In Fall 2010, Michael Abramowitz and Andrew S. Natsios, former U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan, traveled on a bearing witness trip to South Sudan, which is poised to vote on January 9, 2011 on a referendum for independence. Learn more about the challenges ahead for the region by reading the trip’s report, which covers a wide range of dynamics at play in the lead-up to and following the referendum, from the politics of oil revenues to an assessment of the military situation and the danger posed by freelance actors.
Sudan: December 14, 2010
Sudan: September 27, 2010
In news coverage of the upcoming referendum on southern Sudan’s independence, there has been little discussion about the potential ramifications of this defining political moment for northern Sudan.
Just as the south will have to construct its own nation, northern Sudan will have to grapple with a new social, political, and economic reality. At the very least, it will need a new constitution. “It will enter a new political era,” writes Alex de Waal, an expert political analyst on Sudan. “It will inherit many issues of national identity and governance, almost certainly unresolved.”
Among the most critical issues is the status of an estimated 1.5 million southern Sudanese living in Khartoum and other northern towns. Although all southerners living throughout the country are eligible to vote in the referendum, many in the north have expressed increased anxiety over rights of citizenship. Human Rights Watch reports, “In recent months, officials in the northern ruling party have publicly threatened that southerners may not be able to stay in the north in the event of a secession vote.”
In a letter to President Obama, Refugees International urged attention to this issue — above all the other pressing concerns. “Citizenship and the protection of minority communities on either side of the border have the most potential to develop into serious humanitarian crises.” The letter continues, “We are concerned that the Government of Southern Sudan’s recently announced repatriation plan, called ‘Come Home to Choose,’ should be carefully planned and carried out in conjunction with international actors and should only repatriate those southerners who genuinely want to return.”
Darfur, where fighting continues today, will remain in the north regardless of the outcome of the referendum. Two million people continue to live a perilous existence in displaced persons camps, where some Darfurians have already been for seven years. In the north, opposition groups face potential risk as the political landscape shifts. Many had a lot at stake in the dream of a “new Sudan”, a dream that seems to be giving way to a divided Sudan.
Sudan: September 21, 2010
With four months left before South Sudan is scheduled to vote on a referendum for independence, the 1,200 mile border separating the north and south of Sudan has not yet been established. A detailed picture of the complex situation along the line emerges in a new report, commissioned by the U.S. Institute of Peace and produced by Concordis International. The report offers snapshots of the border regions and how local issues could impact surrounding communities and a wider peace in Sudan.
The border is populated by a diversity of ethnic groups unprepared for and unfamiliar with the idea of formal separation. The region must still contend with unresolved issues related to the division of resources and land, rights of citizenship and migration, and the phantom of security guarantees. The result is greater mistrust, amplified instability, and a hardening of conflict memory.
“Wartime patterns of conflict have emerged reinvigorated,” the report describes. “Border communities in South Kordofan, Abyei, Bahr al Ghazal, South Darfur, and Upper Nile all said they would fight to ensure their claims to land ownership and land use are recognized and implemented.”
Violence in 2009 in South Sudan (described in situation updates last September and December) has raised the question of whether a new nation would or even could be united. The Concordis report explains, “‘Tribal violence’ in 2009 and the post-election defection of SPLA commanders have also exposed cleavages within the SPLA [South Sudanese Army] and wider southern societies, facilitated by the widespread presence of arms in the hands of civilians…”
Contest for land across the border region is driven by access to its resources, predominately oil, which makes up 98% of income to the government of South Sudan and 60% of total revenues to the government in the north. “Strategic interest in these resources is reflected in a history of redrawing boundaries in response to the economic opportunities they represent.”
One of these contested areas is Abyei. Tucked along the north-south border, Abyei is marked by a network of streams and nomadic migration routes. It has traditionally been inhabited by the agro-pastoralist Ngok Dinka, but it also becomes home to the Humr section of the Misseriya, who move from northern lands to spend up to eight months each year grazing their animals in the Abyei area. The fate of the region shifted with the discovery of oil in 1979, and both the north and the south have claimed this strategically valuable land.
“Abyei is a lynchpin of the CPA and carries the potential to bring the parties back to war,” the report states.
Inhabitants of Abyei will have the right to vote on whether they want to be part of the north or south in their own referendum, which will be held simultaneously with the south’s referendum. But questions over residency and tensions over land and natural resources remain. The Concordis report describes large numbers of Misseriya and Dinka reportedly trying to settle in the area ahead of the referendum. And Misseriya militia active in northern Abyei have publicly threatened to destabilize the referendum unless they are deemed eligible to participate.
“The next dry season starting in October will be the last opportunity to prevent insecurity spreading around the popular consultation and referendum time.”
Sudan: August 31, 2010
In defiance of two arrest warrants and international demand for his surrender, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir arrived in Kenya on August 27th to celebrate the nation’s new constitution.
Issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March 2009, the first arrest warrant for Bashir included charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes. The court added a second warrant in July 2010 for three counts of genocide. Without the means to enforce its warrants, the ICC must rely on its member states to cooperate.
Kenya’s decision to welcome Bashir cast a shadow not only over its new constitution — sculpted to ease ethnic tensions, corruption, and patronage in its politics — but also over Kenya’s own relationship to the international court. The Kenyan government has pledged full cooperation with an ongoing ICC investigation into the crimes committed following Kenya’s 2007 general elections.
“Kenya will forever tarnish the celebration of its long-awaited constitution if it welcomes an international fugitive to the festivities,” said Elise Keppler of Human Rights Watch on August 26. “Even worse, hosting al-Bashir would throw into question Kenya’s commitment to cooperate with the ICC on its Kenyan investigation.”
Congratulating Kenya on its new constitution, President Obama expressed disappointment in Kenya for hosting Bashir. In a statement by the White House, he said, “…we consider it important that Kenya honor it commitments to the ICC and international justice, along with all nations that share those responsibilities. In Kenya and beyond, justice is a critical ingredient for lasting peace.”
Sudan: July 14, 2010
After the first indictment against Sudanese President Bashir dropped genocide from its list of charges, a second indictment made public by the International Criminal Court (ICC) this week has officially added three counts of genocide.
Noting that the second warrant does not replace or revoke the first, the court stated “there are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Al Bashir acted with specific intent to destroy in part the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa ethnic groups.” The arrest warrant cites the contamination of wells and water pumps, forcible transfers, and resettlements as acts by Government of Sudan forces “in furtherance of the genocidal policy.”
Bashir already stands accused of five counts of crimes again humanity and two counts of war crimes for his leadership in orchestrating the conflict in Darfur.
The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum characterized this decision by the ICC as an important step towards holding leaders accountable for such egregious crimes.
“This is the first time that the International Criminal Court has accused a sitting head of state of genocide,” said Mike Abramowitz, Director of the Museum’s genocide prevention program. “Justice requires that President Al Bashir respond to these very serious charges against him.”
Sudan: June 24, 2010
An estimated 600 people died in fighting in Darfur, Sudan in May 2010, marking a two-year high in violent fatalities since the arrival of the UN peacekeeping force (UNAMID) in January 2008. The sharp increase in deaths — about five times higher than the monthly average for the last year — results from fighting between Sudan Armed Forces and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the Darfur rebel group, which withdrew from the Doha peace talks last month. As Julie Flint reports, the new fighting has, once again, targeted civilians:
UNAMID is investigating reports of ‘gross’ human rights violations by government forces and militias in the battle for Jebel Mun, with many civilians (including women) reportedly ‘assaulted and tortured’. JEM, on the run, has stolen fuel and other commodities from civilians. There are reports that, before being driven from Jebel Mun, JEM’s men engaged in extortion and destroyed wells as a ‘retaliation measure’–presumably for support given to the breakaway Justice and Reform Movement of the local Missiriya Jebel community.
Humanitarian access is obstructed and constrained by insecurity and kidnappings. More than 60,000 displaced people have been cut off in Jebel Mun for months now.
As of May 2010, at least 4.9 million people were internally displaced throughout the country — some for over two decades. In southern Sudan, over 400,000 people have been newly displaced since January 2009, as a result of intercommunal violence and attacks by the Lord’s Resistance Army.
The recent violence and displacement casts a shadow over the fast approaching referendum for southern independence that is scheduled for January 2011 and the many fundamental logistical and political issues left to resolve. Thirty-three constituencies in Sudan still need to conduct or re-run elections, including the Southern Kordofan legislative assembly. Without these elections, Southern Kordofan cannot conduct its popular consultations, which will address land rights and self-determination in the border region. Questions around voter eligibility remain unanswered in the oil-rich region of Abyei, whose inhabitants are expecting to vote on a separate referendum in 2011 and whose borders — like the North-South border — have yet to be completely demarcated.
Meanwhile, after three years of inaction by the Sudanese government on the International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrants, the ICC sent a formal finding of non-cooperation to the UN Security Council, the first in the history of the court. In April 2007, the court issued warrants for Ahmed Haroun, then Sudan’s minister for humanitarian affairs and now governor of Southern Kordofan state, and Ali Kosheib, a Janjaweed militia leader. In March 2009, the court issued a warrant for Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s president, newly reelected in a widely criticized process.
Unrelated to the non-cooperation finding, two Darfur rebel leaders surrendered to the ICC on June 16, 2010, following summonses to appear before the court. Abdallah Banda Abakaer Nourain and Saleh Mohammed Jerbo Jamus are charged with three counts of war crimes allegedly committed during an attack in September 2007 against the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS). The attack killed 12 AMIS soldiers and severely wounded eight others.
Sudan: April 30, 2010
Omar al-Bashir, who originally came to power in a 1989 military coup, won Sudan’s presidency with an official vote count of 68%. The unsurprising outcome was widely criticized by international observers who cited election-related reports of intimidation, gerrymandering, and fraud. In South Sudan, incumbent candidate Salva Kiir won 93% of the vote to remain in office as president of the semiautonomous region, which is expected to vote for succession from Sudan next year. Leaders and parties in the south, however, are hardly united on the region’s internal issues. Nine southern opposition parties have decided to challenge Mr. Kiir’s victory — and the count of 93% — in court.
Intensifying tensions along the north-south border, dozens were killed last week in clashes between SPLM soldiers and the Rizeigat tribe in the area between Western Bahr el-Ghazal and South Darfur. In an unrelated instance, on April 30, mutinous SPLM soldiers attacked an army barrack near Malakal and killed a number of people. The episodes of violence underscore the urgency and importance of resolving the common issues that face the north and south ahead of the referendum, including the demarcation of the border and the division of the oil fields.
Sudan: April 23, 2010
On April 11, Sudanese began voting in their country’s first multi-party elections in 24 years. Even though elections were boycotted by several popular opposition parties, they were still held amidst ongoing conflict in Darfur, reports of intimidation and threats of violence in South Sudan, and the government’s habitual restrictions on political rights and freedoms.
In a comment after polls had closed, the U.S. State Department spokesman stated, “This was not a free and fair election. It did not, broadly speaking, meet international standards.”
Originally due on April 22, the final election results have been delayed by Sudan’s National Elections Commission to accommodate logistical challenges.
View striking photographs from across Sudan during the elections. Learn more by reading assessments of the elections from The Carter Center, as well as from a coalition of civil society organizations that monitored the process.
Sudan: April 12, 2010
On Sunday morning, April 11, Sudanese began arriving at the polls to vote in their country’s first multi-party elections in 24 years. In the days leading up to the election, however, the number of candidates vying for office became considerably more limited.
Less than two weeks before the elections, on March 31, Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) withdrew its candidate for Sudanese presidency, Yasir Arman, and, a week later, all of its candidates in 13 out of the 15 northern state elections. The SPLM cited election irregularities and the conflict in Darfur, which prevented anything approximating a free and fair election there. The SPLM stated its intention to participate only in parliamentary and local elections in the disputed Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states. The decision to drop out of the presidential race marked a decisive and poignant end to the South’s erstwhile dream of fighting for a reformed and united Sudan — the vision that SPLA leader John Garang carried to his death.
The day after SPLM’s decision to withdraw Mr. Arman, leading opposition parties in the north, including the popular Umma party, announced a full boycott of the elections.
Although Bashir seeks the legitimacy that befalls an elected leader, his likely victory has now been tainted by the boycott and continued reports of election irregularities. The logistics of the election have been exceedingly complicated. In order to participate in all national, parliamentary, and local elections, voters in the north have to vote eight times over the next few days and those in the south 12 times. On the second day of voting, the election commission announced that polls would be extended by two days to accommodate delays in delivering ballots papers to all 17,000 centers around the country.
Sudan: March 11, 2010
In just a little over one month, Sudan will face its first major elections in 24 years.
They will be held for six levels of government, including the presidency and the national legislature. The presidential election requires an absolute majority vote (50 per cent plus one) in the first round. If none of the candidates receive this majority, there will be a second election: a run-off round. The major presidential candidates include President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir from the controlling party in the north, the National Congress Party (NCP), and Yasir Arman from the south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
Delivering the opening remarks at the political parties summit in southern Sudan, former Burundi President Pierre Buyoya, representing the African Union Panel on Darfur, remarked, “The challenges of building democracy and development from the ashes of war are great indeed.”
A significant political milestone in their own right, the elections are a pivotal step on the road to meeting final implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended the two-decades civil war between the north and the south. The conduct and outcomes of the elections will indicate the future direction of the nation, as it begins a difficult year in the lead-up to the 2011 referendum on southern independence. While many challenges lie ahead — including resolving the status of the oil-rich border regions between the north and south — the elections next month present many of their own concerns.
Violence, displacement, and political marginalization are still a reality for many of Sudan’s citizens, and several ongoing issues threaten the viability of the elections:
It is important to understand the electoral process in context with the overall requirements of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Alongside the 2011 referendum on southern independence, the CPA set up distinct terms for determining the futures of the hotly contested border regions: Abyei, Southern Kordofan, and Southern Blue Nile.
Although Southern Kordofan has been considered part of the north through the transition period since the signing of the CPA, its population was split between supporting the north and south during the war. The fighting was intense and brutal, particularly in the Nuba Mountains. According to the CPA, the core issues that have divided the population, including land rights and self-determination, can be readdressed through “popular consultations” led by state assembly members.
Inhabitants of Abyei will have the right to vote on a separate referendum in 2011 on whether they want to be permanently a part of the north or south.
A prerequisite of the elections, a national census was completed last April after numerous delays. Its conclusions would help determine the distribution of wealth and power, including seats in the National Assembly. Southern Sudanese rejected the findings, arguing that the census substantially undercounted the population of Southerners. The NCP and SPLM have, however, recently reached a deal on the contested census by agreeing to allocate an extra 40 seats to the south in the National Assembly. The deal also apportions two more seats to the border region of Abyei and four to the oil state of Southern Kordofan (includes the Nuba Mountains.)
To resolve SPLM’s specific concerns about Southern Kordofan, the north and south agreed to postpone the region’s state elections until a more thorough census could be conducted. Getting the census — and the subsequent distribution of seats — right in Southern Kordofan is especially important because it is the state assembly members who will lead “popular consultations” on the future of the state.
Tasked with monitoring the elections, the Carter Center has expressed concerns about the political environment in Sudan. Recent incidents that have undermined political rights and fundamental freedoms include arbitrary arrests and detentions and harassment of civil society and political party members. In addition, the Center warned about the government’s security forces restricting legitimate activity related to the exercise of freedom of assembly, association, and speech.
In Darfur, state election committees have been unable to access IDP camps, where a low rate of voter registration indicates the extent to which thousands of displaced persons have been excluded from or boycotted in opposition to participating in the elections. Carter Center observers reported seeing military units, police, and security service agents not only present at registration centers in Darfur, but sometimes actively engaged in voter registration.
Over the past year, villages in South Sudan have been attacked in serious clashes that have targeted women and children. The violence and a corresponding increase in ethnic tension are exacerbated by a noticeable influx of weapons in the region.
Meanwhile, just days after a milestone ceasefire signed between Darfur rebel group Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudanese government, violence erupted in central Darfur. Government forces engaged a faction of the rebel Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), which had not agreed to the ceasefire. This latest fighting raised the number of displaced around the town Deribat to 100,000. Adding another layer of complexity, JEM has threatened to pull out of its ceasefire if Khartoum negotiates with SLM on a parallel track.
Straining already fragile conditions, violence in both Darfur and South Sudan will likely affect the upcoming elections. The only question is how significantly.
Major presidential candidates include:
Omar Hassan Al-Bashir — National Congress Party
Born in 1944, Bashir orchestrated a military coup in 1989 that overthrew President Sadeq al-Mahdi’s democratically elected government. He assumed control by banning all political parties and cracking down on the press and other independent voices. Shortly after attaining power, Bashir appointed himself chief of state, prime minister, and minister of defense. He intensified the ongoing war with the south, presiding over brutal attacks against civilians, including Bahr al-Ghazal, the Nuba Moutains, and clearances of populations from oil-rich areas.
In 1999, President Bashir consolidated his dictatorial control when he removed his chief threat: once ally and former leader of the National Islamic Front, Hassan al-Turabi, who was then serving as Speaker of the National Assembly. That same year, Bashir declared a state of national emergency, suspended the constitution, and disbanded the National Assembly.
In 2004, Bashir’s government negotiated an end to the two-and-a-half decade civil war between north and south Sudan that killed at least 2 million people, mostly civilians, and displaced more than 4 million people. Around that same time, however, Bashir’s government implemented systematic assaults against civilian targets in Darfur, Sudan’s western province where hundreds of thousands have died and millions have lost their homes since 2003.
On March 4, 2009, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant charging Bashir with five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes for his leadership role in orchestrating the conflict in Darfur. This decision marks the first time the ICC has issued an arrest warrant for a sitting head of state.
Yasir Arman — Sudan People’s Liberation Movement
A northern Muslim who joined the SPLM 24 years ago, Arman is a senior figure in the party. He serves as Deputy Secretary General for Northern Sudan and the head of the SPLM bloc in the National Assembly.
The SPLM decided to nominate Arman instead of Salva Kiir, the party leader and current president of southern Sudan. Kiir intends to seek re-election to the post of southern president, a vital position to occupy as the region prepares for the 2011 referendum on southern independence.
Sadeq Al-Mahdi — Umma Party
Oxford educated, Mahdi is a spiritual leader and head of the Umma Party. He was elected prime minister of Sudan in 1966 and again in 1986. In 1989, his government was toppled in a bloodless military coup by officers including the current President Bashir. Mahdi was imprisoned until early 1991. Although Mahdi’s party was the largest in Sudan in 1986, it has since split into factions, although it continues to enjoy mass support in Darfur.
Mahdi is Imam of the Isalmic Ansar, a Sufi sect with allegiance to Muhammad Ahmad, the self-proclaimed messianic savor (the Mahdi), who famously fought the British General Gordon in the 19th century.
Abdallah Deng Nhial — Popular Congress Party
Nhial is the only southern candidate in the presidential race. A south Sudanese Muslim, Nhial was part of Bashir’s government before Hassan al-Turabi lost his leadership battle with Bashir and split to form his own opposition Popular Congress Party.
Nhial is Dinka, the largest southern Sudanese tribe, and is from a multi-faith family that includes Christians, Muslims, and followers of traditional religions.
Hatim Al-Sir — Democratic Unionist Party
Sir represents the Democratic Unionist Party, a sectarian party that formed a coalition government with Mahdi in Sudan’s last democratic elections in 1986. Sir is a distant relative of the powerful al-Merghani family, which commands the leadership of the Democratic Unionist Party, although the party has split many times. Sir left Sudan in 1989 to follow the party’s religious leader into exile, and he only returned in 2009.