Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
Southern Sudanese may not like to admit it but the unlikely hero of their independence is an octogenarian northern lawyer always close to controversy who has pulled off what was touted as a mission impossible. Holding south Sudan’s referendum on secession on time.
Bespectacled Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil, head of the south Sudan Referendum Commission, looks frail and sometimes walks with a stick. But he’s sharper than all of his younger colleagues, can run rings around journalists in Arabic, English and French and handles his own very busy mobile phone traffic.
“When he starts something he attacks it like he’s in his early twenties,” said one colleague.
Khalil, in his late eighties, was sworn in as head of the commission in July some three years later than he should have taken up the post. He then made his first trip to south Sudan.
The shiny new headquarters of Sudan’s referendum commission was buzzing with activity on Monday, less than four months ahead of the scheduled start of a seismic vote on whether the country’s oil-producing south should declare independence.
Unfortunately, officials were not all busy putting the final touches to voting registration lists or preparing publicity materials for the region’s inexperienced electorate.
When it takes place in Sudan.
Preparations for Sudan’s general elections — due to start tomorrow — were thrown into confusion over the past two weeks as opposition parties issued contradictory statements over whether they were boycotting the polls.
Some announced a total withdrawal, protesting against fraud and unrest in Darfur, only to change their minds days later. Others pulled out from parts of the elections — presidential, parliamentary and gubernatorial votes are taking place at the same time — then changed their minds days later. Others left it up to individual candidates to decide.
These are confusing times in Sudanese politics — so confusing that even the activists are struggling to keep up with the shifting positions of their own parties a week ahead of national elections.
This morning, a spokesman from south Sudan’s dominant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) called round journalists inviting them to a demonstration in Khartoum.
In a shock unilateral announcement, the leading south Sudanese party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), withdrew its presidential candidate, Yasir Arman, and said it would also boycott elections on all levels in Darfur.
It paved the way for incumbent President Omar Hassan al-Bashir to win the April 11-18 polls. Arman was viewed as his main challenger, with much of south Sudan’s support – about 25 percent of the 16-million strong electorate.
Nigeria’s ruling party made clear this week it wanted to see another northerner as the candidate for the 2011 presidential election, according to its principle of rotating power. That makes it harder (if not impossible) to see how Acting President Goodluck Jonathan might ever contest the ballot since he is from the Niger Delta in the south.
The Peoples Democratic Party’s unwritten rule of rotating power through Nigeria’s regions every two presidential terms – for these purposes there are six regions – was thought up on the return to civilian rule in 1999 because until then power had largely rotated among northerners, most of them in uniform.
Mugabe’s victory in Friday’s one-candidate poll was condemned in the West and by all three African monitoring groups who said the vote was deeply flawed.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai detained twice in a week, U.S. and British diplomats forced from their cars by police, rallies banned, aid workers stopped from working, reports of violence from across the countryside. The campaign for Zimbabwe’s presidential election run-off on June 27 is being hard fought, literally.
The opposition accuses President Robert Mugabe of responsibility for violence and says 65 people have been killed. The ruling party blames Tsvangirai’s followers and says Mugabe’s Western foes and some aid agencies have been campaigning for the opposition.