Sudan democracy, Sudan seccession

So, the Sudanese election is now over – amid the pretty inevitable accusations of vote-rigging and violence.

From afar, it seems that both sides have acted rather dubiously. The irregularities in north Sudan that are being widely reported by election observers and human rights groups are probably legitimate.

But then the opposition parties have done little to add legitimacy to the election process. A number of parties – most notably the Umma Party – boycotted the elections right at the beginning, arguing that they couldn’t possibly be fair.

True enough, perhaps. But the real motivation behind the boycott, of course, was to deny the election result any legitimacy. How can democracy be said to have worked if only a few elite parties are actually standing?

What Bashir has always wanted, more than anything, is for the elections to take place, for him to win and for the few election observers in the country to accept that, although irregularities took place, they were basically fair.

Whether this is going to happen remains to be seen.

But, whatever does happen, and whether the elections were truly free and fair, it looks as though incumbant president Omar al-Bashir is going to win. Not that I wish to prejudge the outcome, of course.

I have always said this. With an indictment for war crimes hanging over his head, Bashir was never going to gracefully step down. He was going to win, whatever.

The more interesting question is what is going to happen next year, when the southerners get to vote for independence. Again, as I have repeatedly stressed, if the election again returned a northerner to high office – and not just any northerner, but a northerner from a fairly specific desert area, where most presidents since independence have come from – then the southerners are just going to snap.

A quarter of a century of war and violence has left there tolerance levels at an all-time low. Now they have a chance to stand on their own, and govern themselves. No doubt govern themselves quite badly – look at Uganda, Congo and Kenya, for some nearby examples – but govern themselves nonetheless.

Historically, of course, north and Sudan – culturally, two vastly different regions – should never have been artificially welded together. As in most such cases in the world, the British were to blame.

In 1947, at a conference in Juba – the minutes of which were regarded as highly confidential, but have since been released – London and Khartoum agreed that the south should join the north, rather than be granted separate independence or allowed to join countries to the south, which were culturally more similar.

The central reason for this decision was economical, and a deep-rooted belief (on both sides) that the south simply couldn’t survive on its own:

The reasons are important; the main consideration is that the Sudan, though a vast country in area, is small in wealth and population, and if the Sudan is ever really to become self-governing and self-dependent it must not be divided up into small weak units. Those who prepared the report believe that the sooner Southern and Northern Sudanese come together and work together, the sooner they will begin to coalesce and cooperate in the advancement of their country.”

Such sentiments, expressed in 1947, perhaps hold equally true today. There is a very real doubt that South Sudan – where violence and corruption are rife (though little spoken of), and which has no direct access to the sea – will be able to cope on its own. Al-Bashir has also been pretty wiley in making sure that many of the most lucrative oil fields lie in the north. Look at the Abeyi ruling.

But will Al-Bashir let the south separate?

I’ve not changed my views on this. I think that there is a very real chance Al-Bashir will let the south secceed, should they wish to do so, especially now that he has managed to claim the best oil fields. For Khartoum, the confrontational south is just a headache, and the sooner they can be done with it, the better. Perhaps.

Al-Bashir was never going to relinquish power, given that his opponents could conceivably ship him off to The Hague should he do so. And now that he looks likely to remain in Khartoum – and with rather large question marks over the conduct of the election – southerners are going to use there vote in 2011 to send a strong message to Al-Bashir and his cronies.

“We do not want to be ruled by you!”

And President Al-Bashir may think that’s just dandy.

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