Sudan's Elections and The Prospects for Peace
Darfur's fallen out of the news. But Africa's largest country is at an important crossroads.
Darfur's fall from the headlines has rendered Africa's largest country, Sudan, an afterthought to most Americans. But the country is at the most significant crossroads in its short and tumultuous post-colonial history. Over the past few days, Sudanese have been casting ballots in the first national elections in 25 years. Though the outcome in the presidential election is predetermined--the major opposition parties pulled their candidate--Sudanese are turning out in large numbers to vote in parliamentary and gubernatorial elections
In Darfur, death rates have fallen dramatically since 2004. Since then, according to The Lancet, the vast majority of deaths in the region have resulted from disease, not violence. This has led casual observers to assume that the worst is over in Sudan. But the massacres in Darfur were always a smaller part of the broader crisis of governance in the country. By narrowly focusing on the killings in Darfur, activists missed the larger story, misrepresented the conflict, and allowed the country to fall out of the headlines precisely at the moment in which the world's attention should be focused on it. Still, Darfuris have bravely sought to participate in the elections, despite the displacement of so many in poorly run camps or across borders.
Though Darfur has been seared into the American consciousness, the real story in Sudan is the scheduled vote for Southern independence in 2011. The Bush administration had a strong interest in Sudan, largely due to prodding from evangelical activists. In 2005, the United States helped push for a comprehensive peace agreement between the government in the north and the rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, who had fought to a standstill after two decades of war and over 2 million were killed. The agreement stipulated many contentious conditions that needed to be met before the referendum on independence could take place, including the conducting of a census, the demarcation of a border, an oil revenue sharing formula, and of course, national elections.