Editor's Note: This blog post was written by Enough Project intern Anna Philibert.
Yesterday, in an historic election, Nigeria had its first peaceful and democratic power transfer. Sitting President Goodluck Jonathan conceded defeat to opposition challenger, and former military ruler, Mohammad Buhari. In peacefully turning over the reins of the country, Jonathan remarked, "nobody's ambition is worth the blood of any Nigerian." This month, Africa will see another election, in President Omar al Bashir's Sudan. Unfortunately, in Sudan, elections don't mean choice. When Al Jazeera journalist Fatma Naib asked Sudanese about their impending election, scheduled for this Thursday, April 13th, "a few people even told us, ‘there are no elections. It’s just a show.’ And some sarcastically asked, ‘there are elections? Oh, OK, we didn’t know.’”
Last week, a group of Sudanese, African, and Arab civil society organizations released an open letter to the African Union. With the current restrictions on civil society organizations, the groups fear that if the elections proceed on April 13th, they will only intensify the conflict, and worsen the humanitarian crisis. This letter urged the African Union to support the postponement of Sudanese presidential and legislative elections until basic principles of democracy and human rights are realized. The organizations also called upon the African Union to uphold their Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance, by not sending an election monitoring mission to Sudan until a peaceful process of national dialogue occurs.
Since its independence, Sudan has only been at peace with itself for a handful of years. The Sudan Consortium recently released a report documenting the state of the conflict in Darfur and the ‘Two Areas,’ the Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Already in 2015, Darfur and the ‘Two Areas’ have faced targeted attacks on civilians and infrastructure, and seen thousands of newly displaced persons. Currently, the United Nations estimates that 6.6 million people are now in need of humanitarian assistance. The Sudan Consortium report highlights the government of Sudan’s “Decisive Summer Campaign,” which targeted armed opposition groups. The campaign deployed Rapid Support Forces, which are considered to be a reincarnation of the notorious Janjaweed militia. These attacks have disproportionately affected civilians in Darfur and the ‘Two Areas,’ and created levels of unprecedented violence in 2014.
2015 marks the twelfth year since the conflict in Darfur first began, but the situation has continuously deteriorated. Darfur now has 73% of its population in need of humanitarian assistance, and 40% displaced. The report states that in 2014, an average of 1,253 people were displaced each day in Darfur, amounting to 457,495 internally displaced persons. Since the start of 2015, over 100,000 new people have already been displaced. Citizens in Darfur also face sexual and gender based violence, which the government increasingly utilizes as a counter-insurgency tool. To exemplify this concern, the Sudan Consortium cited the recent systematic rape of 221 women and girls in Tabit, North Darfur. Following initial fact finding missions to Tabit, the government blocked additional humanitarian access to the region, leaving the remaining civilians without aid.
Citizens of Blue Nile and South Kordofan now face massive displacement, food insecurity, and persistent attacks against civilians. From 2014 to 2015, civilian injuries from bombing and shelling attacks have increased by 186% in the ‘Two Areas.’ The Sudan Consortium credits this extreme increase to new technological access that allows the Sudan Armed Force’s to better target civilians, through bombing homes, schools, places of worship, and hospitals. Consequently, December saw the highest level of recorded bombings in a single month since the conflict began.
Sudan’s sustained violence has forced many people to flee to neighboring countries, where they risk entering other conflicts. There are 280,000 Sudanese citizens seeking shelter in neighboring Ethiopia and South Sudan, even amidst South Sudan's rampant civil war. Likewise, in the Central African Republic, where over half of the population is already in need of humanitarian assistance, there are 5,560 refugees from Sudan. The violence in CAR has steadily escalated since 2013, and like in Sudan, armed groups often prevent aid workers from gaining access to the vulnerable populations.
The Sudan Consortium’s report highlights the gravity of the humanitarian crisis in Sudan, and the extent to which the current conflict would prevent a genuine election from happening on April 13th. With unprecedented levels of violence, and an expectation that the situation will deteriorate further, civil society organizations called upon the African Union to promote good governance and legitimacy. “We urge Your Excellencies to seize this unprecedented opportunity of achieving sustainable peace in Sudan and send a clear message to all interested stakeholders.”
Image: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir salutes during a visit to al-Obeid, North Kordofan, Sudan, 2012. (AP Photo/Abd Raouf)