North Sudan: Southern Kordofan Elections Increase NCP-SPLM Enmity

From May 2-4, residents of Southern Kordofan State in North Sudan voted in an election for governor. The outcome – a triumph for the ruling party candidate, and outrage among the defeated candidate’s supporters – threatens to further strain relations between North and South Sudan, and also to increase political tensions in North Sudan itself.

The contest primarily involved two contenders. The first was Ahmed Haroun, a member of North Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) who served as Minister of State for Humanitarian Affairs from 2006 to 2009. In 2007, the International Criminal Court (ICC) charged Haroun with committing war crimes in Darfur and issued a warrant for his arrest. Despite this, in 2009 Haroun was appointed governor of Southern Kordofan. The second contestant was Abdelaziz al-Hilu, the state’s deputy governor and a senior member of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the party that controls the soon-to-be-independent country of South Sudan.

Haroun won. Many news outlets are concentrating on his ICC indictment, but in my view the more relevant story for Sudan itself is how the outcome of the election will affect relations between the NCP and the SPLM. These two parties are not only set to govern neighboring countries, they are also competitors for the future of North Sudan. The bulk of the SPLM’s strength is found in South Sudan, but a significant component of the SPLM will remain in the North, where it hopes, as the “SPLM-N,” to speak for North Sudan’s marginalized groups. The SPLM-N saw the gubernatorial elections in Southern Kordofan as a major step toward reinforcing its strength in the North, and also toward establishing political pluralism there.

This helps explain why the SPLM-N has reacted with such anger to the National Electoral Commission’s announcement of Haroun’s victory:

“We will not accept these results because the vote was rigged,” said Yasir Arman, head of the SPLM in the north.

(Arman, it should be noted, was the SPLM’s presidential candidate in the elections of April 2010, prior to the referendum that gave South Sudan its independence. Arman is a Northerner.)

From the same article, we hear further analysis of the SPLM’s feelings:

The SPLM fought the north for two decades before a 2005 peace deal, which paved the way for independence for the largely Christian and animist South Sudan from the mainly Muslim, Arabic-speaking north.

But many residents of the Nuba Mountains region of South Kordofan also fought for the SPLM and it is feared they could take up arms once more.

“These people were fighting for 20 years and their aspirations are not fulfilled,” Hafiz Mohamed of the Justice Africa think-tank told the BBC’s Network Africa programme.

“The way things are going, it’s leading to a deadlock, which will end up with people carrying arms to release their frustration,” he said.

“If it starts, no-one can stop it – it will affect the south, it will affect the north. With the war in Darfur, we are heading for dangerous times.”

The BBC has more analysis of how the Southern Kordofan elections will feed North-South tensions here.

These tensions are already partly confirming fears expressed by the international community before, during, and after the elections. The Carter Center, the UN, and US Special Envoy to Sudan Princeton Lyman all urged the different factions in Southern Kordofan to refrain from violence, though some violence did occur. On May 10, the Sudan Troika (United States, United Kingdom, and Norway) issued a statement on Sudan’s crises that included remarks on Southern Kordofan:

We welcome the peaceful completion of polling for Southern Kordofan’s elections, but are concerned about rising tensions in the state due to a delay in the announcement of preliminary results. We call on local and national leaders to take immediate steps to improve the security situation and exercise control over all armed security elements. We also call on the parties to work together to maintain calm as the preliminary results are announced and to refrain from prematurely declaring electoral victories. The parties should work together to resolve any election disputes peacefully through the courts. In order to maintain stability and promote long-term cooperation, they should build an inclusive government no matter the outcome. It is critical that the elections pave the way for the start of Southern Kordofan’s popular consultations, which remain an important outstanding element of the CPA.

Journalist Alan Boswell, writing before the elections, noted both international concern and the simultaneous presence of international “fatigue” after “intervening in Sudan’s myriad crises.” This fatigue has meant that Southern Kordofan’s problems have largely been overshadowed by other concerns relating to Sudan, such as Washington’s focus “on normalizing battered relations with Sudan’s northern regime and bolstering the nascent government in the south.” If matters heat up in Southern Kordofan, and if NCP-SPLM relations deteriorate more broadly, we will see how the international community reacts, both to events in Sudan and to its own fatigue.

Sudan: The SPLM in the North

_MG_4451 | Kurmuk BlueNile Sudan

Blue Nile State, North Sudan

This week I’m in Washington, DC. Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a presentation at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars entitled “The Future of Northern Sudan: An SPLM-North Sudan View” (event notice here; video to appear soon). The event drew at least eighty attendees, by my estimate, testifying to the strong interest Washington has in the future of Sudan. Here’s my takeaway:

In July, South Sudan will become an independent country. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), long the dominant voice of Southern Sudanese, will rule the new nation. But the SPLM has a significant presence in North Sudan, and this wing – let’s call them the SPLM-N for now – will have to negotiate their identity in the new North even as the new South decides its own identity.

The event at the Wilson Center featured Yasir Arman, a Northerner who was the SPLM’s candidate in the April 2010 presidential election, and Malik Agar Eyre, current governor of Blue Nile State, which remains part of the North. The two politicians represented an openly partisan standpoint, and denounced many of the policies of North Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP). So their viewpoint was not objective, but it offered important insights into the challenges facing North Sudan.

As Alan Goulty, the event’s moderator and the UK’s former ambassador to Sudan, reminded the audience, with the conclusion of the January referendum “we are looking at two new states.” The South will remake itself, but so will the North: the NCP’s vision of an Arab Islamic state is already competing with the SPLM-N’s aspirations for an ethnically diverse and politically and religiously plural nation. Arman and Agar repeatedly stressed the argument that the balance between Khartoum and the regions must change, with states and regions gaining a greater say in North Sudan’s affairs. South Sudanese secession will help resolve some of Sudan’s political tensions, Arman said, but some underlying issues remain: populations in south Darfur and in states like Blue Nile and South Kordofan comprise “the new South of the North,” and if Khartoum does not listen to their desires, there will be conflict.

The SPLM-N has serious political ambitions in North Sudan: they have begun a process of “delinking” themselves from the SPLM in the South (though a common political and intellectual vision endures), and they hope to position their party as the major opposition to the NCP. The SPLM-N wants what what Arman calls “real democratization,” including constitutional reform and free and fair elections.

Arman and Agar both urged the US and the Obama administration to pressure the NCP to undertake democratic reforms. Arman said that Washington has privileged stability in Sudan over democracy, but contended that neither element can exist without the other: Washington’s willingness to normalize relations with Khartoum, he added, should hinge on Khartoum’s efforts to democratize, to reform the North’s constitution, to establish lasting peace with the South, and to resolve the conflict in Darfur without violence.

The event, both because of its content and because of the fact that it took place, demonstrates the SPLM-N’s intention to remain politically relevant in North Sudan. The SPLM-N is looking to Washington to support this effort. Whether the Obama administration listens to these desires or not, the event highlighted the complexity of politics in North Sudan: efforts to deepen the Arab and Islamic character of the state in Khartoum may proceed, but they will not proceed uncontested. Challenges for North Sudan are, as Agar noted, just around the corner: an upcoming gubernatorial contest in South Kordofan State will test the strength of the SPLM-N and shed some light on the future of political pluralism in the new North Sudan.

Sudan: Hassan al-Turabi Arrested

Islamist intellectual Hassan al-Turabi and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir go way back, though not necessarily on friendly terms. When Bashir first came to power in a 1989 coup, some said Turabi was the mastermind, and in the early 1990s Turabi worked with Bashir to govern. Turabi and Bashir fell out in the late 1990s, and Turabi has opposed the regime at points, including during the last elections. According to Wikipedia Bashir imprisoned Turabi from 2004 to 2005, and according to the BBC (link below) Turabi has lived under house arrest numerous times.

Yesterday Turabi was arrested again. People involved are citing different reasons.

His wife told the BBC she thought he was arrested for repeating in a newspaper interview his allegation that elections last month were rigged.

Others speculate the arrest came because of Turabi’s links to rebels in Darfur.

The AP explains the government’s perspective:

Officials say a prominent Sudanese opposition leader has been detained and his party’s newspaper shut down.

The minister of information and communication says Hassan Turabi, leader of the opposition Popular Congress Party, has been accused of incitement and undermining security.

Officials also said that the newspaper of Turabi’s party had published illegal material.

It is notable that Turabi is the only high-profile figure arrested so far, though some say the arrest forms part of a larger crackdown. Are other opposition figures worried? The presidential candidate of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, Yasir Arman, spoke out in Turabi’s defense, saying the arrest was unlawful and unconstitutional. For the time being dissent continues, then.

I leave it to experts on Sudan to parse the meaning of the arrest, but I can throw out a few possibilities. One is that the regime is making an example of Turabi to show others that it will not tolerate outspoken dissent. A second is that this is a prelude to a serious crackdown on opposition activities. A third is that the regime is not worried about the South, but is worried about the internal opposition in the North, and is moving to solidify control of the North in advance of the 2011 referendum on Southern independence. A fourth possibility is that the regime is feeling tense about the situation in Darfur and does not want Turabi free to influence events there or speak against government policies. Perhaps the coming days will make one of these interpretations seem more plausible than the others.

Fatma Naib has more.

Reactions to Sudan Election Boycott

Sudan’s elections are supposed to take place from the 11th to the 13th of this month. But Wednesday night, Yasir Arman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the candidate seen as one of the most formidable opponents of President Omar al-Bashir, withdrew from the race. Yesterday, other major opposition parties joined the SPLM in a broad electoral boycott. Opposition figures cited concerns about vote-rigging and problems in Darfur; al-Bashir denied a request to delay the elections. US Special Envoy Scott Gration is currently in Sudan trying to find a solution.

Now everyone is wondering what will happen. One of the biggest worries is what the boycott will mean for the scheduled 2011 referendum on Southern Sudanese independence.

Here are some reactions from political actors, journalists, and bloggers:

  • Omar al-Bashir (reported March 31st, before the full boycott began): “Holding elections in the Sudan is a national obligation that should be fulfilled..We don’t have options in this respect. If they took the right to oppose the elections, we do have the same right to reject the referendum in the south.”
  • US State Department Press Briefing: “We have concerns about the credibility of the election. We want to see it as inclusive and competitive as possible. [US Special Envoy to Sudan] Scott [Gration] is there trying to help work here in the home stretch as we get ready for elections coming up. I will tell you that there are lots of things going on at different levels, so even if one decision might represent a setback, there are lots of other things going on that we continue to encourage. But he is there expressly because we want to make sure that the elections that happen in Sudan are as inclusive, as competitive, and as a result, produce a government or governments that will work significantly towards a better future for Sudan.”
  • Al Jazeera: “‘This is a big blow to the elections,’ said Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Adow in Khartoum. ‘It will discredit the whole process’.”
  • Arab News: “A…boycott is unlikely to force Bashir to further concessions. Indeed, he has threatened that the January 2011 referendum on autonomy for Southern Sudan, part of the peace deal that brought the SPLM into government, will be cancelled if there is an electoral boycott.  Having embraced the political process, the SPLM cannot walk away whenever they think they have a problem. If there is electoral fraud, then they should note and register it and let it be dealt with by the election authorities. If that process is not satisfactory, then is the time perhaps to consider a boycott of Parliament and legal challenges. Having fought so hard for representation within Sudan, the SPLM should not be abandoning their achievements.”
  • Anonymous US official to the New York Times: “‘This one still not very clear,’ one American official wrote in an e-mail message on Wednesday night. Still, the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said, ‘The message from Washington and others is, ensure the elections are free and fair and deal with the electoral obstacles but move forward with the elections’.”
  • US scholar: “Steven McDonald, the consulting director for the Africa program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, says it is not clear which U.S. approach can be effective in reaching these goals. ‘It remains for the administration about how to play it, whether it is a carrots or a stick approach, and that does not come out clearly to the outside observer like myself, as to where the administration has settled, what leverage does the United States really have, how much is it coordinating with the international community on this,’ he said.”
  • Rob Crilly: “For my money, there is something pretty shabby going on. The NCP of President Bashir needs to win the presidential elections. A resounding victory is the best way of heading off the International Criminal Court and cementing Bashir’s shaky legitimacy. The SPLM doesn’t want the presidency of a united Sudan. It wants the referendum next January and secession. This way both sides get way they want – while the Sudanese people wonder what sort of democracy it is that leaves them with bit parts in the political process.”
  • Gregg Carlstrom: “It really is unclear why SPLM backed out: Is Arman legitimately concerned about electoral fraud? Probably; a recent International Crisis Group report says the vote is already rigged. But maybe [Arman] was also trying to head off the embarrassment of an expected loss?”
  • Save Darfur: “The U.S. must take the position that any boycott by the SPLM and other opposition parties only underscores the inherent inequalities in the electoral system which favor the NCP.  Thus, any results from a boycotted election and/or an election that takes place in the current oppressive environment should not be allowed to legitimize the winner; in this case, President Omar al-Bashir.”
  • Scramble for Africa: “As citizens, we must target U.S. allies such as Kenya, Egypt, and Ethiopia to stop flooding Sudan with arms. More support must be given to humanitarian organizations, as well as to fostering a diplomatic settlement. And as we argue in our book, Scramble for Africa, Washington must quit its shamelessly hypocritical routine of publicly rattling its saber against Khartoum, while privately collaborating with some of the regime’s worst human rights abusers as part of an intelligence-sharing program between the CIA and Sudanese spooks.”

This situation is still evolving quickly. Feel free to contribute links below.

Quick Updates on Sudan Boycott, Attempted Coup in Guinea-Bissau

Both situations are evolving.


Several opposition parties said Thursday that they were withdrawing from Sudan’s imminent presidential election, casting a cloud of uncertainty over the nation’s first multiparty vote in more than 20 years and complicating the landmark agreement that ended decades of civil war in the country.

The decision followed an announcement the night before by the leading opposition candidate, Yasir Arman, that he was dropping out because it was “impossible” to hold an election in the conflict-racked region of Darfur and that the whole electoral process had been “rigged.”


Soldiers in Guinea-Bissau briefly detained the country’s prime minister and arrested the army chief of staff Thursday in what appeared to be a coup attempt.

Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior and Army Chief Zamora Induta were both seized and taken to a military base in the capital, Bissau.

Soldiers later escorted Mr. Gomes back to his office, where demonstrators gathered outside and chanted his name in a show of support.

However, the seized army chief’s deputy, Antonio Ndjai, warned that the military would kill Mr. Gomes if his supporters did not disperse.

Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments. I should have more on Sudan tomorrow.

Sudan Elections: Details on Process

Sudan’s elections will take place from April 11-13, and I’m starting to familiarize myself with the technicalities of the process. I thought I’d share what I’m learning. Today I found the website of the National Election Commission. I urge interested readers to look around there. Perhaps most importantly, in the documents section, a factsheet entitled “The Electoral Process in General” explains how the results will come out:

The responsibility and authority to announce election results rests with the [National Election Commission]. When counting has been completed, NEC will declare preliminary results of the election. Candidates or political parties participating in Sudan’s elections have the right to appeal those results to the Court. According to Sudan’s electoral law, NEC shall “immediately” after the appeals process, prepare and declare final election results within 30 days of polling. The results will be published in the official Gazette and in the media.

The BBC supplements this information:

Polling stations will open from 0800-1800 local time (0500-1500 GMT). There are an estimated 16,083 stations throughout the country, with 10,335 of them in the north and 5,748 in the south.

In order to win, a presidential candidate must gain more than 50% of the total votes cast. The result of the presidential poll is expected to be announced on 18 April.

If there is no clear winner, the two leading candidates will enter a second round contest on 10 May. The candidate with the most votes in the run-off wins and the result will be announced the following day.

As the BBC explains, candidates will also be contesting races for the 450-seat National Assembly (their website is here), the governorships of the country’s twenty-five states, and various state assemblies.

Regarding presidential candidates, of whom there are twelve, the BBC profiles four, and Reuters profiles five. Several parties/candidates have websites: the ruling National Congress Party (out of date), SPLM’s Yasir Arman, and the Umma Party, for starters. The latter two are actively covering the elections.

A number of issues related to the election deserve mention as well. Not all of these issues are problems, but all are worth attention:

I’m going to try and give regular updates as the elections approach – and after the voting is over, since we may have to wait a bit for results. The critical question, as in all two-round elections, will be whether the incumbent (President Omar al-Bashir) garners more than 50% of the vote in the first round, thereby avoiding a run-off. And if he does exceed 50%, the next question will be whether the opposition candidates accept the results as fair.

Sudan has major infrastructure in place for the elections, including online, but will it be enough to have things run smoothly? The video below, from Al Jazeera English, highlights some of the difficulties Sudan will face on April 11th. Any thoughts on the elections are welcome in the comments section. Meanwhile, here are a few good, active Sudan blogs: Making Sense of Sudan, Sean Brooks, Rob Crilly, and Roving Bandit.

Sudan, Ethiopia Elections Heating Up

(Traveling until Wednesday so blogging may be light. Longer posting will resume later this week. – Alex)

As the April elections draw nearer, SPLM candidate Yasir Arman calls for change in Sudan:

Arman and other opposition parties recently accused President Bashir’s ruling National Congress Party (NCP) of intimidation and plotting to rig the upcoming vote – – charges the NCP denies.

He expressed hope that the vote will be free despite the challenges the Independent Electoral Commission faces.

“We are looking for the election to be free and fair. The only way to do it is to (embark) on a massive campaign that depends on people in urban and rural areas. We should be calling for transformation and democratization. Democracy will not come by itself (and) it needs us to struggle for it,” he said.

He often says that there is need for a “new Sudan” where the citizens have the right and the freedom to choose their own leaders.

Meanwhile, the lead-up to Ethiopia‘s May elections remains tense:

The stabbing death of an opposition candidate in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region is raising new calls for an inquiry and an easing of 2009 repressive legislation that critics say is restraining political activity in the weeks leading up to  this year’s 23 May general elections.

Opposition figures contend that last week’s slaying of candidate Aregawi Gebreyohannes by five men at his home in Shire has aroused fears of a recurrence of 2005 post-election violence. As many as 200 protesters were killed five years ago by security forces, and thousands of others were arrested for challenging the results of a disputed nationwide vote. 

It’s going to be a turbulent spring in East Africa.

Countdown to Sudan’s Elections

Sudan will hold general elections around April 11 of this year. Observers have warned – and continue to warn – of “potential problems,” ranging from Darfur’s disenfranchisement to the ruling National Congress Party’s control of the national election commission. Fouad Hikmat of the International Crisis Group argues that President Omar al-Bashir wants to achieve a new legitimacy through re-election, and that if he attains it he will use his new credibility against rebels in Darfur, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in the South, and international bodies like the International Criminal Court. The greatest potential problem remains violence, whether North-South violence, internal violence in the South, or violent crackdowns against protesters, voters, and dissidents.

With all these dangers in the background, official campaigning began Saturday. It looks like the major players – Bashir, the SPLM’s Yasir Arman, and former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi of the Umma Party, will compete fiercely. Here’s how their campaigning styles look so far.

  • Bashir struck a defiant note in his opening appearance, “dancing his trademark jig and mocking the war crimes prosecutor seeking his extradition.” This tone, Reuters writes, “has enhanced his appeal among parts of the northern electorate.”
  • Yasir Arman, whom many observers dismissed as a second-rate candidate when his name first surfaced this winter, now has some analysts thinking he has a real shot at forcing Bashir into a second-round runoff, and possibly winning that. The Washington Post writes that “Bashir’s NCP asked the SPLM to withdraw Arman’s candidacy, a move analysts say shows they are worried by the competition.” Beginning his run on Sunday, Arman stressed national unity and promised justice for Darfur.
  • Sadiq al-Mahdi begins his campaign today, and I haven’t seen a report on the day’s events yet. When he entered the race in January, he emphasized his prior experience in office and also discussed solutions for the crisis in Darfur.

Each of these three candidates draws on a different base. The assumption goes that Bashir has broad support in the North and especially Khartoum, Mahdi has support in the North and strong support in Darfur, and Arman has support in the South and potentially some in the North. That makes a number of scenarios possible. Will the disenfranchisement of many in Darfur make Mahdi less significant? How high will turnout be, especially in the South? Would a strong Southern vote, plus a divided North, allow Arman to win?

Any of those scenarios, of course, assume that the vote will be fair, and that the opposition will participate. Some refugees in Darfur have advocated a boycott, and the SPLM has already decided to boycott the vote in one state’s elections. Often opposition boycotts have little effect, but I think an SPLM boycott would get major attention and change the dynamics in the elections considerably.

To sum up, the presidential race is a lot more heated than I expected, and democratic electoral politics are going to take a dynamic course in the next two months. But other approaches to politics – violence, boycotts, fraud, etc – are still a part of the picture as well. Bashir will have to fight for his seat, one way or another. Let’s hope he does it on the campaign trail, and not on the battlefield.

Sudanese Elections: Trouble Spots Re-emerge

For a moment, it seemed, there was potential for calm in Sudanese politics. By nominating a Northerner for their presidential candidate, the SPLM appeared to say that they wanted to concentrate on the South’s internal affairs. By saying that Southern secession was acceptable, President Omar al-Bashir seemed to be saying he was okay with that arrangement as well. But trouble has quickly resurfaced.

Port Sudan

  • In Southern Kordofan, “the site of oilfields and important civil war battlegrounds on the undefined north-south border,” an SPLM gubernatorial candidate plans to boycott “all elections.” Sudan’s central oil regions, because of their uncertain status and the memories of civil war violence still alive there today, could be a starting point for renewed national conflict. An SPLM boycott in Southern Kordofan therefore augurs poorly for the prospects of peaceful electoral competition between them and the ruling National Congress Party.
  • In Port Sudan, another opposition protest has resulted in mass arrests and injuries. Such protests – and the repression they provoke – also raise fears about how the regime in Khartoum will react when the political temperature heats up even more.
  • Human Rights Watch puts these protests in a broader context, saying that both the NCP and the SPLM are targeting opposition figures, contributing to political tensions, increasing the likelihood of boycotts, and curtailing human rights and political freedom. In an atmosphere like that, I wonder how ordinary Sudanese citizens are reacting – undoubtedly in a variety of ways, ranging from fear to passion to apathy – but increasing tension at the street level could act as a prelude to large-scale violence.

In political terms, the elections, scheduled for April, are just around the corner. No one wants to sound like Chicken Little, and I’d be happy to find out in two months that I overstated these problems. But the situation keeps weaving between (somewhat) hopeful and dismaying. Let’s hope it ends up more on the side of the former.

Saturday Links: Jos Clashes, Mauritanian Muslim Debates, War Studies, Africa Policy

IRIN reports from one of the villages around Jos, Nigeria, scene of recent Christian-Muslim clashes:

In Kuru Karama village, 30km from Nigeria’s central city of Jos, only four of some 3,000 residents remain; the rest have fled or been killed, said village chief Umar Baza. Every home has been destroyed.

Mauritanian Muslim scholars met with jailed Salafists for a special debate this week, as part of a program that aims at “rehabilitating 68 imprisoned Salafists by challenging them to take more moderate stances.” Also, for anyone following the story about the fatwa against female genital cutting in Mauritania, here’s an article on efforts against female circumcision in Senegal, Mali, and Niger.

A few items from Sudan:

Speaking of Sudan (and other conflict areas around the world), two new studies on war zones are worth looking at: one on Darfur “has concluded that about 300,000 people died, but that disease, rather than violence, killed at least 80 percent of them,” and one on war “questions the most general assumptions about conflict, from how deadly war is to whether the number of war dead can even be counted.”

Burkina Faso fights climate change.

And finally, Africa Action offers its “Africa Policy Outlook 2010.”

What’s on your screen?