By Jacob K. Lupai
February 10, 2010 — Sudanese of all political persuasions are gearing up for the upcoming April 2010 elections. All may agree that this is a test of democratic transformation of the country since the last democratic election some 24 years ago.
On reflection most of the problems we have in Sudan are man-made. Ethnic, cultural, religious and regional divisions have always dictated the extent Sudan has been associated with as a land of feuds, never ending civil wars, insecurity and human disasters to mention but a few. There has never been a serious effort to rise above all those divisions in search of everlasting solution to the problem because of the lack of a genuine desire to build a new Sudan. We have to wait helplessly for the international community to initiate or to use a carrot and stick approach for the way forward for Sudan. There is always a missed opportunity of building a new Sudan devoid of ethnic, cultural, religious and regional divisions that should have been treated as artificial in building a new nation.
We have become hostages of the divisions at the expense of transforming Sudan into a truly a new nation where one can identify with as a home worth dying for. This begs the question why should anybody in their right senses identify with an old Sudan that has failed all the tests of democratic transformation for the last half a century since attaining its independence from colonial rule. The April 2010 elections are time for reflection on democratic transformation of Sudan for any remote chance for unity to be seen attractive.
No election in Sudan will be watched with great interest as the upcoming April 2010 elections. Importantly for the first time in 24 years the April elections will be for the presidency of the government of national unity (GONU) and also for the presidency of the government of Southern Sudan (GOSS). The elections are to prepare the GONU and GOSS, and Southern Sudan for referendum in 2011. The two parties that signed a comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) that brought to an end a devastating civil war are the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). According to the CPA the NCP is the lead party in GONU while the SPLM in the GOSS. Whether after the April elections the NCP and the SPLM will retain their lead positions in government in the North and the South respectively remains to be seen. It is difficult to predict at this stage. However, taking the various factors into consideration we may have a glimpse of the outcome of the April elections.
According to an opinion poll conduced by the Sudan Tribune (7 February 2010), though might not have been rigorous enough for reliability and validity, of the ten contestants for the seat of the president of GONU three are worth consideration here. The three contestants are Omer Hassan El Bashir of the NCP, Sadiq El Mahdi of the Umma Party and Yasir Arman of the SPLM. The opinion poll conduced by the Sudan Tribune may not be reliable for any definitive conclusion because the majority of people in Sudan live in the rural areas and may hardly have access to the Internet to vote. Also many may be computer illiterate to even start a computer. Nonetheless the poll is interesting.
There is a point to make from the opinion poll conduced by the Sudan Tribune. In the poll Omer El Bashir got 7.5 per cent of the votes. In contrast Yasir Arman and Sadiq El Mahdi got 38.9 and 46.7 per cent respectively. As can be seen Omer el Bashir is a distant third in the race for the presidency of GONU. This may not be a surprise at all. After nearly 21 years in power and with all the problems affecting Sudan Omer El Bashir might have outlived his useful time as the president of Sudan under the NCP agenda associated with all the wrong things in the country. He is wanted at The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity. In recent development the crime of genocide is being added to Bashir’s dossier of catalogue of crimes committed in the region of Darfur. Bashir’s lower rating in the poll may suggest that Sudanese are already disassociating from somebody whose name is already tarnished as a fugitive. The Sudanese are parting company with Bashir who is seen as lacking in confidence to travel freely in the world to represent the country’s interest. Bashir could find himself in the dock at The Hague at any time. One other factor for Bashir’s poor showing in the poll could have been his open declaration that he would be the first to recognise the independence of Southern Sudan. Although Bashir was playing politics there are hardliners in the North who will do anything to stop the South separating from the North.
In the poll Yasir Arman of the SPLM leads Bashir by far as a candidate for the presidency of GONU. This seems to be an indication that the SPLM vision of New Sudan may be after all capturing the imagination of Sudanese. The SPLM is by far seen as a better choice than the NCP for the presidency of GONU. This must be a nightmare to the NCP ardent supporters and affiliates. Another worrying scenario for the NCP is the apparent rise of Sadiq El Mahdi as the poll in the Sudan Tribune seems to suggest. The poll shows El Mahdi as the electorate favourite in the race for the seat of the president of GONU. This clearly suggests that the Sudanese might have had enough of the NCP that they wanted it to disappear from the scene.
On the presidency of GOSS the poll in the Sudan Tribune (8 February 2010) was interesting. The poll showed the SPLM with 75.6 per cent of the votes while SPLM-DC with 24.4 per cent. According to the poll the SPLM was leading the race for the presidency of GOSS by a wide margin. However, on 9 February the poll showed the reverse with the SPLM-DC leading in the race by a narrow margin. The poll showed the SPLM with 46.1 per cent of the votes while the SPLM-DC with 53.9 per cent. The following morning, 10 February, the poll showed the SPLM with 47.3 per cent while the SPLM-DC with 52.7 per cent of the votes. This was interesting. The SPLM was closing the gap albeit slowly. In the last two polls for the South the margin between the two contestants for the presidency of GOSS is narrower than that between the contestants for the seat of the president of GONU at the centre. The implication is that drastic changes are needed at the centre. As for the South people may not see much difference between the SPLM and the SPLM-DC as the narrow margin seems to suggest.
The polls results may not be the same as actual results of the elections. Polls at times are notoriously unreliable. On the voting day in the election the result could be different from the result of the opinion polls. For example, in the United Kingdom Neil Kinnock, the leader of the Labour Party was seen well ahead in the polls of his rival the Conservative Party leader, John Major. However, when the electorate cast their votes the result was that not Neil Kinnock who was promoted by the opinion polls to be the next British prime minister but it was John Major, who the polls had written off, declared the winner hence the prime minister. It was also said that Lam Akol Ajawin contested for the seat of the governor of Upper Nile but lost to a tractor driver who probably did not have even a junior secondary school testimonial. The implication is that opinion polls results and qualifications should not be assumed to indicate a success or a failure in real life. Factors seen or unseen on the ground are contributory to success or failure.
For the South having Sadiq El Mahdi as the next president of GONU must be a worrying thing. At least Omer El basher brought the CPA as a success story of his presidency. There is nothing positive that the South can remember of El Mahdi. It was the Sudanese army when it was truly a national army that recognised the problem. Although the army had its share of destruction in the South all the peace agreements concluded between the North and South were brought by the Sudanese army in the persons of Gaafer Mohamed Numeiri and Omer Hassan El Basher. One cannot remember any single civilian president of Sudan that ever brought peace to Southern Sudan. On the contrary civilian leaders in their enthusiasm for an Arab Islamic state in Sudan aggravated the suffering of the people of Southern Sudan. It will be unfortunate indeed to have El Mahdi as the president of GONU. El Mahdi is well known for his negative perception of the South. He had opposed the 1972 Addis Ababa agreement endorsed by Numeiri. He denounced the agreement as a sell out and had nothing to do with it. On the CPA El Mahdi does not want to know it, claiming it is an agreement between the NCP and the SPLM. He had considered John Garang not a unionist but a separatist. El Mahdi by all means wants the CPA to be reviewed. The implication is that El Mahdi wants to water down the CPA to a worthless document that will eventually find its way to the dust bin. What frightens El Mahdi most and indeed the North is the clause in the CPA on the referendum for self-determination in the South in 2011. It is assumed that the referendum is already a signal of independence to the South for obvious reasons. El Mahdi is very conscious of the destruction he and the North did in the South that southerners are no fools to vote for unity. On his part El Mahdi wants an agreement that guarantees the unity of Sudan. Another term for El Mahdi as the president will be detrimental to the aspirations of the South as did his premierships before.
Out of the three contenders for the seat of the president of GONU Yasir Arman may be the most ideal contender. He shares the aspirations of the marginalised of Sudan. Although Yasir Arman has a mammoth task to make unity of Sudan attractive in less than one year to the referendum in the South in 2011, he is the person to steer Sudan clear of total disintegration. On being president-elect what Yasir Arman will need to do is to excel in areas in which others have failed before. The issue of application of Sharia, identify crisis, inequitable distribution of resources, wealth sharing, insecurity, underdevelopment in marginal areas, and the lack of democratic transformation are some of the few areas in which to concentrate. There must be an immediate plan for rapid socio-economic development of long neglected marginalised areas in Sudan for an impact on the standard of living of the people.
Looking at The Black Book, Imbalance of Power and Wealth in Sudan (March 2004), translated into English by Abdullahi Osman El Tom, one can only sympathise with Yasir Arman when he becomes president–elect of GONU. The intricate problem of entrenched culture of insensitivity to other areas in Sudan is unbelievable. According to The Black Book about 5 per cent of Sudan’s population, which is mainly in the Northern Region with only two out of the 26 states in Sudan, enjoys absolute monopoly of power and wealth notwithstanding other privileges. Knowing this makes people to grasp the abstract understanding of the SPLM New Sudan vision for which Yasir Arman has devoted his life in a revolutionary struggle so that others too have access to resources, wealth and privileges for a high quality of life.
In Southern Sudan it is most likely that the SPLM will be the lead party in government. Apart from the poll in the Sudan Tribune (10 February 2010) that put the SPLM-DC slightly ahead of the SPLM, the SPLM-DC is unlikely to match the SPLM in the upcoming April elections. However, this will depend on how the SPLM conducts itself as a party. For now the SPLM seems to be in disarray with conflicting signals flying around. The SPLM seems to be poor in organisation and worse in communication. This may give an impression that the SPLM is practically inefficient and incompetent. Others may see the SPLM as good at coordinating corruption but unreliable to lead the South when it is becoming factional. However, the good news is that although some damage might have been done the SPLM is now energised by the recent announcement that SPLM members who opted to contest in the elections as independent candidates would not be expelled from the party. The problem now seems to be poor communication in putting out clear directives. There is a lot of a muddle.
The SPLM-DC was obviously rejoicing at the crisis in the SPLM. It has even started enticing the SPLM independent candidates. The SPLM-DC by all mans would like to see the SPLM in crisis so that it has the chance to demonstrate its presence as the only party with credibility to lead the South. However, the announcement that the SPLM independent members will not be expelled from the party must not be good news to the SPLM-DC. The SPLM was a step ahead. By now the SPLM must have got the message not to be complacent. It was using a top down approach characteristic of centralised planning for example like that of the defunct Soviet Union. In contrast the use of a bottom up approach would have avoided the situation the SPLM unfortunately created only to panic. The work of the SPLM Politburo should have been to endorse candidates adopted at the grassroots in each state. However, learning is a continuous process and it is hoped that the SPLM must have learned a lesson.
As the clock ticks down to the zero hour of the referendum so does the talk of independence to the South rises in tone. Securing independence to the South through the ballot box is not a big deal. The majority of people in the southern political parties agree that independence is the better or preferred option. Even those who are member of the NCP, at least those I know, prefer independence of the South. It was good news when Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president who was an ardent supporter of unity of Sudan, is now softening his position on independence to the South. The world now knows Khartoum is responsible for the breakup of Sudan. In fact Hosni Mubarak blames Khartoum for the South’s demand for independence. It means Khartoum did not do enough to make unity attractive.
In conclusion it may be easy to attain independence for the South. The main issue is how independence will be sustained with peace, security, unity, equality, justice and development as the most expected dividends of independence. Also what post-CPA arrangements will be in place in the event that the South is independent notwithstanding the issue of Southern Kordofan, Southern Blue Nile and possibly Abyei? It will be interesting to see how on the part of the South such issues will be addressed.
The author is a PhD in food security from the University of London and is a development practitioner. He can be reached at email@example.com.