[Montréal, Québec, Canada 22°C] There is a growing body of evidence that democracy in Sudan is being seriously stifled prior to the country’s April 2010 general elections, the first since 1986. An interesting 13-page report by Eric Reeves detailed, Khartoum’s Strategic Assault on Southern Self-Determination Referendum.
Southern Sudan’s right to a self-determination referendum, scheduled for 2011 after the country’s six-year interim period, is the “bedrock principle” which allowed for the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended the 21-year civil war between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLA/M).
According to Reeve’s report, “an abundance of evidence now suggests that the ruling National Islamic Front/National Congress Party (NIF/NCP) is intent on undermining or completely forestalling this critical electoral process.” The results will play a crucial role in future legislation that will determine whether or not the south will be able to hold a referendum, how the referendum decision will be measured (by what question) and what the requirements for a self-determination decision will be. This legislation or “Southern Self-Determination Act” was mandated within the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and was supposed to be enacted in 2007. Successive delays in legislating the Act may lead the Khartoum government to postpone the referendum to a later date (as we have seen with the national elections whose date was pushed back twice before settling on April 2010), which according to Reeves, may “trigger full-scale war.”
Some tactics to render independence extremely difficult to attain in a referendum is the NIF/NCP’s insistence that only a minimum 75% vote requirement is acceptable for secession. Although support for self-determination in the South is over 90%, according to the National Democratic Institute.
According to The Nation article referred to by Reeves, the NIF/NCP also now wants the Referendum Commission’s office to be in Khartoum rather than what the CPA stipulates it to be in Juba. The CPA specifies that the Commission is to have nine members (three from the Government of National Unity, headed by NIF/NCP and six from the Government of Southern Sudan, headed by the SPLM). Khartoum now wants fifteen members with ten from the Government of National Unity. Although the CPA lays out that security forces responsible for monitoring the referendum vote is to be the SPLA and Joint Integrated Forces, the NIF/NCP now wants the Sudan Armed Forces brought to the south for that purpose.
The foundations of a school being built in Mayen Ulem, Northern Bahr el-Ghazal, Southern Sudan (March 2009)
The two sides don’t agree on the contents of the ballots. Khartoum’s governing NIF/NCP party wants two issues listed on the ballot with voters choosing between unity and secession. The south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement prefers a single-issue ballot with one question and the option of choosing ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Considering the average 24% literacy rate in the South (37% for men and 12% for women. details) it would seem important to simplify the ballot as much as possible to accurately reflect the choice of the population in the referendum decision.
In Québec, we have had two of our own self-determination referendums (1980 and 1995) which included a debate as to the question on the ballot from which a decision would be made. The 1980 ballot proposed to negotiate ‘sovereignty-association’ while the 1995 ballot proposed ‘sovereignty’. The questions asked on each of the two ballots were:
1980: “The Government of Quebec has made public its proposal to negotiate a new agreement with the rest of Canada, based on the equality of nations; this agreement would enable Quebec to acquire the exclusive power to make its laws, levy its taxes and establish relations abroad — in other words, sovereignty — and at the same time to maintain with Canada an economic association including a common currency; any change in political status resulting from these negotiations will only be implemented with popular approval through another referendum; on these terms, do you give the Government of Quebec the mandate to negotiate the proposed agreement between Quebec and Canada?”
1995: “Do you agree that Québec should become sovereign after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership within the scope of the bill respecting the future of Québec and of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995?”
If complex questions like these are proposed to the people of Southern Sudan in their own self-determination referendum, most of the population would be unable to understand the question and therefore unable to properly decide on an answer.
Reeve’s article continues with evidence that “sophisticated firearms” from Khartoum are being sent to the south and may be exacerbating conflicts in Jonglei State. They are also providing them to the “maniacal Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), originally from northern Uganda and now operating in northern Democratic republic of Congo and in Western Equatoria, Southern Sudan. He discusses the possibility of an SPLM unilateral declaration of Southern independence and the consequences of such a decision.
Reeves ends his report with a review of the US Special Envoy for Sudan, Scott Gration, describing him as seeming “deeply naïve—or even more deeply disingenuous.” To read the entire report visit his website.