up the challenge of paving the 15 kilometer muddy path that connects the hamlet to the outside world. Alsamani, 49, told Al-Monitor that Gulf remittances funded the unfinished project, which has already cost 50 million Sudanese pounds ($110,000).

Portrait of Yousif Alhaj Ali, 56 years old. After 37 years working as a plumbing supervisor for the Abu Dhabi Municipality, he opened a clothing store in his home village, Tannoob.

A paved road would help local farmers ship soybeans, wheat and maize to Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, but it would also improve public health. Heavy rains turned the muddy path into an impassable swamp, and several women died in labor while waiting for medical help.

Mimics UAE labor strategy

In the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), where around 30 million migrant workers live, most economic sectors would come to a complete halt without the skills of foreign workers.

The attractiveness of jobs in the Gulf has increased among young people in Tannoob as inflation skyrockets to 359% in 2021. “I want to leave. Anywhere else is better than Sudan,” said 26-year-old Ahmed Mostafa. “The revolution has advantages and disadvantages; economic collapse is one of the downsides. Things weren’t so bad before.

Some young people have found an alternative path to the Gulf opportunity. “The new plan for young people is to go to Europe, stay long enough to get a passport there and go to the Gulf,” said Altayeb Alsamani, 59. “Arabs think Western passport holders deserve to be paid more than Africans. So we play the passport game

Human rights organizations have criticized the racial pay gap in Gulf labor markets. In Qatar, “the enjoyment of human rights by many people is strongly affected by their national origin and nationality,” the UN special rapporteur concluded after a visit in 2019.

Most low- and middle-income migrant workers leave their families behind because their living conditions are not suitable for family life – 60% of Qatar’s population lived in a labor camp in 2019 – or because the cost of raising a family in the Gulf exceeds their budget. means.

“My husband emigrated to Dubai in 1998 and has returned home for vacation every two years since then. I stayed in Sudan so we could cut our expenses and build our own house, but it was difficult; I had to being both mother and father,” says Awatif Mohamed Saeed, 57, proudly sitting alone in her living room, decorated with chic furniture.

But the mother-of-two has to deal with an emotionless, remote married life. “I’ll keep busy, so I don’t think about what we’re missing.”

Since the 1990s, remittances sent from the United Arab Emirates and the wider Gulf region have provided a lifeline for Tannoob, especially to build houses and pay for daily expenses, as most villagers have opposed to ousted dictator Omar al-Bashir who ruled Sudan for 30 years until 2019.

However, Abd Alhafiz Ahmed Almahi, 55, refused to migrate. “Families need to be together, especially when it comes to raising children,” said the father of five. “There are children who have failed academically and behaviorally because of the absence of the father figure.”

Labor migration has brought more than hard currency to Tannoob. This has sparked a mindset shift as the village mimics the UAE’s labor strategy: importing skills.

“What matters most to us right now is the influx of money from abroad because, with money in hand, we can import a group of skilled workers from other villages,” said said Alsamani.

Escaping the Lake Victora environmental crisis

In Kenya, another major supplier of African labor to the Gulf, mainly security guards and maids, remittances are also vital for many households. Estimates vary wildly, but it is thought that there are 100,000 to 300,000 Kenyans in the Gulf.

On the shores of Lake Victoria, unsustainable fishing practices and water pollution have decimated fish stocks in Africa’s largest lake. Cash-strapped and disillusioned fishing communities succumbed to tempting offers from migrant agents for their daughters, who worked ashore during the golden age of the fishing industry, drying or selling fish.

Employed as servants, usually with a two-year contract for $200 a month, these women provide an alternative source of income for fishing communities. “Every time my children finished high school, they had to drop out because I couldn’t afford school fees,” said Rehema Ali as he prepared fish dishes to sell in Dunga village. “These jobs in the Gulf have provided an alternative: our girls can work there for a few years and come back to resume their studies.

Milka Akinyi, 51, sells dried fish and said: “My daughter Theresa wants to enroll in a catering degree, but it costs 60,000 Kenyan shillings ($513); I can’t afford so much. So she migrated to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia to earn money and will study when she returns home.

From an economic point of view, Akinyi said migration to the Gulf is a “win-win situation”.

Quentin Muller contributed to this report.


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