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Ballot box with flag of Sudan in the background
Sudan's April elections will be keenly watched by the international community

Sudan conflicts

March 23, 2010

At an international donor conference for Darfur on the weekend, organizers in Cairo fell far short of the $2 billion they'd hoped to raise, due to concerns over Sudan's security situation ahead of April's elections.


"We are not disappointed, we are shocked at what happened," said Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the Turkish head of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which had convened Sunday's donor conference.

The organizers raised $841 million (622 million euros) for infrastructure projects for displaced people in Darfur in western Sudan - less than half the targeted amount of $2 billion.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit told the closing session that the countries which made pledges included Algeria, Australia, Brazil, Morocco, Qatar, and Turkey.

Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, chairing a meeting
Organizers hoped to raise $2 billion ahead of the international donor conferenceImage: AP

Several Western countries opted to keep their hands in their pockets, citing security concerns in Sudan.

"In the absence of proper conditions on the ground, our focus remains on humanitarian assistance," a Norwegian delegate said, echoing the view of many of the Western diplomats in attendance.

"Our presence here constitutes a political message," one unnamed Western diplomat told news agency AFP, adding that his country would not donate money because of "the uncertainty of how the money will be used or channelled."

The timing of the conference may have been especially poor, coming as it did just three weeks before Sudan is due to hold its first multi-party elections since 1986. The country's veteran leader, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) last year for war crimes and crimes against humanity during Sudan's seven-year rebellion in Darfur, is seeking reelection.

Many Sudan experts doubt the country's readiness for a democratic election process. Just the organization and sheer number of ballots involved represent a significant logistical hurdle, said Sara Pantuliano, a research fellow at the London-based Overseas Development Institute.

"Mock elections were held at the University of Khartoum, and it took a university graduate an average of 23 minutes to fill out all the ballots," she told Deutsche Welle.

"And in mock elections held by an NGO in the South, it took illiterate women an average of three hours to fill out the ballots. So even if the election was free and fair, there will be such a degree of confusion that even in the best of scenarios, there will still be results that will not reflect the wishes of the population."

Given the momentous challenge, she said she was not surprised that the donor conference in Cairo failed to muster its target sum.

"The election is an important landmark, and we've seen a similar holding back for southern Sudan, amid discussions of reallocating funding for the South, so there is a wait-and-see attitude at the moment which applies to the whole country," Pantuliano said.

Political rift ahead of elections

Political tensions ahead of the election are high as Bashir has for the first time faced calls from senior government members to surrender to the ICC. On Saturday, the head of intelligence for the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), Edward Lino, told Reuters that Bashir has no option but to respond to the ICC.

Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir, left, greets thousands of supporters in Toti
Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir said the ICC warrant against him has increased his popularity

"There are many dignitaries who were taken and he is not an exception. For the good of the country, Bashir should take leave and go to The Hague," Lino said.

The SPLM's presidential candidate, Yasir Arman, has also challenged Bashir to withdraw from the poll in order to encourage southerners to vote for unity in the South's self-determination referendum, which must be held before January 9, 2011.

According to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG), efforts to resolve both the country's ongoing north-south civil war and the conflict in Darfur have been hampered by the intransigence of Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP).

The comments from Lino and Arman over the weekend serve as further proof of the rift that has developed between the NCP and the SPLM, who signed a 2005 peace deal with Bashir, joining him as junior coalition partners. Until now, the SPLM had been careful to steer clear of the sensitive issue of the ICC, hoping to preserve their partnership until the referendum.

International efforts needed to secure peace

Now, the ICG says both of Sudan's major conflicts could boil over again unless the April 11 election and the southern referendum lead to democratic transformation. And, in a recent assessment of the situation in Sudan, the group added that the international community has a responsibility to act.

"Unless the international community, notably the US, the UN, the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council, and the Horn of Africa Inter-Government Authority on Development (IGAD), cooperate to support both Comprehensive Peace Agreement implementation and vital additional negotiations, a return to North-South war and escalation of conflict in Darfur are likely," the ICG concluded.

Pantuliano of the Overseas Development Institute agrees that there is a risk of more intense conflict following next month's election.

"The result of the elections will almost inevitably create local tensions, and these have a risk of escalating, and having national consequences; that is the most tangible danger," she told Deutsche Welle.

Author: Deanne Corbett
Editor: Rob Mudge

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