In 2010, Africa’s largest country, Sudan, made its first election in ten years. The choice and the outcome is contentious. In the background, some of the continent’s worst wars, and referendum on independence in South Sudan in 2011 are lurking.
President Omar Al-Bashir was re-elected in April with more than 68 percent of the vote. At the same time, Salva Kiir Mayardit was extended his mandate as president of South Sudan. As much as 93 percent of South Sudanese want Kiir to lead this part of the country towards independence in 2011, in a referendum that can split both Sudan and the region., The high support for Kiir and the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) is interpreted internationally as confirmation that South Sudanese will vote for independence from the north next year.
But both Sudanese and the outside world point out that the elections can hardly be called democratic. The main opposition parties withdrew before the election due to allegations that Al-Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) was trying to cheat for victory. The opposition, led by the National Umma Party (NUP) and Democratic Unionist party (DUP), has accused Western countries of looking through the fingers of the alleged electoral failure not to provoke Khartoum’s first-year referendum on South independence.
The Khartoum authorities placed great prestige in holding this year’s elections; the first national election in 24 years and the first presidential election since 2000. When Islamist Al-Bashir took power in 1989, Sudan entered a political hiatus that would last for ten years. In 1996 the regime opened for opposition politics, but not until 1999 did it become legal to register political parties beyond the ruling NCP. The following year, Al-Bashir was re-elected with over 86% of the vote, but the election was called into question by the opposition.
During Al-Bashir’s reign, Sudan has become a pariah state internationally. First for providing safe haven to Islamists like Osama Bin Laden, then for the war in Darfur. Al-Bashir’s reputation as an international bogeyman was reinforced in 2009 with a charge by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes in Darfur.
Despite Sudan’s reputation as an authoritarian state, there has always been opposition in the country, and political dissent was published as the so-called ‘Black Book’ ( Al kitab al Aswad – the later political manifesto for one of Darfur’s insurgent groups, the Justice and Equality Movement). The Black Book is a stinging criticism of Al-Bashir’s nepotist regime and aims for greater autonomy for Sudan’s regions. This is how the rebels in Darfur’s program resemble the older manifesto of the SLPM in the South, though neither the Black Book nor the SPLM require full autonomy for the marginalized regions. Both identify what appears to be Sudan’s main problem; that a small elite from the North controls a large and powerless majority. In addition, the regime’s harsh Islamist line has alienated many Sudanese. After years of war in the South, the SPLM program has turned to the desire for self-government.
In 2005, Khartoum and SPLM agreed on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). After 22 years of civil war, which probably cost two million lives and sent hundreds of thousands to flee, the parties agreed to a six-year transition period of national elections and referendum on self-government for the South. Since then, a transitional government consisting of NCP and SPLM has ruled Sudan. The southern provinces also have their own autonomy, led by the South President and the Vice President of Sudan, but political commentators have pointed out that the autonomy is more concerned with preparing for independence in the South than governing the country.
In 2008, Sudan conducted census to hold elections in the South. But South’s statisticians would not approve of the result, claiming that figures for Darfur had blown up. It was also pointed out that large parts of Darfur’s population live in camps, internally and in neighboring Chad, and that it will therefore be impossible to make elections there. Concern for the situation in Darfur was given as SPLM’s presidential candidate Aman resigned before this year’s election. NCP has meanwhile conducted shuttle diplomacy with the rebel groups in Darfur with a view to conducting the elections.
Election and violence
Despite political games, electoral preparations in the vast regions of Sudan were underway. In addition to riots in Darfur, violence has been reported in the south of the country, and 2009 was the bloodiest year in Sudan since the peace treaty was signed. After the April election and before the fate of the South, new unrest and upheaval broke out in central states such as Jonglei, Lakes and Unity, including meetings along the borders between South Sudan’s Bazar El-Ghazal and Darfur.
The national borders are also troubled. Several neighboring countries have been affected and involved in the Sudanese wars. In the South, they have partnered with Uganda and Congo-Kinshasa to get hold of Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord Resistance Army, who were previously supported by factions of the NCP in Khartoum. At the same time, relations between Chad and Sudan have been tense following repeated failed ceasefire between the two countries and between the Darfur factions. In the east, Ethiopia, which previously did not hesitate to interfere in Sudan’s conflicts, lurks and in the north Egypt is concerned about whether a split of Sudan could lead to the abandonment of ancient Nile life-giving agreements.
Oil and agriculture
Despite the fact that Sudan has a higher life expectancy and gross domestic product than many of its neighbors, millions of Sudanese still live in poverty. Years of war and underdevelopment have made much of the country impassable, lack of education and health care are widespread. In Darfur, these services are offered to the clay-dwelling population – under the supervision of the international community.
Increasing oil revenues and peace in the South have in recent years provided a vitamin injection in the country’s economy, but to date, the development has benefited well. Oil revenues have put Khartoum on the map as one of Africa’s boomtowns, where new office blocks and hotels are popping up over an otherwise tired desert town. The southern aspiring capital of Juba, too, has seen an upswing, partly driven by a booming economy around a significant relief workforce that entered the city under the peace agreement.
That there is money in the reconstruction of the South has also been understood by Sudan’s neighbors. Among investors in Juba are Ethiopians, Ugandans and Kenyans. But both Juba and Khartoum have been made to feel the vulnerability by relying on only one commodity, and the autumn 2008 financial crisis halved the oil price. Corruption is a significant challenge in the oil industry and the state apparatus, and Transparancy International ranks Sudan as the number 172 out of 179 countries on the list of the most corrupt. In recent years, Sudan has also attracted investment outside the oil industry, including the acquisition of land for the agro-industry.
Area: 2.5 million km2 (largest)
Population: 41 million – See COUNTRYAAH
Population density: 17 per km5
Urban population: 43 percent
Largest city: Khartoum – approx. 4.8 million
GDP per capita: 1699 USD
Economic growth: 7.6 percent
HDI Position: 150