A key democratic process in the volatile Sudanese border state of Blue Nile has suffered from manipulation by the two ruling Sudanese parties, the Carter Center recently warned.
The process, known as popular consultations, is mandated by the 2005 peace agreement, or CPA, that ended the North-South civil war, and is meant to ascertain whether the people of two border states, Blue Nile and South Kordofan, accept their part of the peace agreement—and the economic, security, and political arrangements included—as the final resolution of their long-standing grievances against Khartoum.
According to the Carter Center’s observations, the first phase of the consultations—what was originally envisioned as an exercise meant to survey the range of opinions across the population on a variety of different issues—appears to been hijacked by the political agendas of the two rulings parties in the state, the NCP and the SPLM.
The Carter Center noted that the two parties appeared to coach, and even in some cases intimidated and pressured, participants specifically on what system of governance to advocate for in the hearings. The campaigning efforts of both the NCP and SPLM led the Carter Center to observe participants offering opinions that, under questioning later, appeared not to be well-understood by those participants themselves:
[P]articipants began to give a rote, basic statement of ‘autonomy’ or ‘self-governance’ and ‘development,’ rather than the more wide-ranging remarks heard in the initial days of the hearings. Shortly thereafter, observers reported that many began to counter the calls for autonomy or self-governance in support of ‘federalism’ or ‘current government,’ and within a few days adding development to their statements.
These coached statements are an indication of what the two parties hope to gain from the popular consultations. The SPLM largely see the consultations as an entry point through which to re-negotiate Blue Nile state’s relationship with the central government, with the hopes of gaining more autonomy for the state government. For the NCP, the consultations are an opportunity to legitimize the current power-sharing relationship between the center and the peripheries in a post-secession Sudan.
This is an important conversation to have, one that is key to the stability of the post-secession North. But the value of the popular consultations also lies in its potential for shaking up the NCP versus SPLM paradigm that has dominated the Sudanese political landscape since the signing of the CPA to initiate a more complex national dialogue. It is an attempt to access opinions among the Sudanese population that may not necessarily fall within the lines of ‘autonomy’ versus ‘federalism,’ and ones that may not even concern the governance system at all. For instance, as the Carter Center pointed out, the issue of security in Blue Nile did not receive considerable attention during the hearings, despite “the high number of demobilized soldiers and problems of arm proliferation” in the state.
Neighboring South Kordofan is set to hold elections in May that will pave the way for the state to begin its own popular consultation process. The Carter Center’s documentation in Blue Nile is a concerning indication of how a process designed primarily as a forum for frustrated citizens to air their grievances can be manipulated—and if left under the influences of the two parties, could add to already simmering discontentment in the border areas that could lead to unrest in the soon-to-be separate northern state.
Photo: Citizen hearings during the popular consultation process in Blue Nile state, Sudan (UN)