Credibility of Darfur referendum in doubt

Monday April 11 2016

A woman casts her vote at a polling station at the Abu Shouq camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) in El-Fasher, in North Darfur on April 11, 2016, during a referendum on whether to keep its five states or unite them into a single region despite rebels boycotting and international criticism. AFP PHOTO | ASHRAF SHAZLY

The credibility of the referendum in the Sudanese war-torn Darfur region is in doubt after an opposition boycott and ongoing fighting, with United States expressing concerns that it is not likely to reflect the will of the people.

The three-day referendum which began on Monday April 11 and runs until Wednesday will see over three million voters decide whether Darfur should become a single semi-autonomous region or retain its current state of five ethnic-based provinces that deal separately with Khartoum.

The Sudanese government said the referendum, which was part of the 2011 Doha peace agreement, has to go on.

Sudan’s ambassador to Kenya, Elsadig Abdalla Elias speaking to The EastAfrican accused the US of using double standards saying Darfur is more peaceful than it was in January 2011 when Washington pressured Khartoum to hold the referendum in the western region despite its misgivings.

On Saturday, the US Department of State deputy spokesperson Mark Toner had expressed concern about the timing of the plebiscite as fighting in Jebel Marra in the central Darfur region, with over 100,000 people, continues.

He also criticised the Khartoum government, which organised the poll, of not giving adequate time for voter registration, a position Mr Elias opposed.


“We were expecting only two million people to register for the referendum but over three million registered, which means the people of Darfur are willing and ready to decide their destiny. We are ready to respect their decision and we only call upon the US to also respect the will of the people of Darfur,” Mr Elias said.

Of the over 4.5 million eligible Darfuris, a total of 3,532,226 registered for the vote. The referendum will be conducted in 1,420 polling stations in 65 localities.

Darfur is divided into five federal states: Central Darfur, East Darfur, North Darfur, South Darfur and West Darfur.

At Independence in 1956, Darfur was one administrative region until 1989 when the National Salvation Revolution, led by President Omar al-Bashir, took power in a coup and divided Sudan into 26 states—16 in the north and 10 in the south.

Darfur in the western region has been restive after ethnic differences and resource scarcity sparked off the war in 2003 between the farmers and the pastoralists.

President Bashir faces accusation of sponsoring Arab pastoralists, the Janjaweed, to attack settled farming communities —which led to his indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC). 

Three rebel groups Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), led by Jibril Ibrahim; and the two Sudan Liberation Army  (SLA), one by Minni Minnawi and the other by Abdul-Wahid Nur; have been fighting the government forces since 2003 due what they term as massive marginalisation.

In 2006, Minni Minnawi signed a peace deal with Khartoum and was appointed the special adviser to President Bashir and head of the Darfur Transitional Regional Authority but in 2010, he took up arms again after falling out with the government.