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One step forward, a few steps back

May 18, 2010
One step forward, and already a few back.
One of the few positives of Sudan’s elections, dubbed to be the first open vote in 24 years but marred by opposition boycotts and accusations of fraud, was a tiny opening of democratic freedom in Africa’s largest country.
Direct press censorship was lifted from Sudan’s papers. Opposition politicians were finally given an allbeit limited platform to address the population through the state media and journalists were given unprecedented access to many parts of the country, including war-torn Darfur.
Still it seemed for the biggest international observer missions like the Carter Center and the European Union the best they could say about the elections was 1: That they happened and 2: That people were not killing each other for once in this nation divided by decades of multiple civil wars. (At least not because of the vote anyway).
They all agreed that the crack of democracy opened during the polls must be allowed to continue. It seemed more progressive members of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s ruling party agreed.
Presidential Advisor Ghazi Salaheddin told me: “I don’t think we can go back”.  And even the not so West-friendly Presidential Assistant Nafie Ali Nafie was making positive noises post elections, pledging to hold the next polls in four years time.
But it seems just one month after the vote, Sudan is sliding back to its old ways.
In Darfur, where Bashir is accused by the International Criminal Court of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the Sudanese army has after a two-week offensive, taken control of West Darfur’s Jabel Moun – which has been a key rebel stronghold pretty much since the conflict began in 2003.
I travelled there once with arguably the most crazy of Darfur’s rebel groups, led by Gibril Abdelkarim. Traversing the Sudanese-Chadian border at will, the rebels drove for hours through largely empty savannah (interrupted only by a Janjaweed attack and getting stuck in sand dunes).
It’s an impressive range of hills dotted with villages full of cattle herders and farmers making it an ideal base to defend against attack. It’s also an area where the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) has enjoyed little access because of almost constant military clashes and bombing there.
The army said it killed 108 soldiers from the insurgent Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which JEM denies. JEM, largely boxed in by a Chadian-Sudanese rapprochement and complaining of constant aerial bombardment, redeployed most of its troops from Jabel Moun leaving them stretched too thin and allowing the army to take advantage.
Those “mobile units” as they called them also clashed with the army in North and South Darfur as they edged towards the oil-producing South Kordofan state.
The lull in Darfur’s fighting during the elections did not last long. JEM argue even during the voting the government was deploying in preparation for the offensive.
And then a late-night raid on Saturday on Bashir’s former close ally turned bitter enemy Islamist Hassan al-Turabi’s home, arresting him. closing his opposition party’s paper, seizing its assets and detaining three of its senior editors.
A myriad of reasons were given by different NCP and security officials for his arrest. Ranging from unspecified “security reasons” to accusing him of helping JEM, to his al-Rai al-Shaab paper (which enjoys a limited readership) publishing articles damaging to national security.
Editors-in-chiefs of newspapers were “invited” for a meeting at the feared intelligence headquarters on Monday, which many worry could result either in a reintroduction of censorship or at least a veiled warning of what could happen if they did not self censor.
The Ajras al-Huriya paper is a shining example of what can happen if they don’t toe the line. They say they have five court cases pending against them (three raised by the intelligence services) for publishing false news among other charges, which could result in up to six months in jail for the acting editor-in-chief.
The paper is pretty much the mouthpiece of the former southern rebel turned NCP partner in government after a landmark 2005 peace deal, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). So no midnight raids on them – just long, drawn out summonings and court proceedings.
Whatever happens, many of Sudan’s independent dailies, already heavily dependent on government company advertising for the bulk of their revenue, are likely to write cautiously from now on.
In the south, which will vote on whether to become Africa’s newest nation state in just eight months, one journalist was arrested for 13 days after trying to take pictures of electoral violence in the oil-rich Unity state. Another said he was detained and beaten by southern security forces, even though he had an identification card saying he worked for the SPLM, which dominates the region’s semi-autonomous government.
A senior general revolted and is threatening a main town after he accused the SPLM of fraud in the southern elections. He said he mutinied after authorities ordered his arrest and that he has wide support, although there is little that can be independently confirmed in the remote region of Jonglei.
He had said he wanted to negotiate but that attacks by the south Sudan army, sent to surround his troops, have left little room for talks.
There’s still time to salvage the political scene in the north and south ahead of the southern referendum on secession which could destabilise the entire Horn of Africa if mishandled.
The SPLM should engage those who left the party to stand as independents in the elections, not exclude them.
And the NCP can release the ailing Turabi and journalists and follow (preferably daylight), fair and transparent legal proceedings against those it feels have erred. Darfur’s peace talks can restart, the army can stop its bombardment and JEM can haltturabiits redeployment.
I had written a blog “one step forward, how many back?” a month ago.
I hope these recent transgressions are not my answer.

sudanOne of the few positives of Sudan’s elections, dubbed to be the first open vote in 24 years but marred by opposition boycotts and accusations of fraud, was a tiny opening of democratic freedom in Africa’s largest country.

Direct press censorship was lifted from Sudan’s papers and opposition politicians were given an albeit limited platform to address the population through state media.

Still, it seemed for the biggest international observer missions, such as the Carter Center and the European Union, the best they could say about the elections was 1): That they happened and 2): That people were not killing each other for once in this nation devastated by decades of multiple civil wars. (At least not because of the vote anyway).

They all agreed that the crack of democracy opened during the polls must be allowed to continue. And more progressive members of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s ruling party agreed. Presidential Adviser Ghazi Salaheddin told me he did not think they could go back on the democratic gains.

But it seems just one month after the vote, Sudan is sliding back to its old ways.

In Darfur, where Bashir is accused by the International Criminal Court of war crimes and crimes against humanity, the Sudanese army took control of West Darfur’s Jabel Moun – which has been a key rebel stronghold pretty much since the conflict began in 2003.

It’s an impressive range of hills making it an ideal base to defend against attack. It’s also an area where the U.N.-African Union peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) has enjoyed little access because of almost constant military clashes and bombing.

The army said it killed 108 soldiers from the insurgent Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which the rebels deny. JEM, largely boxed in by a Chadian-Sudanese rapprochement and complaining of constant aerial bombardment, redeployed many troops from Jabel Moun leaving them stretched too thin and allowing the army to take advantage.

JEM’s  ”mobile units” as they call them also clashed with the army in North and South Darfur as they edged towards the oil-producing South Kordofan state.

The lull in Darfur’s fighting during the elections did not last long.

And then a late-night raid on Saturday on Bashir’s former close ally turned bitter enemy Islamist Hassan al-Turabi’s home, arresting him, closing his opposition party’s paper, seizing its assets and detaining three of its senior editors.

A myriad of reasons were given by different NCP and security officials for his arrest ranging from unspecified “security reasons” to accusing him of helping JEM, to his al-Rai al-Shaab paper publishing articles damaging to national security.

Editors-in-chiefs of newspapers were “invited” for a meeting at the headquarters of the feared intelligence services on Monday. Many journalists worry what happened to Turabi’s paper was a less than veiled warning of what could happen if they did not self censor.

The Ajras al-Huriya paper is a shining example of what can happen if they don’t toe the line. It says it has five court cases pending against it (three raised by the intelligence services) for publishing false news among other charges, which could result in up to six months in jail for the acting editor-in-chief.

The paper is pretty much the mouthpiece of the former southern rebel turned NCP partner in government after a landmark 2005 peace deal, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). So no midnight raids on them – just long, drawn out legal battles.

Whatever happens, many of Sudan’s independent dailies, already heavily dependent on government company advertising for the bulk of their revenue, are likely to write cautiously from now on.

In the south, which will vote on whether to become Africa’s newest nation state in just eight months, one journalist was arrested for 13 days after trying to take pictures of electoral violence in the oil-rich Unity state. Another said he was detained and beaten by southern security forces, even though he had an i.d. card saying he worked for the SPLM, which dominates the region’s semi-autonomous government.

A senior general revolted and is threatening a main town after he accused the SPLM of fraud in the southern elections. George Athor said he mutinied after authorities ordered his arrest and that he has wide support, although there is little that can be independently confirmed in the remote, swampy Jonglei state.

He had said he wanted to negotiate but that attacks by south Sudan’s army, sent to surround his troops, have left little room for talks.

There’s still time to salvage the political scene in the north and south ahead of the southern referendum on secession which, if mishandled, could destabilise the entire Horn of Africa.

The SPLM could engage those who left the party to stand as independents in the elections like renegade Athor, not exclude them.

And the NCP can release ailing Turabi and the journalists and follow fair and transparent legal proceedings against those it feels have erred. Darfur’s peace talks can restart, the army can stop its bombardment and JEM can halt its redeployment.

But that would require high-level pressure from the international community who, despite two massive U.N.-funded peacekeeping missions in the country, have shown little ability to engage effectively in the war-torn country.

I had written a blog “one step forward, how many back? a month ago. I hope this isn’t the final answer.

(Photo: Opposition supporters demonstrate against the arrest of Popular Congress Party leader al-Turabi in Khartoum. Reuters)
Comments

On the Elections:

Sudanese could have simply chosen to put their ‘Xs’ at the ballot box elsewhere other than besides Omar Al Bashir or the National Congress Party (the names of the ‘withdrawn’ were still on the ballot slips.)

They didn’t.

Get over it.

Face up to the cardinal facts: the Sudanese election results have reflected the popular will.

Proof?

Seen any public strikes, tanks in the street, and Thai-style street demonstrations in Khartoum or anywhere else in Sudan for that matter since the election results were announced???

No.

The weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth about President Al Bashir’s re-election and entrenchment of the NCP in some quarters of the international community and the opposition parties is just rank cognitive dissonance to the fact that the majority of ordinary Sudanese both Bashir and the NCP; and that’s why those critics have resorted predictably to cries of foul play.

It’s easier for those critics to remain cocooned in that fantasy rather than face up to that harsh reality staring them straight in the face.

The elections have also underlined that most ordinary Sudanese inform their actions through a different paradigm to the standard black-and-white caricature of Al-Bashir and the NCP that has become fossilized in the UK, USA and elsewhere in the West.

After all, if everything that has been said about Al-Bashir and the NCP is as black-and-white as has been portrayed, then Sudanese would not have re-elected them as they are right here in the mix.

So, my advice for Reuters? Try and drill down into this paradigm (rather than pretending, through cognitive dissonance, that it does not exist) as your standard (Western group-think wisdom – a la pre Iraq invasion) one is not the basis upon which the ’68%’ inform their actions upon.

And in any case, know that when your time is up, your time is up: no amount of resources, campaigning etc can stop an incumbent from being tossed out by the electorate (if there is choice as Sudan had).

Africa, as you know, has been littered with examples where the ruling incumbent party and leader have dominated the media and have larger financial patronage than their challengers, and have STILL lost: KK and Chiluba (Zambia); Jerry Rawlings (Ghana); Moi (Kenya) to name a few.

Nor were Western observers as scathing about the polls as your post paints. President Jimmy Carter, for one, noted there was “no evidence of deliberate fraud by members of the NEC or others”. And I think few could sincerely disagree that the deficiencies had no discernible material impact on the outturn, or that the polls were a definitive step in the right direction towards consolidating peace and democracy throughout Sudan.

More proof? Here’s a quote from an international electoral observer accredited to the Carter Center: “in judging Sudan, it is fair to say their elections were much better organized and more credible than any of the last three held in Nigeria, which I’ve observed, and were much freer and more fair than the upcoming elections in Ethiopia, Rwanda, or Egypt – all American allies – are likely to be.”

In any case, Reuters and other Western news outlets appear to have, at the very least, been exercising self-restraint in their coverage about Sudan’s recent elections.

They all missed (ducked?) the big story from the elections: it wasn’t the (greatly exaggerated) claims and incidents of vote rigging in ‘north’ Sudan, but the widespread cases of voter intimidation, violence and general chaos of the vote in the south.

Indeed, south Sudan might struggle to get international recognition if the forthcoming referendum is held in the same ham-fisted way.

On the recent military confrontation with JEM:

While any civilian casualties are very regrettable, if JEM has to be military degraded and bombed back to the negotiating table, then so be it.

That’s the general feeling here right now amongst ordinary Darfuri civilians here and the Sudanese population generally.

JEM had tried to fan out of West Darfur into South Darfur and South Kordofan; hardly the actions of a group committed to peace.

They have had enough time to get their act together at the negotiating table – seven years and counting – and the future of Darfur and the rest of Sudan will not be held ransom indefinitely by a few hundred men, with no real tangible aims, or concern for the very people they claim to be fighting for (ordinary Darfuri civilians), and who just want to make money out of the banditry that has become commonplace in some parts of Darfur.

The posting above is the kind of comment that has continued to give JEM, SLA Abdul Wahid and other dirigiste rebel groups in Darfur the wiggle room/political space to carry on posturing and vogueing; in other words, doing anything other than sit down with the Government of Sudan with realistic demands for a comprehensive peace.

I mean, get real! How could you sincerely (stress) still doubt the will of the NCP to make comprehensive peace in Darfur, despite it having signed up to internationally brokered (stress) peace agreements with Darfuri rebels, and turning up at anytime, anyplace, and anywhere to try to achieve peace with the myriad Darfuri rebel groups???

After all, what could the Sudanese government possibly gain from the conflict continuing even a minute longer given all the international opprobrium it has received?????
Chew on that for a minute……..

It’s JEM that wants to maintain the status quo – even if is at great expense to ordinary Darfuris.

Your post also leaves the distinct impression that Sudan is exceptional in that it uses aerial bombardment on rebel groups trying to challenge the state violently.

We all know that’s not true.

Or are you suggesting that only Sudan deliberately bombs civilians whereas in other cases around the world (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Gaza, Chechnya, Kashmir, and Northern Uganda) they are just ‘accidents’???

On Press Freedom:

This post (wrongly) gives the distinct impression that press freedom was granted just in the run up to the polls.

That’s not true either.

Sudan has for quite a few years now enjoyed a pluralistic and highly critical (of the Federal Government and, to a much, lesser degree, the Government of South Sudan) for quite a few years now – as anybody who has read the English-language Khartoum Monitor and the Arabic language newspapers in Sudan will readily attest to.

Want proof?? See this link by Reporters without borders – and download the attached PDF: http://en.rsf.org/sudan-darfur-an-invest igation-into-a-18-04-2007,21758.html

Don’t confuse press freedom (a nebulous concept) with meaning that one can write anything however slanderous, libelous, and factually incorrect it is.

Take note, the US, the UK, France and all other Western nations have court injunctions, libel and defamation of character laws in place, too. And governments there use them regularly.

Ibrahim Adam
El Fasher
North Darfur
Sudan

Posted by IAdam | Report as abusive
 

I AM PROUDOF SUDAN FOR THEIR FIRST MULTINATIONAL ELECTION IN 24 YEARS.THINGS WILL CHANGE FOR THE BETTER.BUT I THINK THERE SHOULD BE ELECTORAL REFORMS IN THE FUTURE ELECTIONS IN THE FORM OF PICTURE VOTERS REGISTER AND ID CARDS TO PREVENT RIGGING.PEACE SHOULD REIGN IN SUDAN.AMEN

Posted by TONYMONTANA | Report as abusive
 

Do we need a Referendum For A New Democracy?

Are you concerned about the future of democracy? Do you feel democracy is under attack by extreme greed in countries around the world? Are you sick and tired of: living in fear, corporate greed, growing police state, government for the rich, working more but having less?

Can we use both elections and random selection (in the way we select government officials) to rid democracy of undue influence by extreme wealth and wealth-dominated mass media campaigns?

The world’s first democracy (Athenian democracy, 600 B.C.) used both elections and random selection. Even Aristotle (the cofounder of Western thought) promoted the use random selection as the best way to protect democracy. The idea of randomly selecting (after screening) juries remains from Athenian democracy, but not randomly selecting (after screening) government officials. Why is it used only for individual justice and not also for social justice? Who wins from that? …the extremely wealthy?

What is the best way to combine elections and random selection to protect democracy in today’s world? Can we use elections as the way to screen candidates, and random selection as the way to do the final selection? Who wins from that? …the people?

Posted by globalpublic | Report as abusive
 

The African electorate is in an unfortunate state and it almost seems like any attempt to restore African suffrage it either met with total opposition or required corrupt practices. Nigeria is gearing up for what will most certainly be a very exciting round of elections in the coming year and Africans at home and in diaspora are looking on nervously at how that process will go. The legal environment for the 2011 elections is framed by the 2010 Electoral Act, harmonized (similar to a U.S. conference report) several weeks ago by the National Assembly. The new Act introduces many very significant amendments not least among which is the requirement that electoral results to be declared at the polling unit and at the ward level; this makes good on President Jonathan’s promise to audiences in Washington, D.C. and in Nigeria when he said this reform is necessary to improve the integrity of the elections by making it much more difficult for elections to be stolen through the tabulation process. For a more complete analysis of the coming Nigerian elections as well as a side-by-side comparison of the 2006 and 2010 electoral laws, please see article: http://carllevan.com/2010/09/nigerias-20 11-elections-obstacles-and-opportunities  /comment-page-1/#comment-178 on scholarly blog by Dr. Carl LeVan; a professor of African politics and comparative political theory at American University, where he serves as Africa Coordinator for the Comparative and Regional Studies Program in the School of International Service.

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