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Elections in Sudan and the Roots of Conflict

13 April 2010 5 Comments

Pillars of Peace: Environmental Sustainability, Conflict Transformation

Commentary by Molly Mayfield Barbee

It has been just over a year since I left Sudan. So much has changed in my life since then–I survived my first québécois winter, for one thing! But I have continued to follow Sudanese current events . Others of you interested in the region will know that their long-awaited national elections are finally underway this week.

Planned originally to take place in 2003, then postponed pending positive developments from the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, and postponed again throughout 2007, the Sudanese census–an essential component of national election preparations and a stipulation of the CPA–took place in 2008 and 2009. Difficulties gathering data in Darfur and other regions made the results somewhat difficult to finalize, although a summary with most of the data (except Darfur) can be found here. The presidential  elections were slated for the spring of 2009, but as the census was pushed back, so were elections.

It became a kind of sad joke when we were there. Oh yeah, they finally started the census! Great, only two years late. Wonder when they’ll actually hold the elections? No one had much hope that the elections would ever start, let alone be run with appropriate measures so as to be free and fair.

How could a country that couldn’t accurately get a count of its people even begin to hold a credible election? How could some certain percentage of an unknown number of people supposedly make a decision about their national future? Add to that a country without free speech, freedom of the press, political freedom to gather and organize, or other conditions necessary for a free and fair election and the questions become more disconcerting.

But here we are! April, 2010. Better late than never? And better partial and with boycotting opposition parties than not at all? Well… I still think those are open questions. I would love to see your thoughts on the matter in the comments section below.

Map of Darfur, Sudan
Image via Wikipedia

And what the questions around the Sudanese elections remind me of, on this blindingly sunny spring day in Montreal, is the root cause of the conflict in Sudan. And how, unless larger measures are taken to resolve that underlying conflict, and end how parties are spurring it forward or allowing it to fester and endure these many years, no election will be universally credible in that country. Perhaps even the 2011 referendum–in which so many Sudanese are investing their hope for a free and independent South Sudan and peaceful resolution–will be nearly impossible to finalize until the larger problem is sorted out.

This larger, underlying problem does not belong only to Sudan. It is a transnational, inter-cultural, global problem. It is climate change.

Climate change has been increasing desertification in northeastern Africa over the past 30+ years. This situation has interrupted the traditional movements of nomads in the western region of Sudan into areas historically settled by farmers.

Yes, there are other ethnic conflicts tied to the crisis in Darfur; yes, there is a power struggle going on, both within Darfuri communities and at the national level; yes there are other economic and market-driven catalysts for the larger conflict. But there is a quiet and sometimes not-so-quiet desperation that comes from not having access to water, food, and shelter  is being magnified in the broiling hot temperatures and sun of Sudan. This is a problem we all must get involved in together. Caring for the earth means caring for each other. Saving water and natural resources in one location can mean saving lives in another.

So this month, if any are still wondering what the environment has to do with peace, at least let the events in Sudan teach us that the answer to that question is: everything.

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5 Comments to “Elections in Sudan and the Roots of Conflict”
  1. Liora says:

    Speaking of Sudan-

    For those of you in Washington, DC: Theater J is currently running a stage production titled “In Darfur”. It runs March 31-April 18, 2010.

    Based on true events, this impeccably researched chronicle of the unfolding genocide in Sudan is a searing story of humanitarian urgency and compromised journalistic ethics. Can one woman’s story stand for the plight of a nation? And what are the costs of mobilizing world opinion?

    For more info:

  2. Tolkyn Martin says:

    Although, it was quite clear that fair elections in Sudan was a wishful thinking. I did have a glimpse of hope that people of Sudan will come out and cast their votes. I did have a glimpse of hope that opposition leaders will have a chance to voice their opinion and be elected. With M. Bashir, most likely, staying in power; Sudan is doomed to stagnant four years. So may be it would have been better to boycott elections overall? Hard to say but change is certainly not anywhere near.

  3. Molly says:

    Unh hunh. Thanks Liora and Tolkyn for your responses. I do wonder about the boycotting option. But somehow democratic processes have to start taking over. Maybe that would be best done first by raising the voices of individual people to say no to that kind of election, and then later to insist on free-ER and fair-ER elections? Or maybe they have to start getting used to elections first and then work their ways towards getting them free and fair once there’s at least an initial process in place? Hard to say and I’d love to hear more voices and opinions on the matter.

    To continue the conversation, I would also suggest checking out this blog post: from one of my favorite Sudan experts. He writes, “…the consequence is that, whoever stands for election in Sudan in the future, will have to bear in mind that she or he will be elected principally by the votes of women. I wonder what effect this will have on future election campaigns, on the composition of party leadership, and on Sudanese political life in general.”

    While you’re on his site, you might also check out these other stories on women, Sudan, and the region:

  4. kathryn says:

    Translating ideals into realities is always messy. Condolezza Rice told the U.S. Senators at her confirmation hearing to become the first African-American woman to serve as Secretary of State, “When our forefathers said, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,’ they didn’t mean me.” But now, many, many messy, awkward elections, and boycotts, and one civil war, later, those ideals are closer to reality. Process matters and elections, even bad elections, are process.

  5. Abby says:

    I found the point about climate change to be very interesting. In several years of research and learning about the conflict in Sudan this is the first time I have ever come across the topic of climate change, or atleast that specific verbage. It is so easy to focus on the violence and ethnic and racial issues that some of the root causes are quickly ignored. Is there anything going on in Sudan to combat climate change?

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