By Amjed Farid Eltayeb
January 14, 2014 - We are witnessing a great wave of changes in international politics today. For the last decades, since the end of the cold war, the collapse of the Berlin wall and dissolution of the Soviet Union, we have seen international political players actively adopting and advocating for the democratization of political systems around the world. The spectrum of this activity fluctuates from inducing or supporting grassroots, popular and civic movements in the case of Otpor in its non-violent struggle against Milosevic in Serbia to the active military involvement of the international community to overthrow the domestic dictatorship of Saddam Hussein in Iraq war 2. In all cases, principles such as democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights, freedom of expression…etc, had a central role in helping the international players “succeeding” in packaging their battles against “dictatorships” and the end result was always having a country that has elections – heavily laden with American and European pressure - and election dates that are closely –sometimes harshly- monitored to be met as the most visible feature of democracy and its absolute defining characteristic. Incentives for this were always available as well. Definitely, those principles are justifiable when the battle is truly about them, but is it always the case? Actually the question could be generalized to be; is it ever a battle for democracy and democratization?
One of the many faces of reality about a vast majority of these battles is that; they were all against personal dictatorships, Sudan’s case contrary to the widespread assumption is not an exception. Ideology from far right to far left, ethnic politics, racial attitudes...etc were all used as decorations for that simple fact; IT IS A ONE MAN SHOW. When the moment of truth come following a very big event that the international community cannot turn a blind eye to it such as; large scale civic protests that fail to impose its popular demands fully but is big enough not to be ignored, an ongoing civil war that needs to be stopped because it became too expensive for external supporters, a newly discovered resource – Oil in much of the cases – that its utilization needs some sort of settlement within that country, or even an internal political need for a win show for an administration who plays the role of a peaceful transition mediator, International community proposes its favorite suggestion; let’s have a competitive multiparty election. As simple as this. The consent of the dictators is always conditioned with the answer to one question: Would I win? This answer doesn’t really matter to the international mediators; they are only interested in having a nominal voting process in which someone – anyone – can have some sort of legitimacy to be dealt with. So dictators are allowed to do whatever is needed to win but they have to follow the rules of the game. Rig the elections but don’t get caught and if so have your price for our silence ready, suppress your competitors but calmly, kill protesters but not in the year of election, do what you need to do but keep the dates fixed.
Would this, by any means allow any sort of accountability and legitimacy which are the main reasons of why we have elections in the first place? The answer is a big NO. Accountability is what makes any government listen to and do what people want and legitimacy is what makes governments committed to achieve what is in the best interest of the nation even its opposition and it create limits to the extent of its control of the state apparatus. Legitimacy is the boundaries of the government powers and its formal violence. Any tyrant can choose to perform so but it is a matter of choice for him, having a democratic state does actually mean that government has no choice but to obey these rules. That is why the process in democracy is more important than the end result. The process which includes freedom of expression, freedom of press, freedom of organization, freedom of assembly, the separation of powers and the rule of law is more important than the ballot boxes. Ballot boxes are preconditioned to be effective that is why the western democratization approach keeps failing in actually resolving conflict. It just masks them.
The current Sudanese situation is a typical example of what is described above. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which was far from its name, stated Sudan to have elections. The CPA came as a prescribed recipe to impose a solution for the ongoing civil war in South Sudan which was described as the longest civil war in Africa at the time. The conflict became too costly for everyone with the balance of weakness that prevented any party to achieve a full military victory. The discovery of Oil in the conflict areas was as well another factor that drew attention of the international actors. It was a two parties agreement – who actually didn’t agree on anything as it was apparent during its implementation life time – and it addresses only one of Sudan’s many problems and ignored Darfur conflict which is “the worst humanitarian crisis” as described by international agencies as it was in another country, however they named it comprehensive but what is in a name. It has elections on it so it will smell as sweet to them. The election actually happened in 2010 after a partially irregular 5 years of CPA implementation during which clashes between the two agreement signatories caused the withdrawal of the SPLM (SouthSudan partner) in 2007 let alone the various stands of the rest of the opposition parties and the tension of popular movements.
The elections happened and were seriously flawed; riddled with misconducts and irregularities. Videos showing officials in uniforms filling the ballot boxes with electoral tickets went viral in social media (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8633162.stm). Most of the competitors withdrew during or before the voting process. Rigging was clearly present and the National Election Commission refused to investigate. Nevertheless the results were acceptable to the international community as 2010 elections represent “a crucial step in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)” in the words of the EU observation mission final report and it were “a CPA benchmark and their conduct allows the remaining provisions of the agreement to be implemented”. The deal was clear; it wasn’t about democratization or good governance, it was about the implementation of the product; the CPA.
The NCP (the ruling party) fulfilled its promise to its tyrant and Omer Al Bashir who is ruling Sudan since the 1989 coup won with 68% of the votes a new legitimate period to rule Sudan. It was a precondition in the first place. We can have elections but I have to win. The international mediators have nothing to do with that, it is an internal matter at last.
Today, 4 years after the show, the CPA was fully implemented; South Sudan got its independence – although war and tension never stopped between south and north – Sudanese government on the mouth of its president Omer Al-Bashir pledges in December 2013 to hold 2015 elections on time. It isn’t only that but NEC also handed over budget to presidency estimating the need of 630 million US dollars for the upcoming elections in 2015.This happened only three months’ prior to killing over 200 civil protesters in the streets of Khartoum and other cities in northern Sudan and detaining over 2000 political activists some of them are still in detention in addition to the ongoing war in Darfur, Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile. But again it is all about timing. With no constitution in the country, massive oppression and violations of basic rights, the message is clearly directed to external audience. As previously stated, external players are always ready to give incentives for such formalities regardless of the context.
With international players like Netherlands government offering 150 million Euro to the Sudanese regime as debt relief as an incentive for meeting the requirements set by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund regardless of the bloodshed in the hands of the Sudanese regime as a price for this and extent to which this recommendations might be effective within the same settings that produce the need of it in the first place , we can always find donors who are ready to fund the NEC budget. The amount of money expected to fund this show will definitely help Al Bashir regime to overcome a lot of its economic hardships since no sane person would expect that they need it to make their NEC officials prefill the ballot boxes.
Western mediators can keep insisting in supporting the 2015 elections, and spent their tax payers money in to fund a corrupted regime to win, but they should understand that they support more violence in Sudan. Elections under the current regime are not a support for democracy but the exact opposite to that.
International players keep their stands well and clear but they shouldn’t expect that wearing the white hat will deceive Sudanese people forever. You are supporting a criminal regime and we know that.
Amjed Farid Eltayeb is the spokesperson of Sudan Change Now., an advocacy group calling to overthrow the regime of president Omer Al-Bashir and to establish a democratic regime in Sudan.