Multi-party elections are a key step in a floundering peace process
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From April 11 to 13, Sudan holds its first multi-party elections in 24 years under the terms of a 2005 peace deal between the North and South to end more than two decades of war. But it has been a precarious peace.
Hailed as the first democratic elections in Sudan for 24 years, the polls unfolding between April 11 and 13 are also the first of two key electoral steps under a comprehensive peace deal signed in January 2005 between Khartoum and the former southern rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).
The multi-party presidential, legislative and governor polls will be followed by a referendum to be held next year, when the mostly Christian and animist South is expected to hold a referendum on whether to secede from the Muslim-majority North. A former British colony, Sudan is Africa’s biggest country and is also the sub-Saharan region's third-largest oil producer.
The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, signed in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi under Kenyan auspices, ended 21 years of a fratricidal civil war between the North and the South, which resulted in approximately two million deaths and over 4.6 million displaced people.
It also led to the establishment of a unity government of the ruling northern National Congress Party (NCP) and the former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), which was founded on the ashes of the SPLA. The deal is aimed at developing the different regions of the country through an equitable sharing of power and resources.
Oil between borders and at the heart of the problem
But the coalition has been shaky at best, marked by frequent disputes and mutual distrust.
Over the past five years the alliance between Sudanese President Hassan Omar al-Bashir from the North, and Vice-President Salva Kiir Mayardit, the SPLM leader, has been fraught. At the heart of friction lies the distribution of oil revenues and particularly the rich deposits situated along the border between the North and South – including the oil-rich Abeyi region, which is considered a historical bridge between northern and southern Sudan.
During a visit to Paris in November, Mayardit accused his former opponent of not respecting the terms of the peace agreement. The North, he said, did not give the South all the oil royalties provided by the peace deal.
The 2005 commitment by the two parties to hold a referendum on self-determination in southern Sudan in January 2011 has not helped either. The South is widely expected to opt for secession, a troubling prospect for the North.
For Khartoum, which must also deal with the identity politics in the troubled western Darfur region, southern Sudan's accession to independence is considered a prelude to the break-up of the country.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), oil accounts for 95 percent of Sudan's export income and 60 percent of the central government revenues. Most of the country’s oil reserves - estimated at six billion barrels - are located in the South. By all accounts, the authorities in Khartoum do not want to watch this liquid gold slip through their fingers.
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