As Sudanese and international actors scramble to pull together preparations for a vote that could allow South Sudan to secede, a quiet chorus of U.N., U.S., and Sudanese voices has emerged in the last month to raise awareness over the lack of funds for the important exercise.
In early October, the referendum commission announced its estimated budget—a tremendous 372 million dollars—but only a fraction of that money is available today, just two months out from the vote. According to the director of the U.N. referendum division Denis Kadima, by last week, international donors had promised 63 million dollars and only half that amount had been received. Both Sudanese governments have also been slow in releasing the promised funds; the Sudanese government has according to the U.N. provided only a small amount, 8.5 million dollars, while the South Sudanese government just recently authorized the transfer of 51 million dollars.
The lack of movement on the funding front has prompted a number of officials to speak out. “National financing was a major obstacle to progress in preparations for the referendum,” U.N. head of peacekeeping Alain Le Roy told the U.N. Security Council late last month, and has “severely limited the implementation of concrete measures for voter registration.” The head of the new U.N. Secretary General referendum panel Benjamin Mkapa has urged the two Sudanese governments to release funding while the head of Sudan’s referendum commission Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil has accused international donors of not contributing any funding, and said only “small amounts” had been received from the two governments. A statement from the office of the U.S. special envoy to Sudan last Friday noted that while both Sudanese governments have “begun incrementally” to release funds, there was still a “significant gap.”
So why has much-needed funding for the referendum not been provided? In part because of continued political intransigence from the Sudanese government, and in part due to the unwillingness of international donors to operate outside of established funding procedures. Much of international assistance for the vote is conditioned on the Sudanese governments disbursing funds; the rationale, rightly, is that the vote is first and foremost a Sudanese exercise and this would promote accountability. While the South Sudanese government has belatedly decided that transferring funds will ultimately be in its interests, it is unclear whether – some would probably say unlikely – the Sudanese government will follow suit.
Like other processes set out by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that appear primarily technical, the delivery of funds for the referendum has and will continue to be hindered by a lack of political will. (Recall multi-month deadlock over the appointment of the secretary general of the referendum commission, the passing of legislation for the two referenda, the results of the census – all of which fell into a similar trap.) But unlike many other issues whose progress is contingent on concerted action and agreement from the two Sudanese parties, funding is an issue that the international community can address. In recognition of the urgency of the moment, some donors have smartly paid for necessary election materials—instead of handing over money—as a way of working around protocol. But without funding, preparations for the vote will have to continue at a potentially fatally slow pace. With less than two months to go until the referendum, a principled stand on government responsibility seems a luxury.
A particularly apt description of the funding dilemma can be found in the latest Rift Valley Institute report, which quotes a commentator as saying:
The donors, either they are stupid or they are totally naive. The government [i.e. GoNU] didn’t put money for the election, in which they had an interest. So are they going to put money for the referendum? Of course not! … At the end of the day, is there any donor who is willing to stand and say that they won’t pay, at all? No. At the end of the day they will pay. So why not pay now?’
Photo: Voters register in Juba ahead of the elections last April. Voter registration for the January referendum is slated to begin next week. (Enough)