Home | Comment & Analysis    Sunday 30 March 2008

The April 2008 Census in Sudan: Fiasco in the Making


By Mahmoud A. Suleiman

March 29, 2008 — For achieving the democratic transformation that the Sudanese public aspires to, peaceful resolution of the crisis in Darfur, implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and establishment of strong democratic institutions in Sudan are considered to be the key prerequisites. It is also believed that setting forth a timetable for elections to give Sudanese citizens significantly more control in how their country is governed after decades of totalitarian regimes as paramount.

However, the CPA election clock is ticking but neither the institutional foundations nor the requisite electoral processes are in place. In the run up to the April 2008 population census as a precondition for the 2009 Nationwide General Elections in Sudan, Khalid Mansour, the chief of public information for the U.N. Mission in South Sudan, was quoted by Sabina Castlefranco for Voice Of America (VOA) News from Khartoum on the 14th March 2008 to have said "We believe over the last three years close to two million people have already returned, either refugees from the seven neighboring countries or displaced people largely from the north and they returned south,".

He added that he was confident that the census will go ahead. He says the mapping of enumeration areas has been underway for some time and the U.N. has begun delivering materials. He gives further assurances that the Sudanese will be counted wherever they are on the night of the 14th - 15th April and they will indicate where they come from. It is clear that the assurances of Mr. Mansour relate mostly to the situation in the Southern Sudan which does not typify the Darfur region. He is missing the point that there is still large scale atrocious war continues in Darfur unabated.

This war waged by the NCP regime has resulted into daily loss of lives of innocent civilians and damage to the livelihood of the survivors who are forced by violence to flee their homes to the middle of nowhere seeking refuge in vast, crowded camps in both Darfur and across the border in Chad, sadly, on daily basis. One would wonder how those can be reached to be counted on the night of the 14th -15th April 2008 as pointed out by the UN official?! The U.N. Mission in South Sudan must recognise that it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to carry out the census in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands have yet to return to their villages.

It is a known fact that there are three major electoral milestones critical to the implementation of the CPA over the next three years: 1) the population census in April 2008; 2) the national elections by July 2009; and 3) a self-determination referendum for Southern Sudan by March 2011. Otherwise, there would be penalties for non-compliance with the CPA timetable. The U.N. Security Council endorsed the CPA and its members helped negotiate it. But the National Congress Party (NCP) has been violating the CPA provisions on a regular basis in defiance of the international community with impunity.

Echoing the U.N. Mission in South Sudan’s official, Osman Yousef Kibir, the governor of Northern Darfur State, was quoted to have alleged that arrangements have been made for the census to go ahead. However, Mr. Kibir seems to have acknowledged that by stating: “there may be some errors and inaccuracies due to difficulties in access to some of the areas, but this will not have a great effect on the result of the census”. VOA News also reported that Kibir has claimed that the Sudanese government is in control of the areas around the three capitals of the three Darfur states, Al Fashir, Nyala and El Geneina, where most of the camps of internally displaced people are based.

The latter statement of the El Fasher governor can be described at its best as the debate turned into a drunken farce! Osman Kibir is living in Cloud-Cuckoo-Land. He knows very well that territories outside El Fasher are no-go areas despite the heavy presence of government of Sudan (GOS) army and its allied militias. Moreover, the population in the rebel liberated territories is of considerable size which can not be intentionally disregarded. Political analysts think that the major obstacle that would face the Fifth Population Census in the Darfur Region is the Government of Sudan (GOS), whose security elements, have opted for a military solution for Darfur’s political problem, driven by their ‘idiotic domineering mentality’. How can fair and free elections be run while the GoS routinely detains and tortures trade unionists, human rights activists and all other political opponents who object to its undemocratic seizure of power and its abusive policies? Opponents are subject to arbitrary arrest and detention, and several have been tortured in specifically designated centers known locally as ‘Ghost Houses’. Moreover, the state of emergency is still firmly in place and the failure of GOS to ensure the rights of freedom of expression and information has brought crisis not only to Darfur but to Sudan as a whole.

The Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) believes that the present timing of the population census and elections is incompatible with the conditions being experienced by the country due to the unabated conflicts, wars and political crisis. JEM requests all Sudanese political parties to boycott and should not get involved into this conspiracy being woven under the banner of the census and elections. JEM also appealed for solidarity of the journalists, civil society organisations and the Sudanese public to stand steadfast and dutifully against the census and elections. Bushara Suleiman Nour, Secretary for International Relations and Foreign Affairs for JEM stated that the Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) is well aware that the number of displaced persons and refugees in Darfur has exceeded three millions; two-thirds of them are beyond the frontiers of Sudan. How will a credible population census be carried out in Sudan while one 10th of its citizens are unreachable?

It is a fact not a rumour that Statistical tables on population census contain basic attributes such as the size of a population, the growth of population, regional distribution and demographic structure by age and sex, whereas the tables on vital statistics contain statistics concerning birth, death, stillbirth, marriage and divorce. Furthermore, countries use different approaches to define the population enumerated censuses and may aim at enumerating the de facto population which includes all persons physically present in the country at the census reference date or they may cover only the de jure population, covering only the usual residents of the country in question, some of whom may Not be physically present in the country at the reference date. Straightforward as these concepts seem, strict conformity to either is rare. This more so in the case of groups of potential international migrants that may be included or excluded from the census counts on arbitrary grounds. It is understood that the de-facto method was adopted for the 5th Sudan population and housing census to count people who slept in a particular household on the census night of 14th April 2008.

Isaac Vuni alluded that the 5th Sudan population and Housing census is a politically driven census and meant to determine Power distribution in the National Assembly (Parliament), wealth sharing and to determine who is a Southerner and Northerner in order to determine who is eligible to vote in the forthcoming Referendum in 2011 stipulated by the CPA. Mr. Vuni elaborates more over the process and the course of action stating: (Hence we are going to ask a straight question of, are you a southern or northern Sudanese and from where are your origin and expect people to be honest in their answers for better result of the politically driven population census.) Abu Al-Gassim Seifeddin, a Darfuri delegate, was reported to have pointed out that the security Situation on the Ground in the region deteriorates every day. He said priority must be given to finding a peaceful solution with the rebel movements through dialogue, the return of displaced persons and refugees and the normalization of the situation there. Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Suleiman Hassan, a leading member in the ruling NCP and former North Darfur governor has been quoted as saying: “the reasons for the postponement of the census in 2003 are still in place, especially in light of the current security conditions experienced in the Darfur states”.

One will share the sentiments of comrade James Okuk “okukjimy@hotmail.com” that the results of the April 2008 Sudan population census will have far reaching implications on various aspects that include the basis for determining number of electoral constituencies in a region or a state, percentages of power sharing, wealth sharing and who is the “Southern Sudanese” and who is the “Northerner?”! The NCP, therefore, claims its readiness to run the census at all costs in its attempt to defraud the upcoming 2009 elections. This is more so in the light of NCP regime’s “desire to displace African Sudanese in favour of imported Arab foreigners reported by the UN last July 2007. In its report, the UN confirmed arrival of 75,000 Arabs into Darfur, only to be housed in same villages of West Darfur whose original inhabitants had been cleared away by government army/Janjaweed. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that as many as 30,000 people have left Chad for Darfur in a steady flow since early 2007. Many news reports indicated that Arab groups from neighboring countries, like Niger and Chad, resettling in Darfur and being given Sudanese identity documents, as well as other evidence of a planned scheme to permanently settle Arabs from outside the Sudan on the lands of displaced Darfuris.

It is evident that the April census will go ahead fait accompli against all the odds in favour of the (NCP) regime as people can only be eligible to vote if they take part in the census. In other words, the National Congress Party (NCP) supporters in Darfur will be privileged to have the chance of participating in the 2009 elections. In the circumstances, one would be eager to hear to what the former southern rebel group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and current partner in the Government of National Unity (GONU) have to say. Many sincere and friendly voices that are concerned about on the fate of Sudan are calling for postponement of the census, at least, in the war torn Darfur region. Does the Government of National Unity (GNU) expect the people of Sudan in Darfur are likely to turn up massively for that rare occasion on the April Fools Day?! The key question is what follows when it fails. That may be another unanswered Sixty Four Dollar Question ($64 Question)!

Dr. Mahmoud A. Suleiman is the Deputy Chairman of the General Congress for Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). He can be reached at mahmoud.abaker@gmail.com

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