Nonviolent Peaceforce Sudan Monthly Field Report
Preparations for Southern Sudan’s referendum on independence are continuing, although confusion still mars the process. The Chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission announced recently that registration of voters would begin on the 15th of November, three weeks later than originally intended. The delayed start to the registration process now gives the Commission only six weeks to carry out registration throughout the country and finalise voter lists, and therefore further adds to the likelihood that one or both sides will dispute the outcome.
Determining who is eligible to vote in the referendum is extremely complicated, as the definitions are ill-defined. In 2009 the governments of north and south Sudan agreed that in order for the referendum result to be valid, 60% of those registered must turn out to vote. In the event of such a turn out, a simple majority with decide the result. In consequence, eligibility to register has become a highly politicised issue, with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM)-controlled Government of Southern Sudan calling upon people to register only if they intend to vote. There is justified concern that, due to the vague nature of the eligibility criteria, the referendum outcome may be disputed. The Southern Sudan Referendum Act states that in order to be eligible to register to vote, an individual must be able to prove that they belong to one of the indigenous communities of Southern Sudan, or that they can trace ancestry to one of Southern Sudan’s ethnic communities, or that they or grandparents have been resident in Southern Sudan without interruption since January 1956.
As the act does not define the terms “indigenous community”, “ethnic community” or “resident without interruption” the scope for abuse of these terms is great. Those denied the possibility to register may refer their case to their paramount chief, and then to the courts. However the dwindling period of time between the start of the registration process and the day of polling means that the courts may well be unable to respond in time. This could result in many feeling that they have been disenfranchised.
Despite these concerns, southern determination to press ahead with the referendum as scheduled remains unchanged. Salva Kiir, the de-facto President of Southern Sudan publicly stated that “dangerous instability” would result from any delay of the referendum. Whilst holding back from declaring that the south would issue a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) he stated that if necessary the south would hold its own referendum if Khartoum attempted to delay the vote.
The National Congress Party (NCP)-led government in Khartoum has reacted strongly to Kiir’s remarks, claiming that they constitute a violation of the terms of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), which ended the civil war and sets the terms for the referendum. According to the CPA, both parties must undertake to make unity an attractive prospect to voters.
Increasingly, reports are being received that troops from both the northern Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) are massing on either side of the disputed border. This suggests that both sides are preparing for armed engagement, and could critically destabilise the referendum in these crucial states.
The work of NP’s team
Peace and Reconciliation Conference in Yambio
April’s elections returned a surprise result in Western Equatoria when the SPLM-supported incumbent, Jemma Nunu Kumba, was ousted from the role of state governor in favour of an independent candidate, Joseph Bakosoro. At the time it was feared that the rejection of the SPLM’s favoured candidate would result in violence, and some isolated incidents were recorded.
Shortly after his appointment as Governor of Western Equatoria State, Bakosoro announced his reconciliation with the SPLM. On leaving office in Western Equatoria, Mrs Nunu Kumba took up a post as Minister for Housing and Physical Planning in the national Government of Southern Sudan. Despite Mr Bakosoro’s profession to have reconciled with the SPLM, tensions remained high between his supporters and those of Mrs Nunu Kumba. Since the elections both candidates have consistently refused to meet each other, and there have been many reports of violence, intimidation and harassment between rival groups of supporters.
In an attempt address this issue in addition to many border disputes which have long plagued the state, a peace and reconciliation conference was called for, chaired by the Minister for Social Development. NP was asked to attend the conference, along with one of our local partners, the Mundri Active Youth Association (MAYA). In advance of the conference, NP and MAYA had been asked to prepare a drama that explored the implications of post-election violence. This drama was performed, and was extremely well received. NP’s team was regularly consulted throughout the conference, and they were asked to present examples drawn from their work of how civil society can work effectively for peace.
By the second day of the conference it became clear that, due to the lack of trust and levels of antagonism that existed between the current and former governors, little substantive progress would be made. In recognition of this fact, the conference Chair approached the NP team and asked them to advise on how to reinvigorate the dialogue process. NP’s team was asked if they would participate in the discussions held between Mr Bakosoro and Mrs Nunu Kumba, but they felt that any solutions arrived at would be more durable if they were reached without the direct intervention of external actors. NP’s team therefore provide technical support and advice for the two, helping them prepare prior to meeting directly with each other.
As a result of NP’s expertise and the Chair’s facilitation, the two sides met each other in the presence of neutral parties. After long discussion during which both sides raised issues of contention and areas of mistrust, Mr Bakosoro and Mrs Nunu Kumba shook hands and asked each other’s forgiveness. On the final day, in order to demonstrate to their supporters the progress that had been made during their discussion, they publicly embraced. The dialogue process which was begun at state capital level will now be rolled out throughout the state.
Further Community Outreach
NP’s field teams have continued to build relationships with local communities and officials, most notably in Mundri East and Mvolo Counties, where the approach of the dry season has traditionally seen increased levels of violence as farmers clash with cattle keepers over grazing routes and use of shared resources. The teams are working closely with County Commissioners and other community leaders to develop a pre-emptive strategy aimed at mitigating the effects of the annual migration. These pre-emptive strategies include crossing state borders into the counties neighbouring Mundri East and Mvolo and building relationships there, in order to prevent unrestricted and unplanned migrations.