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Sudan: No Easy Ways Ahead

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Apr 25, 2010 (100425)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"A vote for secession [in the 2011 referendum] is a foregone conclusion - given overwhelming Southern popular sentiment - but the time remaining to ensure that the process is orderly, legitimate, and consensual is desperately short. The potential flashpoints for a new war are many. Any new armed conflict runs the risk of becoming rapidly regionalized and difficult to contain, let alone resolve." - Alex de Waal

This comment comes in the first chapter of a timely assessment by the Heinrich Boell Foundation of the options for Sudan after the elections and the forthcoming referendum on Southern Africa. In the preface the editors note that "in discussions about the future of the country, and in the day-to-day business of diplomats and international observers, the perspective beyond 2011 has only recently started to receive attention." Despite the uncertainties of completing the steps outlined in the current peace agreement, the authors explain, it is urgent to begin trying to understand how to avert Sudan's descent into another war or extended ungovernability and fragmentation.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin, available on the web but not sent out by e-mail due to its length, contains excerpts from the preface and the first two chapters of this extensive report. The full report is available on the Foundation website (

Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today, and available at, contains several reports and analyses of the April 11-15 elections.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Sudan, see

For continuing analysis and commentary on Sudan, see and

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Sudan - No Easy Ways Ahead

Edited by the Heinrich Boell Foundation

[Excerpts from preface and first two chapters. The full report, including references, footnotes, and tables, is available at]


Towards the end of the six-year interim period defined in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), Sudan is potentially sliding into yet another crisis. The general elections in April - the first in 24 years - represent a rare test of confidence for the country's incumbent elites. For many observers, however, the elections are merely a prelude to the referendum on the future status of South Sudan scheduled for early 2011.

Both the general elections and the referendum come at the end of a transitional period that has, in many ways, been more about stagnation than about transition. The implementation of the CPA has often been delayed and was marred by a lack of trust between its signatories: the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM). As a consequence, the agreement has largely failed to realize democratic transformation and to make the unity of the country attractive. Instead, political tensions in the run-up to the elections indicate that older conflicts still persist, and that the referendum will only reconfigure challenges. The already fragile situation could easily trigger a new outbreak of violence.

It is therefore of the utmost urgency to prepare for the post-CPA period in Sudan. In discussions about the future of the country, and in the day-to-day business of diplomats and international observers, the perspective beyond 2011 has only recently started to receive attention. Not all events of the coming years are fully predictable, of course. Yet it is possible to delineate potential scenarios, and to identify the political options they open up for different actors.

The Heinrich Boell Foundation, which has been working both with civil society partners in Sudan and on Sudan-related issues in the German context, has put together this publication in order to reflect on such scenarios. We have been fortunate to bring together an exceptional and diverse group of authors to discuss political perspectives for the country. The chapters of this volume reflect the different backgrounds and perspectives of this group, but also their shared concern for a democratic and peaceful Sudan.

In the introductory chapter, Alex de Waal outlines the enduring features that underlie Sudanese politics, and develops scenarios for the future of the country after the end of the CPA. He particularly emphasizes that the current debate around unity vs. secession may easily obscure an equally important question: whether or not, after decades of conflict and institutional decay, Sudan will remain governable at all. Atta El-Battahani, one of the most respected advocates of democracy in Khartoum, continues from there. He traces Sudan's largely unsuccessful attempts at democratic transformation since independence, putting current efforts into historical perspective. El-Battahani then goes on to provide a concise and well-informed guide to the 2010 general elections: a brief who's who of the Sudanese political scene, including all major parties, their internal dynamics, and electoral strategies.

John Yoh adds a Southern perspective to this picture. His contribution critically assesses the SPLM's five years as a "liberation movement in power," and it stresses the urgency for Southerners to think beyond the 2011 referendum. Yoh's analysis of Southern Sudan is complemented by Marina Peter's chapter on the future of the "three areas." People in Blue Nile, the Nuba Mountains, and Abyei - three regions that challenge the clear-cut North-South divide in Sudan - are increasingly concerned that the SPLM's support for independence might leave them high and dry. Informed by her long-time work with Sudanese civil society, Peter argues for an inclusive political process that gives the population of the "three areas" a real say in their future.

The last two chapters focus on the external dimension of Sudanese politics and conflicts. Roland Marchal disentangles the complex web of interests, rivalries, alliances, and dependencies that links Sudan to its neighbors in the region. He then develops scenarios on how the possible secession of Southern Sudan could affect this precarious regional order. Finally, Peter Schumann shows how an initially local conflict became the concern of a variety of international actors, and outlines the sometimes conflicting interests of key players. Drawing on his experience with the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), Schumann argues that a successful international engagement in Sudan does not necessarily require an increase in means, but rather a clear political mandate and an end to the deliberate use of ambiguity among the main stakeholders.

This publication has been made to challenge the reader to look beyond the fragmentation of Sudan. There is an urgent need for political perspectives for the country as a whole, irrespective of the results of the 2011 referendum. The independence of Southern Sudan may answer some questions, but it leaves many fundamental problems unaddressed and creates a number of new ones - from the issue of citizenship to the distribution of oil revenues. None of these problems can be solved unilaterally; they all require the readiness for compromise and cooperation across borders.

The international community, including Germany, can play a constructive role in facilitating workable post-CPA arrangements. The upcoming elections and the 2011 referendum usher in a time of choices for Sudan: imperfect choices perhaps, but crucial ones nevertheless. The contributions to this volume concur that none of the ways ahead is easy and straightforward, and that the risk of a return to open conflict is very acute. But they also give an impression of how the decisions taken now may be a first step away from the problems that have plagued Sudan for decades.

Berlin, March 2010

Kirsten Maas-Albert, Head of Africa Department

Toni Weis, Project Manager

Sudan's Choices: Scenarios Beyond the CPA

Alex de Waal


As the interim period of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) draws to a close during 2010-11, Sudan faces two critical tests of its nationhood: the general elections and the referendum on self-determination for Southern Sudan. Instead of a dynamic partnership between the two former adversaries, fashioning unity out of diversity, Sudan is dominated by two mutually distrustful, defensive, and exhausted parties that playing a game of zero-sum politics. Conditions are not propitious for a peaceful transition to a post-CPA Sudan.

This chapter outlines enduring features of Sudan's political life, which then form a framework for identifying flashpoints for the coming year and scenarios for Sudan after 2011.

One abiding feature of Sudan is the lack of a consensus on national identity, including the ambiguity of key national events such as independence in 1956 and the CPA in 2005. A second is a zero-sum political game, in which successive governments try to fit all constituencies into a common vision or constitutional framework, and invariably fail. Sudan's political space is not big enough for its political actors. To the extent that the country is held together, it is possible through an ongoing process of dialogue and bargaining under a framework of persisting impermanence. The third element is the gradual but relentless erosion of both governmental institutions and the socio-political mores that maintained cohesive patrimonial networks, and their replacement by monetized, internationalized, and factionalized patronage systems.

The chapter then examines scenarios for 2011 and beyond. Two questions have preoccupied most scenarios up to now, namely unity versus Southern secession and the question of whether this will lead to a new war. A vote for secession is a foregone conclusion - given overwhelming Southern popular sentiment - but the time remaining to ensure that the process is orderly, legitimate, and consensual is desperately short. The potential flashpoints for a new war are many. Any new armed conflict runs the risk of becoming rapidly regionalized and difficult to contain, let alone resolve.

Two other neglected aspects of the crisis also loom. One of these is the question of whether Sudan will become ungovernable, especially in the event that the rulers in Khartoum and Juba find themselves unable to meet the financial demands of their respective patronage networks. A second is whether Southern secession will set in motion a process of territorial fragmentation across Sudan as others begin to demand self-determination.

Enduring Features of Sudanese Political Life

The failed search for national identity

Acclaiming the CPA in January 2005, President Omar al-Bashir called it 'the birth of Sudan's second independence." This much-repeated phrase was a decidedly double-edged compliment. Sudan's national independence, achieved on January 1, 1956, meant very different things to different people. Prime Minister Ismail al Azhari led the National Unionist Party, which officially acclaimed independence as an intermediate step toward unity with Egypt. Secular nationalists thought otherwise, whereas the leaders of the Umma Party saw it as restoring Sudan's "first independence" under the Mahdist state (1885-98). On the even of independence, Southern soldiers were already in revolt, whereas Southern political leaders reluctantly agreed to support the parliamentary vote for independence based on a promise - later dishonored - that there would be a federal constitution (Alier 1992).

Independence was an irrevocable step and an incomplete compromise, and failed to resolve the ambiguities of Sudan's identity. Unsurprisingly, it was the harbinger of recurrent political crises as Sudanese struggled to resolve the paradoxes of their nation. Born with an interim constitution, Sudan has been under provisional governments or emergency rule for most of the last 54 years (Woodward 1990; Abdel Salam 2001).

The Sudanese have spent more than half a century arguing about what it means to be Sudanese (Al-Effendi 1991; Deng 1995). The main axes of debate have been whether Sudan counts as an Arab or an African nation, and whether it should be ruled by Islamic or secular laws. The North-South polarity has obscured an equally important divergence within the North, brought belatedly to light by the still unresolved Darfur war of 2003/04 (de Waal 2005). Despite these bitter and bloody contests over Sudanese collective identity, Sudanese society has been remarkably inclusive over the question of which people are entitled to count themselves as Sudanese.

Two revolutionary regimes tried to enforce a permanent order on Sudan - Nimeiri from the secular left and Turabi and Bashir from the Islamist right. Both regimes failed, and their failures exacted a high cost on the country's institutions and socio-political mores. Both regimes ended up using cash as the currency for political allegiance - a process of injecting corruption into the bloodstream of national politics.

The CPA, signed in Nairobi on January 9, 2005, was, potentially, the most significant political agreement in modern Sudan. As with independence, however, it also means different things to different people, and is another interim arrangement - this time with a specified six-year time frame. The CPA postponed rather than resolved the ambiguities of Sudan's identity. Most importantly, it set a deadline for settling the question of whether Sudan was one nation or two with the referendum of January 9, 2011.

The ambiguities of the CPA begin with its Arabic translation: ittafag al salam al shamil. The term shamil (comprehensive) was intended to imply that it addressed all the key national issues, and was an opening to an inclusive democratic future. (And indeed the CPA is a remarkably far-ranging document.) However, shamil derives from the same root as shumuliya (totalitarianism), and variants of the term have been used by Nimeiri (to refer to his one party state) and Turabi ('The Comprehensive Call to God'). In the context of the CPA, the term shamil implies an agreement exclusively between the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) jointly to monopolize power.

From the viewpoint of the NCP, the CPA represented the best deal for the South and the last and best chance for unity. According to the NCP leadership, the "one country two systems" formula gave the Southerners privileged status: The SPLM not only controlled the South but also had a major stake in the North, including veto power over key aspects of national political life. The Southerners, they anticipated, could want nothing better. For the ruling party and security elites, "making unity attractive" entailed implementing the wealth-sharing and power-sharing formulae of the CPA, enabling the SPLM to govern the South, while also offering material inducements to the Southern elites to encourage them to believe that their financial interests lay in continued union.

Among the SPLM and its constituencies, mostly in the South, views about the CPA diverged. John Garang and his closest followers genuinely supported the agenda of the "New Sudan," which aimed to overturn the historical legacy of minority rule and enable the majority of Sudan's people, who are both marginalized and do not identify themselves as Arab, to be fully represented at the center of state power. Garang saw the CPA as opening up the prospects for a radical transformation of the Sudanese polity. He argued that, in due course, the NCP would have no option but to submit to unstoppable political forces of change. For him, "making unity attractive" meant building the New Sudan, which would convince Southerners that they need not confine themselves to ruling the South, but should also enjoy the right to rule the North as part of a larger coalition.

By contrast, most Southerners saw the CPA as the waiting room for independence, with the formal commitment to unity no more than a ruse to ensure that the deal was acceptable to the international community, including the African governments that have been strongly averse to tampering with colonial borders. Throughout the 22 years of war, most of the SPLM rank and file had regarded Garang's "New Sudan" philosophy as expedient, assuring themselves that "for what we are fighting, we know."

The SPLM constituencies within Northern Sudan - including non-Arab minorities such as the Nuba and Blue Nile people - endorsed Garang's vision of a united and secular Sudan. But most failed to understand precisely what the CPA entailed for them. The protocol on the "Three Areas" included a provision for special status for South Kordofan and Blue Nile states during the interim period, with a "Popular Consultation" to be conducted among the elected state assemblies on whether this status should continue. However, many SPLM supporters in these areas expected that they would be allowed to vote in the Southern referendum, joining their areas to a future Southern Sudan. According to the CPA, this is the case for the people of Abyei only.

Among the non-NCP Northern Sudanese, the CPA meant something different again. For the opposition political parties, the provision that counted more than all others was the "mid-term" elections, heralded as the first free and fair multiparty elections since 1986. Having been unable to challenge Khartoum militarily, these parties saw their best chance in electoral politics. Their misgivings about the CPA were muted by the fact that they had no alternative but to support it - in the hope that the elections would work in their favor - and that they would be able to command the votes of constituents who had supported them 20 years previously.

For the Darfurians, however, already in rebellion as the last stages of the negotiations progressed, the CPA meant little. The leaders of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) were sympathetic to Garang's New Sudan vision. Their political philosophies saw Darfur as a victim of a dominant center - in much the same way as the South - and identified the solution as a transformation of politics at the center. Darfurians placed much faith in Garang as an individual, and consequently lost confidence when he died. The Abuja negotiations that led to the abortive Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) were designed as a buttress to the CPA as a means of allowing the Darfurians to participate in national political transformation. When the final round of Abuja talks was underway (November 2005-May 2006), it was expected that the elections would be held in 2008 or early 2009, implying that all power-sharing provisions in the DPA would last for three years at most, and should therefore be seen as short-term interim arrangements pending the vote. In fact, none of the parties in the talks saw the issue in those terms. Despite the clear language of the CPA, they all treated the power-sharing issues as though they were a permanent settlement. Rather than seeing the Darfur crisis as "the Sudanese crisis in Darfur" (African Union Panel on Darfur 2009) they became introverted and focused on the specifics of Darfur itself. Instead of the CPA serving as an open door to democratization, it was treated as an arbitrary ceiling on the Darfurians' demands. These may have become self-fulfilling expectations. The lack of special provisions for Darfur - even while Darfurians were subject to continuing violence and forced displacement - made a mockery of the inclusiveness implicit in the English word "comprehensive."

Southern separatists hope that secession will definitively resolve the clash of identities in Sudan. However, that is optimistic. The borders are arbitrary and the identities in the transitional zone on either side are not settled. South and North have a long common history that will be hard to disentangle. The partitioning of Sudan will not resolve the debate over Sudanese national identity, whether Northern, Southern, or combined. Rather, it will reconfigure that debate.

Zero-sum politics

The successes of the CPA lie in the fact that its arrangements are uniformly interim - that it consigns everyone to the same provisional status. The central challenge of CPA implementation has been how to manage incommensurate aspirations. Success is possible only with a sense of optimism that expands the size of the national political and economic space. Unfortunately, under most circumstances, Sudan's political culture is a zero-sum game in which any gains by one side are necessarily seen as a loss by the other. Today, the two principal parties are on the defensive, mutually sizing each other up, testing one another, and assuming the worst of one another.

The history of independent Sudan is a succession of efforts to reconfigure the country's political geometry, privileging some groups at the expense of others. Usually, those who are excluded are the Southerners and other marginalized peoples, though in the mid-1970s it was the Northern sectarian parties and Islamists that were squeezed out. At some points, governments have tried to liquidate their opponents physically, for example when Nimeiri crushed the Ansar and the Communists in 1970-71, and when the National Islamic Front crushed the civil opposition in 1989-91, and tried to destroy the identities of the Nuba and other marginalized people in 1992-93. Southerners have suffered from violent suppression more than others. More common has been simple exclusion from power and reward.

However, the only constituency that has been politically eliminated in Sudan is the Communists, and even that remains, albeit in vestigial form. The rest are simply too resilient. The 1986 elections reproduced the results of 20 years earlier, mocking Nimeiri's revolutionary ambitions. Free and fair elections today might well show that the sectarian parties have declined in influence, but they will surely remain important national actors.

One of the features of the turbulent Sudanese political process is that everything is constantly open for renegotiation. This is a source of endless frustration to external mediators, who tend to look for a renegotiation-proof legally binding document. There is no higher power that can guarantee or enforce any agreement, and the Sudanese know this well. An inspirational Sudanese leader can turn this indeterminacy into an advantage by selectively postponing the most divisive issues and instead focusing on building a consensus on a cross-cutting political platform, anticipating that there will be a new reality in place when the divisive issues re-emerge.

The most inclusionary moments in Sudanese politics have coincided with economic booms, which allow the government to dispense patronage liberally, bringing formerly excluded groups into the ruling coalition without sacrificing those already in power. This was the case in the 1950s, again during the borrow- ing-fueled expansion of the mid-1970s, and above all during the mid-2000s oil boom. The national budget, which was less than $1 billion in 1999, increased at a vertiginous rate after oil exports began at the end of that year, reaching $11.8 billion in 2007 (World Bank 2007). The SPLM leadership, having passed over the chance to block oil extraction in the late 1990s, now realized that it faced a much better-funded enemy while it also had the chance of enjoying its own share of the money. The NCP could afford to bring the SPLM into government, and thereby open up more oilfields and (it was promised) obtain US refining technology, without a net loss of income. The CPA was made possible by the oil boom and the positive-sum political calculus that it opened up.

The CPA was also possible because its two architects were determined to use the power of the collegial presidency to lead from the front, making the elections and referendum a plebiscite on the future, not on the record of the past. At the time when the CPA was negotiated, the revenue projections made socio-economic transformation within six years a real possibility.

A mechanical "implementation" of the main provisions of the Agreement can only work if it is ancillary to a dynamic partnership between the NCP and SPLM. The relationship between the two parties was certain to be troubled. But the mutual respect between the two vice presidents, John Garang and Ali Osman Taha, along with their common approach to overcoming problems by thinking structurally and thinking ahead, meant that it stood a chance. With Garang dead and Ali Osman weakened, the CPA was reduced to a formula, requiring constant mediation by third parties, especially the United States.

The CPA is an extraordinarily complex agreement involving multiple transitions, from war to peace, from dictatorship to democracy, and from centralized rule to federalism and potential partitioning. Under any circumstances, implementation would have been a major challenge, requiring goodwill and coordination between the parties along with international stewardship and resources - in the event these conditions did not exist. Four events since the signing of the CPA sapped the spirit of the agreement, and turned CPA implementation into little more than an exercise in ticking boxes and marking time.

The first and biggest blow to the CPA was the untimely death of Garang in a helicopter crash on 31 July 2005, just 21 days after he assumed the post of First Vice President. No other Southerner could make a convincing case for unity, and his successor, Salva Kiir, has made no secret of his secessionist sympathies. The central institution of the CPA, the collegial presidency, failed to function thereafter: the engine of transformation stalled. As a consequence, the Government of National Unity (GoNU) has staggered from crisis to crisis, rarely functioning as a cohesive unit, with each party blaming the other for bad faith.

The second blow was the failure to resolve the Darfur crisis. This reinforced the mutual suspicions of many in the NCP and SPLM, with each accusing the other of betrayal. Critically, Darfur diverted diplomatic attention and aid resources, and slowed down and halted the prospects of normalization of relations between Khartoum and Washington. The issue of an international military force for Darfur resurrected the specter of regime change and contributed to a mutual distrust that fed the paranoia of Khartoum's security chiefs, which in turn fueled Washington's distrust. Sudan sees any concession to the United States as giving something for nothing, while any step by a US Special Envoy that appears to be of benefit to Khartoum is immediately criticized by the advocacy and Congressional lobbies as a compromise with evil. Once this particular relationship was configured in zero-sum terms, any US contribution to making the CPA into a transformative instrument faded away.

The Abyei dispute showed precisely how the zero-sum political calculus operated, with neither party ready to explore creative options, and each defining success as disadvantaging the other. International efforts to mediate the Abyei dispute, led by the United States, were premised on a view that a legal agreement, whether reached by negotiation or arbitration, would represent a final resolution. In Sudan, no agreement is permanent. As with any complex border issue, one or other party can find a reason why what appears to be a final, non-appealable settlement is incomplete. The Abyei case shows that the content of a formal agreement is less important than the bargaining process, and that international guarantees need to be heavily discounted.

The fourth development that damaged any positive-sum potential of the CPA was the decision of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to seek an arrest warrant against President Omar al-Bashir in July 2008, and the arrest warrant issued by the Court in March 2009. The logic of legal accountability for crimes committed ran counter to the political logic of negotiating the transformation of Sudanese politics. For the president as an individual, and for his closest supporters, the overriding political objective became personal survival. Bashir feared that once stripped of the security that comes with wielding power, he would be vulnerable to a successor regime handing him over to The Hague, just as had happened to the former Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosevic. The possibility of a government, whether a signatory to the Rome Statute or not, executing the arrest warrant was sufficiently real to influence government thinking and planning. The ICC issue consumed the majority of the political energies of the NCP from July 2008 for a year, and gave the ruling party every reason to delay reform of the security laws. Most importantly, the ICC challenge turned the NCP toward a desperate search for legitimacy, and it located the legitimacy it seeks in the reelection of Pres. Bashir. The "mid-term" elections, which had initially been envisaged as a mechanism for creating an inclusive and democratic government, became instead an instrument for keeping the president in office. The NCP sees this as an important card to play vis-…-vis the SPLM and the secessionist demand. If the SPLM disputes the legitimacy of Bashir's reelection, we can expect the NCP to dispute the legitimacy of the referendum.

As the national economy has swung from boom to sharp contraction, the economic space has narrowed too. Conditions are inauspicious for making irrevocable political choices.

The political marketplace

At independence, Sudan was governed modestly. Khartoum, the Gezira, and the adjoining areas paid for themselves and for a renowned professional civil service, and the rest of the country was run cheaply using the "native administration" system. This is one manifestation of the profound disparity between the center and periphery - also marked by profound inequalities of wealth - which has determined Sudanese politics for the subsequent half century. A web of social norms regulated political life, giving Sudan a remarkable elite civility despite the recurrence of extreme violence, mostly in the remoter rural areas.

Today, Sudan is still ruled by a hybrid of institutions and patronage systems, but the patronage systems have become dominant, as successive regimes have either dismantled or neglected institutions and social norms. They have appropriated all financial means - including state budgets and international borrowing to fund gargantuan patrimonies. Nationalist, socialist, and Islamist revolutions failed to build new and robust political allegiances, but did succeed in undermining old affinities. Increasingly, governments used cash to purchase loyalty, monetizing the patronage system and turning some of the country's marginal areas, notably Darfur, into a "political marketplace" in which local leaders auction their allegiance to the highest bidder (de Waal 2007). Having alienated or destroyed most political parties in Northern Sudan, Nimeiri used the funds available from international creditors following the 1973 oil boom to buy off political competition. In the early 1980s he opened the door for the army to enter the marketplace, setting up military-commercial joint ventures. As the bills mounted and the economy shrank, Nimeiri appealed to Washington for bailouts, and when his financiers finally baulked at the cost, and demanded austerity measures, his government collapsed. Fifteen years of austerity followed, in which state finances shriveled, and successive governments sought ever more creative ways to pay the army and build a political base, including calling upon Islamist financial systems (Brown 1992).

The period of Islamist retrenchment accelerated the informalization of governance. The institutions that formerly administered state power have shrunk and been replaced by a porous system of multiple parallel governing institutions run on a patronage basis. For example, the national army is no longer the only significant military power, but is rivaled by security agencies that have sectarian loyalties. Islamic banks and party organizations have bypassed the state. Large amounts of the money available to the ruling group do not pass through any form of official budgetary scrutiny, but are dispensed directly through party and security structures (African Rights 1997). The main pillars of the early post-colonial state have all been dismantled: the Gezira Board, Sudan Railways, and the civil service. This has contributed to the decline of trust in government and the failure of governments to attain legitimacy in the eyes of the populace.

Sudan's emergence as an oil producer allowed for new claimants to be added to the patronage systems without shortchanging those already receiving largesse. It allowed for the creation of state governments across Sudan, putting tens of thousands more on the public payroll. Under the austerity programs of the 1990s, government expenditures were less than 10% of GDP, but rose quickly after 2003 to reach 23% in 2006, at a time when GDP was growing from 6 to 10% annually (World Bank 2007).

Although the economy has grown hugely, the benefits have been distributed very unequally. Khartoum is a middle-income enclave, while places such as the Red Sea Hills remain among the poorest on the planet. The allocation of services, employment, and development projects in Sudan does not follow the logic of need, but the logic of political weight. In the early 2000s, almost 90% of infrastructure spending occurred in Khartoum state, in response to the political leverage of the urban constituency and the profits to be made from contracting. In the CPA period, about 60% of development spending has been on five major projects, all of them within the central "triangle" in the North, notably the Merowe Dam (World Bank 2007).

Reflecting this imbalance is a significant strand of thinking within the NCP that argues that the central "triangle" of Sudan can survive without the South and the West of Sudan, and that in some ways this region would be better off without its troublesome peripheries. Publicly associated with the name of the former finance minister, Abdel Rahim Hamdi, this political tendency is Northern- separatist and Islamist. It has deep roots: In the nineteenth century, Sudan was divided between central "metropolitan" and outlying "military" provinces; in the early twentieth century, the British designated the latter as "closed districts," investing almost exclusively in the former. The location of the country's biggest capital investments, such as the new Nile dams within the "Hamdi Triangle," can be seen both as an economically rational focus on where the returns are greatest, but also as an insurance strategy against the possibility of the breakup of the country. Currently, the Sudanese ruling group extends its influence across its borders through the cash dispensed by its security officers. Should Khartoum be compelled to redraw its inherited borders, it would continue to exercise this influence across its contracted borders in much the same way.

While Sudanese are unable to agree on the fundamental political issues facing their country, the money available to the NCP and security financiers has made it possible for the ruling group to remain in power, by dint of patronage alone.

This governing system is highly sensitive to cash flow. When the budget is expanding, the ruling party can increase its support base by allowing more members of the elite to benefit, either directly or through dispensing patronage to them. When there has been a financial squeeze, turmoil has followed. A clear case is the fall of Nimeiri, but the eruption of inter-ethnic clashes across Southern Sudan that followed the dramatic contraction of the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) budget in 2008/09 is another example.

Central to the CPA was financial reform to create a federal system that would guarantee every state sufficient funds to run its own affairs, including its own capital budget. This has not worked as planned, especially after changes in the leadership of the Ministry of Finance and National Economy, and the Fiscal and Financial Monitoring and Allocation Commission in 2008. The great majority of the available revenue comes from oil and is centrally allocated, rather than collected directly by the states themselves. In this context, federalism serves more as a payroll and disbursement mechanism and less as a genuine delegation of authority to the states. A combination of oil revenues and internationally financed reconstruction in the South was envisaged as "making unity attractive" so that Southerners would be ready to vote for unity in 2011. While oil revenues met expectations, overseas development assistance was disappointing despite pledges made at the post-CPA Oslo donors conference. US sanctions remained in place, setting up huge obstacles to Western companies doing business in Sudan. Although US sanctions were supposed to exempt the South, in practice the sanctions have served as a deterrent to any American or European companies operating anywhere in the country.

Current expenditure has risen far faster than capital expenditure in the CPA period (World Bank 2007). This is particularly the case for chapter one spending, on salaries. The public sector payroll has expanded hugely. Part of the reason for this is that the CPA itself places major financial obligations on the parties, especially for salaries, on account of new institutions and new levels of government. Federalism is a major expense. The "peace dividend" for many Sudanese has come in the form of public sector salaries. However, in the context of political competition between the NCP and SPLM, with the parties preparing for the eventuality of a new armed conflict, this spending has taken on a different character. It also functions as the widespread purchase of loyalty, through keeping large numbers on military and public sector payrolls, along with off-budget spending to seek the allegiance of elites. In both North and South, official defense and security spending has also risen sharply.

On taking over the administration of South Sudan in 2005, the SPLM inherited weak institutions and possessed no strong administrative or political structures itself. It preferred to dismantle the pre-existing NCP security structures and build anew. It was aided by enormous international goodwill, an established infrastructure of humanitarian agencies, a Multi-Donor Trust Fund, and oil revenues that climbed to provide the GoSS with $1.5-2 billion a year. However, the new GoSS was constrained by a scarcity of trained personnel and a near complete absence of its own institutions, or experience in running a government, at any level. Before the CPA, the SPLM Secretariat for Finance managed funds of just $100,000 per year (World Bank 2007: 67). The sheer volume of money available and the many and varied demands from foreign partners and the local populace added up to an overwhelming challenge. In addition, the first priority of the GoSS under Salva Kiir was to repair the deep rifts that had occurred among the Southern population and leadership during the war. The Juba Agreement of January 2006, which brought militia formerly aligned with Khartoum into the GoSS and SPLM, was an achievement of equal significance for the South and the CPA itself. It signaled the resolution of a potential internal civil war within the South. The price of this was that the SPLA payroll expanded enormously. Many of the 200,000 or more soldiers were "salary parade," paid only in order to keep their communities and their commanders loyal. The real fighting strength of the SPLA was considerably lower, but the price of peace was an inflated payroll. Patronage also served as a means of securing the North-South transitional area, where the SPLA recruited among the Arab tribes. This strategy depended on skill in running a patronage system and on a continuing high price of oil, given that oil revenues provided more than 90% of the GoSS budget. Neither could be assured, and when the oil price plunged and corruption scandals came to light, the credibility and effectiveness of the GoSS suffered.

The peace agreement has therefore had the ironic unintended consequence of distorting public spending, entrenching a patronage-based system of governance, and undermining the growth of institutions while also drawing spending away from development.

Intensified political competition - for the elections and even more so for the referendum on self-determination - has the effect of drawing more and more resources into the contending patronage systems. The ruling party - worried to the point of paranoia that its political hegemony is in jeopardy - will spend ever larger sums on purchasing loyalties, or at least renting them for the critical period, while its adversaries, especially the SPLM, will try to compete. The NCP has decades of expertise on its side and deep pockets, but people are apt to blame the party and its leaders, with justification, for most of the setbacks of the last quarter century. The opposition has popular sentiment on its side, although it must contend with growing disillusion with the SPLM performance in government in Juba and the historical record of the sectarian parties, which is disappointing to say the least.

The political marketplace in Sudan is not only monetized but internationalized. Neighboring countries - notably Libya, Egypt, Chad, and Eritrea - have entered the market as buyers, or renters, of allegiance. The international community, especially the United States, has played a significant role, extending funds and recognition to the SPLM and the Darfur rebel groups. Coming on top of the domestic political competition - with rival patronage systems based in Khartoum and Juba funded by oil revenues - the result has been price inflation in loyalty, to the extent that it is unclear whether the country can afford the bill. Should either or both governments find themselves unable to meet basic patronage obligations, Sudan is likely to tip over into becoming ungovernable.

Prospects for Peace

The Government of National Unity

Many Sudanese and international observers fear that the Government of National Unity - constituting the NCP and SPLM as the major partners under the CPA and Interim National Constitution - will not survive until the January 2011 referendum. There are a number of potential major pitfalls during 2010 that could result in the collapse of the GoNU (Clingendael Institute 2009; US Institute of Peace 2009).

The first challenge is the general elections, postponed from 2008/09 and scheduled for April 2010. Some have advocated further delay until after the rainy season (International Crisis Group 2009), but this would mean that a new government is unlikely to be fully constituted in time for the January 2011 referendum. Simplification of the elections may be an option, for example making the legislative elections into a straightforward constituency-based first-past-thepost contest, abandoning the proportional representation lists.

The mid-term elections were included in the CPA for several reasons. One was concern that an agreement that excluded the other political forces in Sudan would be unstable and ultimately illegitimate. An unfortunate precedent was the 1976 "National Reconciliation," which undermined the 1972 Addis Ababa Agreement, because the parties newly brought into government refused to recognize the special status of the South, not having been party to the negotiations. Specifically, the NCP and SPLM were persuaded that the historic decision on unity or secession would be legitimate only if it were presided over by a democratically elected government. Underpinning this was a principled commitment to democratization - the idea that an election could be a transformative exercise.

The logic has now changed to a zero-sum exercise. The collegial presidency and the de facto North-South confederation mean that it is not a "winner take all" contest, and the continuation of the GoNU in some form is close to a foregone conclusion. However, it may be a "loser loses all" contest. Should President Bashir lose office, he may face trial in The Hague. Consequently, the implicit bargain offered by the NCP to the SPLM is that the SPLM should recognize the legitimacy of Bashir's reelection, in return for which the NCP will recognize the legitimacy of the Southern referendum.

The difficulty with such a bargain is that neither party is in a position to deliver on its own. The SPLM cannot provide a definitive seal of approval to the election of Bashir, because there are so many other parties ready and willing to withhold legitimacy. Nor can the NCP legitimize the Southern referendum on its own, even if it could adopt a common position to do so. The SPLM will also, quite reasonably, fear that the NCP will renege on any promises in the months between the election and the referendum.

What could make the process manageable is that the two principal parties need each other - constitutionally and economically. Each needs the other for legitimacy, and the mutual financial dependency on oil extracted from the South and exported through the North requires that they cooperate to a minimum degree.

During 2009, the SPLM acted as government in the South but increasingly as an opposition party in the North, despite its senior positions in the GoNU. It speaks much about the oddities of Sudanese political life that such a paradoxical position is not only tolerated but widely understood. However, it is sustainable only insofar as the CPA formula for power-sharing remains intact, and insofar as the internal political balance within the NCP and SPLM remains indeterminate. If the elections disturb any of those balances, then the bargaining over the formation of a new GoNU could become fractious and even paralyzed.

Two other events in the final months of the CPA Interim Period could also provide flashpoints. One of these is the two "Popular Consultations" to be held in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, in which the newly elected members of the two state assemblies will decide whether or not to continue with the autonomous status that they enjoy under the CPA. For many of the SPLM supporters in the two states, this is certain to be a disappointment, as the prospects of a "New Sudan" have faded and the option of becoming part of the South is not on offer. There are serious tensions, particularly in the Nuba Mountains, which could witness renewed violence. The second is the vote of the people of Abyei as to whether they should join the South. Abyei has already been a major contention, and the details of who is eligible to vote in this local referendum could become a significant stumbling block.

Unity or secession

The referendum date of January 2011 is a watershed. Any government in Khartoum or Juba that presides over a cancellation or significant delay in the referendum will face a legitimacy deficit that is probably irredeemable. However, implementing the outcome of the referendum will be extraordinarily difficult.

There is no doubt that the majority of Southerners favor secession and will vote that way given the chance. Insofar as any referendum is a verdict - not just on the CPA but on the entire 55 years of independence and indeed the preceding century of North-South relations - any other result is inconceivable. Only a visionary leader able to turn the vote into a plebiscite on the future would be able to change that logic, especially if he were campaigning as a Southerner who had managed to win the national presidency. Since the death of Garang, that is not a prospect.

Secession is unstoppable. It could be slowed down or suspended by a variety of mechanisms, none of which command popular support among the Southerners. Postponing the referendum itself would be possible only with the active support of the SPLM leadership, which is not currently contemplating any such proposal, and which would suffer a legitimacy deficit if it were to take this step. A more realistic option is to extend the post-referendum interim period. The vote is for secession - a process - not independence, an outcome. The CPA treats the secession process only as an afterthought, specifying a six-month period, after which the South would emerge as an independent state. There is, however, a vast agenda of business to be completed if separation is to be an orderly process. Among the key issues are the demarcation of the border, the citizenship status of Southerners in the North and Northerners in the South, the division of national assets and debts, the status of the SPLM in the North and the NCP in the South, a formula for dividing oil revenue, the position of the South on the Nile waters agreement, and arrangements for pastoralist groups that migrate across the internal boundary and share resources on both sides. Under optimal circumstances, resolving these questions would require several years of negotiation. It is most improbable that agreement can be reached by July 2011. Under these circumstances, a second interim period in which these issues are negotiated may be an option. The Referendum Act of December 2009 contains a provision for the parties to talk about post-referendum relations - an important opening to deal with this agenda.

The SPLM will face a challenge with the referendum. The movement contains powerful unionist constituencies, most of them from the groups in Northern Sudan that supported the SPLM during the war, such as the Nuba and Blue Nile people. In the case of a partitioning that is anything other than fully consensual, these groups - along with the SPLM as a party in Northern Sudan - will face the prospect of political repression, perhaps worse. The likely fate of the Nuba and Blue Nile people is the strongest argument, within the SPLM, for a gradual or delayed process of self-determination in the South.

War or peace

In early 2010, the GoNU exists largely in name. It does not function as a cohesive entity, but rather as two antagonistic parts that work together from necessity alone, lurching from one crisis to the next. The most senior leaders of the NCP and SPLM, including President Bashir and First Vice President Kiir, insist that a return to armed conflict is unthinkable. But their commitment to peace is a negative one: They fear war rather than believe in peace. There is a constant subtext of reciprocal threats of a return to violence, with hardliners on either side warning that it cannot be ruled out.

At a time when Sudanese citizens expected a peace dividend and widespread demobilization and disarmament, the governments in both Khartoum and Juba have expanded their military forces, spending considerable amounts on military hardware (Small Arms Survey 2009). They have spent even more lavishly on loyalty through a hugely expanded payroll: It is better portrayed as a "security race" than a conventional arms race. Such an intensified competition is not necessarily a predictor of war, because it is logical for each side to pursue a policy of deterrence. Although Khartoum's defense and security budget is larger and has more men on its payroll, the Southern forces would be expected to possess stronger motivation to fight in any future conflict, because they will at long last be fighting for something in which they strongly believe, namely their own independent state. This morale factor should compensate for any asymmetry in numbers and weaponry, and makes the reciprocal threats credible.

To be effective, deterrence requires credible centralized command and control on each side, and the diversity of the different armed formations under the control or sponsorship of Khartoum and Juba means that this precondition may not be met. Each party secures the loyalty of multiple armed formations by paying them, so that cohesive command requires a steady flow of money. Unfortunately, the loyalty bills are so high - and the revenues to the governments so volatile - that there is a constant danger that control systems may break down. Armed conflict could be triggered, not by a command decision in Khartoum or Juba, but by a local dispute flaring out of control in the shadow of mutual distrust and a communication breakdown between the parties.

There are numerous potential flashpoints for future conflict, including disputes over oil extraction and revenues, un-demarcated borders and poorly regulated cross-border movements of pastoralists, the status of Southerners and SPLM supporters in Northern Sudan and Northerners and NCP supporters in the South, and the physical proximity of the Sudanese Armed Forces and SPLA soldiers in Joint Integrated Units.

Should an armed conflict erupt, the political calculus in Sudan will change rapidly and radically. There are various scenarios for the forms that a renewed war might take. There could be a conventional war, or at least a conventional phase in a conflict that is also fought by mutual destabilization and guerrilla war. This might consist of a Northern operation to take control of the oilfields, combined with air attacks on Southern cities to try to isolate the South from international assistance. The South might attempt a conventional assault on Northern cities. Alternatively, both sides might use proxy militia in what would become an extended and aggravated inter-ethnic conflict. Some Southerners warn darkly of organized violence against their kin who live in Northern cities.

Under most scenarios, once armed conflict has erupted, it is very likely to escalate rapidly as each party pours more material and human resources into the fighting, each tries to fight on its preferred geographical and political terrain, and reciprocal trust collapses along with confidence in any third-party mediation. It will be difficult for neighboring countries to remain uninvolved, which in turn will complicate diplomatic efforts. Egypt has a strong commitment to a united Sudan, Uganda has deep ties with the South, and most of the other neighbors have been involved militarily in Sudan in recent years. The international community's leverage will be reduced to almost zero during such a stage, and international actions will be focused mostly on the evacuation of foreign nations, safety of peacekeepers and aid workers, and responding to humanitarian crises.

The threat of ungovernability

Today, Sudan's main domestic mechanism for conflict management is financial patronage. This functions in the shadow of unregulated political competition between the NCP and SPLM, and between the NCP and what it sees as an international conspiracy in favor of regime change. This is leading to a defensive zero-sum political game in which the NCP and SPLM spend excessively on rival patronage systems. Apart from war, there is another adverse outcome to arms races, which is that the economic burden cripples one party to the point of collapse. It is possible that today's arms-and-patronage race will end up with the Sudanese parties bankrupting themselves and making Sudan effectively ungovernable.

Virtually the entire political energies and resources of the NCP and SPLM respectively are devoted to staying in power, with respect to one another, their troublesome constituencies, and regional and international governments. For both parties, the principal mechanisms for holding on to power include their defense and security structures, and their patronage networks, financed by oil revenues that repeatedly escape full accounting. Sudan's security race resembles a cold war in which each side is hoping to outspend the other, but at the risk of bringing both governance systems to a point of collapse. As the referendum approaches, this race quickens.

One consequence of escalating spending on loyalty - at a time of reduced government revenue - is scaling back efforts to provide public goods through investment, such as services and development. Planned social and economic change is fading, including efforts to "make unity attractive" in line with the CPA. Sudanese public discourse is infused with a sense that public institutions have decayed, and that social mores have changed (Ibrahim 2008). Commentators - Sudanese and foreign - concur that gloomy futures are more credible than brighter ones (Clingendael Institute 2009; US Institute of Peace 2009). Older Sudanese have nostalgia for a past in which it is believed - perhaps with exaggeration - that government enjoyed legitimacy and public trust prevailed, including the latter days of the colonial era (Deng and Daly 1989).

If either party finds itself unable to purchase loyalty at the going rate, then it will be tempting for them to rent allegiances by providing clients with a license to loot and pillage other communities seen as aligned with their adversaries. This is the formula that has led to a succession of cheap militia-led counter-insurgency operations, which have devastated large areas of the Sudanese periphery (de Waal 2007).

Meanwhile, Sudan is undergoing huge and accelerated unplanned social and economic transformation (Munzoul 2008). It is on the threshold of 50% urbanization. This process has been marked since the 1970s through both peace and war. Population data for South Sudan are contested but it possible that accurate enumeration would reveal that half of all Southerners are urban residents, in the South, the North, and neighboring countries. It is clear that the CPA period has not reversed the urbanization process - if anything the migration to the cities has increased, while few displaced people have returned to rural areas. Darfur is a better-measured example of traumatic urbanization and livelihood change. It is also more rapid: "South Sudan speeded up" (Ryle 2004). Compared to just 18% urbanized in 2003, more than 60% of Darfurians lived in towns and displaced camps in 2009. This is not wholly negative. Sudan's cities, while poorly planned, have better services than the rural areas, and are more stable and less violent. The urban economies are dynamic. But this phenomenon is little studied and less understood. National economic planning and international development cooperation have not adjusted to this reality.

A strong and institutionalized government capable of making a credible policy commitment is necessary to make peace. One of the special perils of the current scenario is that organizing violence on a vast scale will reduce both Khartoum and Juba to factionalized protection rackets, expending all their resources on trying to retain their hold on sovereign privilege, and destroying Sudanese society in the process.


Should the people of the South exercise their right of self-determination and opt for secession, other Sudanese will articulate the same demand. In an important respect, it is the South that holds Sudan together. Many people in the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile have already rehearsed their claim to self-determination (Rahhal 2001). Some militant Darfurians who have historically the strongest claim to separate statehood - having been incorporated into Sudan only in 1916 - are also talking in these terms. Currently, only a small minority of radicals has openly proposed that Darfur should secede from Sudan, but in the context of Southern separation, this number is sure to grow. Sudan's liberation movements - including the SPLM and the Darfurian rebels, the Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement - have all argued for national transformation and for reforming central power. But in practice, they have neglected the politics of the center in favor of mobilizing in the peripheries - a strategy that has been described as "liberating the Bantustans" (Abdalla 2009). Among the ruling elite, there is a vocal minority that argues that they should be allowed to have their wish, and that it is not worth fighting for these outlying areas and their truculent populations.

The Sudan government has already forfeited many of the attributes of sovereignty. Revising its borders would be another insult, akin to the many it has received over the last 25 years. But each abrogation of sovereignty brings an opportunity in which Sudan's rulers usually identify in due course. Territorial fragmentation would not be without its advantages. Reduced to the historic "metropolitan provinces" or the "Hamdi Triangle," the Sudanese state would be more comfortable in pursuing an Arab-Islamic agenda. Within this region, Arabism and Islamism are no less problematic than in the current "greater Sudan." The indigenous people of this area are a mixture, and there have been waves of migration from all quarters over the centuries. Nonetheless, political leaders have defined Sudan's diversity in geographical rather than social terms, and the logic of territorial self-determination for the South, and possibly Darfur too, would legitimize a "self-determination" agenda for the riverain North based on Arabism and Islamism.

Should this occur, all those who identified with the South, Darfur, and places such as the Nuba and Blue Nile, would instantly become foreigners in Khartoum. Stripped of citizenship rights, they would be rendered even more vulnerable to exploitation. The state would be empowered to withdraw entitlement to services such as education and health, and would probably threaten them with roundup and expulsion.

The Sudan government currently has obligations for the welfare and protection of its citizens across the whole country. It has gradually outsourced its humanitarian and service duties to others, including especially international organizations. The UN-African Union hybrid operation in Darfur has a protection mandate. Many Darfurians, along with their international sympathizers, would like nothing more than for Khartoum to withdraw its presence from the region, leaving it as the exclusive responsibility of the Darfurians and the international community. There are also some in Khartoum who would be ready to accept the experiment, confident that the ruling elite would benefit, and that provincial elites and international organizations would not do a better job of governing these areas.

The partitioning of Sudan will not resolve the identity and governance challenges of Sudan, but rather reconfigure these challenges. It is possible that an already complicated situation could become more intractable.


The chance for the success of the CPA lay in three elements: the interim nature of political authority, the dynamism of the collegial presidency in generating a real hope for the future, and the expanding financial resources following the oil boom and the hope of donor funds and American investment in the oil industry. If the CPA were to be implemented in a mechanical fashion, it would have been doomed to fail, as it could not in itself have resolve the fundamental political problems of Sudan but only reproduced them in a way that allowed dynamic leaders to move the country forward. What has happened is that the letter of the CPA has been partly implemented, without its spirit, and the CPA itself is shifting from being an asset to a liability.

The major question preoccupying Sudanese today is whether Sudan is one country or two, and how the decision will be managed. State partitioning is a traumatic affair at the best of times and in Sudan the conditions exist for it to be bitter, contested, and disorderly. A North-South war in Sudan would undo the fragile gains of the CPA, possibly leading to separatist tendencies elsewhere in the country, and dragging neighboring countries into the vortex.

As the endgame of the CPA is played out, the fundamental question facing Sudan may not be whether it is one nation or two, but whether it is governed or ungoverned. The ongoing decline of trust and legitimacy has created a situation in which staying in power is the only task that either of the two ruling parties can achieve. The sheer cost of maintaining two competing centers of power - each fearing that the other is intent on its destruction - may be too much for the country to afford. When the cost of a rival patronage system exceeds the financial capacity of its sponsor, the simplest way of renting loyalty is to license plunder. Moreover, if the knock-on effect of a contested partitioning is the fragmentation of Sudan, then rulers can declare the victims of such pillage as non-citizens, beyond the reach of their obligations. Future observers may look back on the CPA's Interim Period as an interlude of calm, promise, and missed opportunity.

Sudan Votes: The 2010 Elections and Prospects for Democratic Transformation

Atta El-Battahani


The signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in January 2005 ushered in a six-year transitional period in Sudan. This period carried with it the possibility for a meaningful democratic transformation of the country. However, for a number of reasons, the agents driving this change have revealed themselves to be weak, disorganized, and lacking the organizational capacity to effectively contest the upcoming 2010 general elections.

The weakening of the forces of change in Sudan goes back to early periods of stalled transitions in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1980s. Failed transitions steadily eroded already accumulated democratic assets, with each period of transition tipping the balance of power away from democratic change agents and more toward conservative, pro-establishment forces. While general elections in the past took place under the auspices of "independent" transitional governments, the 2010 elections are taking place under an incumbent, NCP-dominated government. Judging from past elections, and in view of the present balance of power, forces with vested interest in the status quo are likely to maintain their positions of power in the upcoming elections - an eventuality that could have dire consequences for the political future of the country.

This section, which explores the current agenda for democratic transformation in Sudan and its background, is divided into four parts. The first section puts the upcoming general elections in the context of Sudan's past experience with multiparty elections and democratic transitions. Part two outlines the run-up to the 2010 elections and the problems, both political and practical, these entailed. The third section then analyses the goals and election strategies of Sudan's main political parties. The concluding part, finally, develops scenarios for the possible outcomes of the elections.

Sudan's experience with democratic transitions

Sudan is an exceptionally diverse country. According to one account, it is home to no less than 19 main nationalities (majmoua'a gawmiyya) and 597 ethnic groups (majmoua'a airgiyya) (Beshir 1988). Socio-economic changes, together with natural and man-made disasters (desertification, famine, and civil war), have resulted in some significant changes in the numerical and demographic weight of these ethno-national groups. However, these changes have by no means obliterated ethno-national diversity.

Differentiation along national and ethnic lines has been further sustained by cultural, linguistic, religious, social, and political differences. There are an estimated 115 dialects in Sudan today, with 26 of them as active languages, each spoken by more than 100,000 people (Ahmed 1988: 7-18). About 52% of the population are Arabic-speaking, while 48% speak other languages. Diversity also expresses itself sharply in religion, with Islam, Christianity, and other religions professed by different sections of the population. Religious heterogeneity is further sustained by the prevalence of sectarian cleavages within Islam - the religion of the majority (Beshir 1988).

At the risk of oversimplification, these different and often conflicting socioeconomic, ethnic, and cultural interests have led the people of Sudan to coalesce into three major political blocs: a pro-Arab/Muslim conservative alliance; radicals in the center (both left- and right-wing parties); and ethno-regional forces in the periphery. While the establishment has historically found political representation mainly in the Umma Party and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), radicals include both Communists and Islamists, and ethno-regional forces are represented, among others, by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM). The Communists primarily drew support from workers and farmers, the trade unions, and the women's movement, whereas Islamist support came mainly from the lower urban class, professionals, and the new business class.

The interactions between these different political camps have shaped Sudan's history since independence, and they continue to shape the debate around democratic transformation today. To understand the current "transitional" phase in Sudanese politics, it is thus necessary to briefly look at the three prior attempts at democratic transformation in the country.

First transition: 1953-56

At the time of independence in the early 1950s, Sudan was faced with three major constitutional problems: the constitutional status of Southern Sudan; the constitutional status of Sudan itself (i.e., whether the country should be linked with Egypt in some form, or whether it should become fully independent); and the task of reshaping state institutions to be more responsive to the socio-economic development of the country. However, with the issue of self-determination for Sudan rapidly approaching, the second problem overshadowed the other two and became the dominant issue in the elections for a new Constituent Assembly. The main task of this body was to decide on the future constitutional status of Sudan, and to prepare the country and its people for independence during a three-year "transitional period" (Bechtold 1976: 176-77).

The National Unionist Party (NUP) won the elections in 1953 and formed the country's first post-independence government. However, instead of now granting federal status to the South and attending to socio-economic development in the country at large, the energy of the new government was drained by its protracted conflicts and squabbles with religious, sectarian leaders on the one hand, and by fending off external pressures on the other. Barely two years after independence in 1956, the NUP-led government was succeeded by an Umma-PDP1 government, which was in turn overthrown by a military coup in 1958.

Second transition: 1964-65

The new military regime under General Ibrahim Abboud (1958-64) laid down the foundations for state-led economic development and adopted an independent foreign policy that led to cooperation with both the Western and the Eastern blocs. However, the draining of government revenue by the continuing civil war in the South as well as growing frustration and resistance among trade unions, the urban classes, and intermediary groups damaged the prestige of military rule. Communists and radical leftist elements formed the United National Front (UNF). With support from the trade unions and students, a successful general strike neutralized middle and lower ranks of the army and eventually brought down the military regime on October 24, 1964.

Shaken by the ascendency of Communists and radical forces, the conservative/ traditional political bloc fought back, mobilized rural-based, religious masses, besieged and defeated the transitional October government, and replaced it with a government more in tune with the wishes of the political establishment. Elections organized in the 1960s were all won by Umma and the DUP. They led to the creation of coalition governments that succeeded only in undermining changes and wasting public resources. As in the 1950s, party squabbles were the rule of the day. In an attempt to ostracize the forces of the radical bloc, the ruling traditional parties banned the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) and expelled its members from parliament. They continued to undermine all proposals for solving the "Southern problem" and went on the offensive by proposing a presidential republic under an Islamic Constitution. To prevent this from happening, the radicals in the armed forces again took over in a bloodless coup in 1969.

Third transition: 1985-86

Having wrested power from the traditional political parties, the leader of the coup, Jafaar Nimeiri, fell out with his erstwhile supporters in the Communist Party. In 1972, he struck a deal with the Southern rebels and signed the Addis Ababa Agreement, thus ending a long-standing civil war. However, this era of North-South d‚tente was short-lived. A few years later, in 1977, Nimeiri patched up his differences with the traditional parties as well as the Muslim Brothers in what became known as "national reconciliation." Amid growing protests against the economic reform policies of the late 1970s, and fearing a possible overthrow of his regime, Nimeiri called himself Imam of Muslims and adopted sharia law. This move alienated his support base in the South and contributed to the formation of the SPLM in 1983.

Nevertheless, a broad-based popular movement succeeded in overthrowing the Nimeiri regime in 1985. However, the intifada (popular uprising) government influenced by radicals once again upset the conservative and traditional parties, who were not interested in meaningful change. General elections were organized in 1986 from which Umma, the DUP and the National Islamic Front (NIF) emerged victorious. According to Hamid (1988), looking at the events of the late 1980s, "any veteran observer is bound to be gripped by a profound sense of d‚j… vu." The similarities between the reactions to the short-lived revolution of 1964 and the uprising of 1985 were indeed striking:

The political malaise permeating then paralyzing the body politic in the late 1980s is like an uncanny recurrence of the same affliction that plagued the country in the late 1960s: the same disarray of the same coalition governments of the same political parties; the same instability that is symptomatic of an unworkable political system and an unpredictable political process. The bankrupt economy, drained by a costly civil war, corruption and mismanagement is even worse than the recurrent economic crises of the 1960s. It is as though history is repeating itself with a vengeance (Hamid 1988).

Again, this deadlock was resolved by undemocratic means. In June 1989, the Islamists in Sudan took over power in a coup d'‚tat to counter a perceived threat posed by the SPLM and the marginalized regions, thus marking the most violent confrontation between North and South yet.

Fourth transition: 2005-11

After their accession to power, the Islamists created a new balance of political forces in Sudan, reshaped state institutions, redefined the terms of political debate, made inroads into civil society and, above all, imposed Islamism as state ideology. Against this new orthodoxy, the idea of a "New Sudan" - proposing a restructuring of power at the center and opening up the state for ethnic and regional groups on the basis of an inclusive concept of citizenship - was introduced by the SPLM and gained support in the South, but also among radicals in the North.

Violent confrontations between North and South intensified in the period between 1989 and 2005, claiming more than 2 million dead, 4.5 million internally displaced, and 600,000 refugees in neighboring countries. The costs to cover humanitarian and emergency work alone were estimated at about US$2 million per day. In the face of this tragedy, the regional neighbors of Sudan, as organized in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the international community joined efforts and brought the warring parties to a negotiating table. In January 2005, the CPA was signed by the National Congress Party (NCP) and the SPLM. The Agreement was seen as a compromise between two diametrically opposed forces, but with the potential of "making unity attractive" for the country and fostering democratic reform.

Five years after the signing of the CPA, the results are sobering. The nature of government in Sudan has not become less authoritarian, and prospects for unity seem very dim. As in the prior attempts at democratic transition in Sudan, there is reason to fear that hopes for fundamental change will be short-lived (see table 1). However, there is still a chance that the upcoming general elections will correct this negative picture. Despite the bleak outlook, the elections of 2010 do matter for Sudan's political future, and they may prove to have a lasting effect on the country after all.

The run-up to the 2010 general elections

As one of the key elements in the strategy to develop a more equitable, stable, and inclusive political system in Sudan, the election is central to the timetable of the CPA. It is intended to demonstrate the possibility of a democratic political system in a unified country.

The relevance of past elections

Belief in the transformative power of multi-party elections has long been a driving force in development policy. In recent years, however, this belief has increasingly come under scrutiny. The ballot, it has been argued, has been fetishized, encouraging an empty performance of electoral behavior that leaves the fundamentals of politics unchanged. It is yet possible, according to this argument, to still have a ballot deny the population the essentials of democracy: access to justice, governmental transparency, and freedom of expression and association.2

Nevertheless, Sudan's forthcoming election is not simply a post-conflict imposition by the international community. In a way, elections can be an authentic moment of national cohesion and participation. As the brief overview of Sudan's experience with democratic transitions has shown, this idea has roots in Sudanese political experience, most notably in the 1953 "self-government" election. Like the upcoming 2010 general elections, the election of 1953 was held under difficult circumstances, with much suspicion and tension and with limited time and resources. Nevertheless, it confounded skeptics by its peaceful, orderly nature and by the high level of participation by voters. It laid the foundation for Sudanese independence in 1956. Today it still offers an inspiring model of national participation; it gave voters a new sense of citizenship, and gave to the many public servants who were involved in running it an experience of working together in the interest of a new nation.

It is true that multi-party elections have not so far produced a stable and lasting government in Sudan. However, failures of government should not be construed as evidence of any fundamental unsuitability of elections to Sudanese circumstances. Sudan's political instability has many causes. Shortcomings of leadership, a difficult colonial inheritance, and complex regional politics have all played a part. That elections have not fulfilled their promise of remaking political culture has been partly a result of the sheer size of these challenges. But it has also been a consequence of problems in the electoral process, which have undermined the possibility that elections might create a new relationship between citizen and state, and which have also become visible in the run-up to the 2010 elections.

These problems have been of two kinds. The first has been malpractice. This has been widespread and massive under authoritarian regimes, ranging from the stuffing of ballot boxes by election staff and the switching of boxes after voting has taken place, to less flagrant but equally problematic forms such as intimidation, the use of government resources in campaigning, interference in news media, and the deliberate exclusion of candidates deemed unsuitable by the ruling party. On the whole, however, in multi-party elections, malpractice was normally the work of candidates and their agents, not of officials.

Alongside these malpractices, Sudan's elections have also been undermined by problems of resources. Elections by secret ballot are a very complex logistical exercise and a major challenge for the administrative capacities of the Sudanese state. Problems include the size of the country, wide variations in levels of education among the population, and widespread suspicion of government. Besides this, there have been two principal deficiencies in administration: a serious shortfall of trained staff, and an insufficiency of transport. In the past, levels of participation in multi-party elections have thus been low in the South, West, and East of Sudan - that is, in most parts of the country outside the central riverian area.

Preparations for the 2010 elections

Sudan's history shows the potential role that elections may have in political life - as genuine moments of participation that evoke the idea of a democratic Sudan. But this potential has not yet been realized, and there is a strong possibility that the forthcoming election will suffer from a combination of all the weaknesses that have undermined previous elections. There is widespread public skepticism and suspicion of possible malpractice, based on people's experience in previous authoritarian elections; and there are immense logistical challenges.

One such challenge concerns the 2008 population census, on whose basis the electoral register is established. The census results have been publicly disputed by leading SPLM politicians, as well as other observers. According to the SPLM, the census was politically manipulated to reduce the number of Southerners both in the South and in the North: The number of Southerners in Khartoum, for example, was put at about half a million, whereas at least one and a half million is a more realistic figure.

A second major concern in the run-up to the elections has been the voting in unstable regions. In places such as Darfur, where rebel groups haven threatened to attack election officials and disrupt the voting process in the Nuba Mountains, Abyei, and other parts of South Sudan, it is questionable whether the current security situation is propitious to a peaceful and orderly election process.

Even if elections do take place in these areas, the likelihood of post-election violence cannot be ruled out, particularly in case the NCP and Omar al-Bashir emerge victorious. Given the politically (over)charged campaigning period, the outbreak of violence in major urban cities, including Khartoum, is also quite possible. Yassir Arman, the SPLM presidential candidate, has already expressed concern over his personal safety, following an attack on his life earlier last year.

Finally, concerns have been voiced about the professionalism and impartiality of the Sudanese administration. As Willis et al. (2009) point out, civil servants in particular play a crucial role in guaranteeing a fair and orderly voting process. However, the quality of the Sudanese civil service has suffered dramatically from almost four decades of direct control by the ruling parties of the day - the Sudan Socialist Union (SSU) during the Nimeiri years (1972-85), and the NCP since 1989. Repeated purges and politically motivated dismissals have taken a toll on the civil service's professionalism, neutrality, and competence. The NCP's influence is felt and exercised right from village committees to district and towns councils, public corporations, and ministries. The ruling party's record of controlling civil servants, in addition to its grasp of the media, casts a doubt over the prospect of free and fair elections.

Sudan's political parties: internal dynamics and election strategies

Notwithstanding these actual or potential drawbacks, the National Elections Commission of Sudan (NEC) is now set to hold elections according to schedule, in the first half of April 2010. The Sudanese government, political parties, and the international community are all engaged in pre-election maneuvering. The focus of observers is mostly on the NCP and the SPLM. However, the Sudanese political landscape is more diverse than this; and if past experience is any indicator, then the Northern opposition parties in particular should not be underestimated (see table 2). The following section therefore provides an overview of the main parties contesting the 2010 elections and introduces their electoral strategies, the support base they appeal to, and their expectations regarding the outcome of the vote.

The National Congress Party

The NCP was formed in 1998 as the successor of the NIF, the party of the Muslim Brotherhood that took power in the coup of 1989. By signing the CPA and agreeing to take part in democratic elections, the NCP was in a similar situation to other ruling single parties in Africa that had agreed to similar transformations and then sought to retain as much power as possible through the ballot box.

At the NCP National Convention in October 2009, the authority of al-Bashir and the hard-line faction was asserted and so-called moderates were kept away from the more influential positions in the party. Al-Bashir is currently both chair of the party and head of government; in early 2010 he retired from his position as commander-in-chief of the army to stand for the presidential elections - but for some reason still appears in a military uniform.

Although the NCP has created a dynamic and aggressive party, it is well aware that it is widely loathed by a much weakened middle class and the poor. Many Sudanese are also aware of the growing gap between rich and poor, with the former often regarded as nouveau riche rather than established figures of wealth. This is especially the case in the neglected, if not exploited, peripheral areas of the country.

In its electoral campaign, the NCP has been using its structural advantages to the full. More than any other party, the NCP is able to finance major election campaigns and to use its influence and networks to buy and co-opt support at the local level. The party is focusing its efforts on what it considers the Arab-Islamic heartland of Sudan: a decisive voting bloc of some 25 million citizens from the Northern States down to Sennar/Gezira, where both economic growth and literacy rates are comparatively high. It has also built up its organization, which has been active on the ground with well-paid staff, especially in areas that are being courted by its rivals, such as Darfur, Blue Nile, and the East.

The NCP hopes to win over this base of voters through the attraction of foreign investment, the development of a comprehensive infrastructure, the creation of jobs, the exploitation of natural resources, the boosting of the region's overall economy, and, of course, the launching of large-scale election campaigns. It allegedly has a war chest of $500 million set aside for the task and is confident that it can become the largest party. The NCP has three main sources of funding: revenue siphoned off from the state (as a regime it is highly corrupt); businessmen who have benefited from NCP patronage, with the help of Islamic banks; and Sudanese and others outside the country, especially in the Gulf. NCP patronage has been targeted at the lower-middle-class entrepreneurs, who have risen in numbers and wealth especially since oil exports started.

The NCP presents itself as the defender of Islam in the Sudanese society, but it is also aware that it will be challenged on this ground by other parties. Another line of campaigning is to project itself as the party of progress, at a time when other parties appear less active, if not paralyzed. Economic growth apart from oil has largely focused on the central areas of Northern Sudan, from north of Khartoum down to the Gezira area between the two Niles.

The NCP is aware that a united opposition could represent a real challenge: hence its vehement attack on the Juba Coalition of Forces, an umbrella organization of opposition groups. At the same time, it is on the lookout for a strong ally in Northern Sudan, which could help broaden its geographic base and legitimize its continuity after the elections. The NCP aspires to become the centerpiece of a broad Northern Sudanese Islamic alliance, which would include a strong popular party of the North - either the DUP or the Umma Party - as well as its current allies and proxies (splinter groups of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ansar as-Sunna). The DUP, with its strong support in Northern and Eastern areas, would be the more attractive partner, since the Umma Party's traditional support base in Darfur and Kordofan has been disrupted by the conflict in Darfur.

At the same time, the NCP needs to increase its support in the marginalized East and West. A deal with the DUP - largely supported by the Eastern Sudanese population - would consolidate this achievement, enabling the NCP and its partners to secure the support of most political forces active in the East and North. Darfur presents more of a challenge. Given the ongoing war, only a small percentage of the Western Sudanese population is actively supporting the NCP. However, the NCP plans to engage in further peace talks with the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) non-signatories aiming at the rebels' cost-effective neutralization. The Eastern Sudan peace process has shown that the NCP is capable of striking deals with rebels without addressing the root causes of the actual conflict and, therefore, without having to make tangible concessions: posts, compensation and promises to launch development programs normally do. As long as the rebel movements are not united, this strategy is likely to guarantee at least a certain amount of popular support, particularly among the non-Fur tribes.

In the long run, the NCP's survival lies in preserving its own access to resources and economic development. This is a major motivation for its efforts to maintain a united Sudan. However, since neither unity nor international donor funds can be taken for granted in the long term, the NCP is pursuing a parallel strategy to increase the economic independence of the North by investing heavily in the development of the so-called Hamdi Triangle (Dongola-Sinnar/Kordofan Axis), in addition to a relatively small corridor in the strategically important East (mainly the area around Port Sudan).

The Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army

Despite recent efforts to revitalize its national profile, including a series of allegedly successful campaigns in the Northern states, the SPLM remains a party of the South. Although there are still major gaps in organizational capacity, the Movement's structure is relatively elaborate and well-funded compared to any of its competitors.

Since 2005, the SPLM has suffered from splits and internal divisions, most recently a break-away faction by Lam Akol under the name of SPLM-Democratic Change. The internal realignment of forces within the SPLM is dominated by a conservative disengagement camp on the one side and a radical engagement camp on the other. The former focuses on the path to Southern secession and favors appeasing the NCP in the Interim Period so as not to jeopardize the 2011 referendum. The latter still embraces the vision of a New Sudan and favors a unity between Northerners and Southerners, as well as a more assertive approach to the NCP on CPA implementation. The SPLM National Convention in May 2008 seemed to reflect an equilibrium between the two camps. However, the party's political behavior since then indicates a steady move within the rank-and-file of the SPLM toward the conservative option, that is, secession.

The SPLM believes - probably with justification - that it can expect to win a landslide majority in Southern Sudan. It is true that insecurity, delays in providing public services and allegations of high-level corruption as well as high- handedness from some Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) officials have partially eroded the surge of popular goodwill that followed the signing of the CPA. An increasing minority of Southern Sudanese, mainly among those based in the "urban centers" of the South, has begun cautiously to voice its criticism. However, the SPLM/A still enjoys the bonus of being seen first and foremost as the liberation movement that brought about peace. Hence, as long as the situation on the ground remains bearable and tribal tensions in the party's leadership are under control, much of the population is expected to acquiesce under SPLM rule, partly owing to the lack of alternatives.

A strong election victory in Southern Sudan would be likely to assure the SPLM a continuation of its current representation in national institutions, somewhere around the 30% mark. In case of free and transparent elections, a 30% share at the national level would make the SPLM one of the most influential political powers. As such, additional votes from the North are likely to be welcome, but not desperately needed to facilitate the party's representation in the government.

It is therefore not surprising that the SPLM's efforts to develop its Northern Sector have so far been somewhat half-hearted. Many Northern Sudanese who once saw the SPLM as a possible secular alternative to the traditional opposition parties have become disillusioned by its weak performance and apparent disinterest in national politics. Unlike in early 2005, the SPLM in the North is no longer seen as a catalyst for nationwide change (Hikmat: 2009).

Despite its support of the Juba Coalition of Forces, the SPLM appears to be in favor of preserving its unequal partnership with the NCP, rather than engaging in alliances with the Northern opposition. However if the NCP were (against all predictions) to lose its power position in elections, the SPLM would need to identify post-electoral Northern allies. The Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) and some factions from the DUP would be the most likely candidates, in preference to the national Umma Party, which lacks a secular wing and is dominated by Imam al-Mahdi and his family.

In the South, it is not yet clear whether the SPLM/A is committed to supporting a liberal political environment and political inclusiveness within the structures of the GoSS. There has so far been little meaningful dialogue with Southern opposition parties. Instead, the SPLM/A's efforts in dealing with non-SPLM/A groups in Southern Sudan have mainly focused on the integration of other armed groups (OAGs) into the SPLA - that is, military rather than political efforts, not aimed at facilitating democratic pluralism. Some observers have stressed that except for SPLM-Democratic Change, most of the Southern "opposition" parties are actually SPLM proxies, existing to create a "fake atmosphere of political pluralism." The real political opposition - alienated segments of the Southern population - has so far failed to organize itself (BBC 2009: online).

The Democratic Unionist Party

The DUP comprises a sectarian-based group, drawing its support from followers of the Khatmiyya sect, and a secular-oriented, urban, commercial and middle-class group. Its broad and loose organization gave the party a relatively democratic organizational structure, albeit by default.

Since the Islamists took over power in 1989, the DUP has suffered from divide-and-rule tactics by the NCP and is currently split into more than four splinter groups. Moves to unite the party have not borne fruit so far. One factor often cited is the intention of its patron, Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani, to combine both the spiritual and the political leadership of the party. The DUP is also divided over a number of issues, including the problem of how to engage with the Government of National Unity (GoNU). Though formally the leader of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) - an umbrella organization of opposition groups - al-Mirghani has avoided taking a decisive position vis-…-vis the NCP, preferring to keep his options open.

The DUP will hope to improve its leverage through elections. The party has considerable financial resources inside and outside Sudan, which will enable it to campaign. The secular wing of the party includes a number of influential Sudanese businessmen who are willing to contribute to funding planned campaigns. In addition, the DUP enjoys long-standing links with Egypt, though the latter no longer looks at the party as the only guarantor of its interests in Sudan.

The DUP's traditional geographical strongholds are in the greater Khartoum and Gezira areas as well as in the far North and the East of Sudan. However, in recent years the DUP has lost a considerable number of voters from Eastern Sudan to the Eastern Front, whose leading figures were formerly DUP party members. Al-Mirghani is holding talks with both the NCP and the SPLM and will not hesitate to raise the flags of the opposition to the NCP if it suits his own interests. Yet, a post-electoral coalition with the NCP and other parties seems possible and only a few party members would protest it on grounds of principles. Other less likely post-election possibilities include a coalition government of the sectarian competitors, possibly with the SPLM, or even a coalition of the DUP and the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP), not necessarily under the umbrella of the NDA.

The Umma Party (Umma)

Like the rival DUP, Umma is a party of the establishment and has suffered considerable fragmentation resulting from the NCP's divide-and-rule tactics. Small splinter groups have been part of the NCP-controlled government since 1999. Umma is headed by Sadiq al-Mahdi, Sudan's last elected prime minister, who was overthrown by the Islamists in the 1989 coup.3 Al-Mahdi's decision to run against al-Bashir in the 2010 presidential elections has been widely interpreted as a boost to the relevance of the elections, turning them into "a real contest for power" (de Waal 2010: online).

The Umma Party faces something of an ideological and organizational dilemma. On the one hand, it is known for Sadiq al-Mahdi's widely publicized rhetoric on democracy and political pluralism; on the other, the party is organized along traditional lines, with the politico-religious importance of the Mahdi family paramount. It appears that the party is struggling financially, with the al-Mahdi family having a monopoly over property and financial resources, whilst losing the support of several influential non-Mahdi businessmen due to undemocratic leadership. Al-Mahdi has reportedly reached out to "his old Oxford contacts" - the Moroccan and the Jordanian royals - to secure possible funding (Hikmat 2009).

The party has power bases in Khartoum, Kordofan, White Nile, and in Darfur (especially South Darfur), rooted mainly in traditional Ansar sectarian constituencies in rural, underdeveloped areas. In Darfur, Umma has suffered from the appeal of the various rebel movements, especially to younger supporters. The party's power strategy is not to compete directly with the rebel movements, but rather to strengthen traditional leaders (e.g., the Baggara in its heartland of South Darfur), and to use the support of the loyal Ansar leadership (White Nile, Gezira). Due to financial constraints, al-Mahdi - as Imam of the Ansar - can provide little more than moral support to tribal leaders.

The Umma Party may aspire to a post-electoral coalition with the SPLM, and could prove an attractive partner in certain circumstances, including stabilization of the situation in Darfur and a modified SPLM outlook on the unity of Sudan. If an alliance with the SPLM is impossible to establish (e.g., due to strong secessionism in the SPLM), Umma is likely to intensify its cooperation with the PCP, and/or engage in an alliance with the NCP against the South. However, the evidence is that such a coalition would only materialize at the last minute and in the absence of other options.

The Sudanese Communist Party

Despite formal subscription to Marxism, the SCP has in recent years adopted a social democratic agenda. After 40 years, the fifth General Congress of the Party in 2009 has decided to keep the name of the party, support the current (old guard) leadership, and also make a clear commitment to democracy and the principle of freedom of religion. In comparison to the traditional parties, the SCP is organizationally sophisticated, and - contrary to the criticisms of its Islamist archenemies - enjoys structures that allow a certain degree of democratic decision-making. To some extent, the SCP enjoys support in the universities, as well as among intellectuals and professionals. However, the party has never fully regained its original identity as a broad-based national movement, following Nimeiri's efforts to cripple it in the 1970s, and subsequent Islamist oppression throughout the 1990s. The party today is a vocal pressure group represented in parliament rather than a popular party. The SCP is financially weak, but enjoys some backing from its supporters in the diaspora. It is not clear the extent to which this Communist diaspora stands ready to fund the SCP's electoral campaigns.

In elections, the SCP has declared that it will focus on a few key urban constituencies, and some marginalized regions (i.e., South Darfur) with the aim to secure three to four seats in the National Assembly. This would be sufficient for the SCP to guarantee that the party can continue to function and have a voice in the parliament. The party is in favor of a system of "mixed representation," which would allow them to join the race with independent candidates (more likely to find popular support, as many Muslim Sudanese still have reservations against the communist due to their alleged atheism).

The leadership of the party declared that they have no interest in engaging in any kind of pre-electoral alliance at the national level. The SCP slogan is "yes to coordination, no to alliance," meaning that they do not refuse collaboration with other parties if related to specific issues, for example, despite the SCP's understandable problems with the Popular Congress Party (PCP), the parties have recently presented a joint position on Darfur. Depending on the results of elections, post-electoral arrangements may include collaboration with the centrist political parties (DUP, Umma), though not necessarily under the umbrella of the NDA, and the SPLM.

The Popular Congress Party

The PCP's core supporters are old Islamist cadres who broke away from the NCP along with Hassan al-Turabi in 1999. Most of the influential businessmen of the Islamic movement then opted to join the powerful NCP, which clamped down on the PCP after the split. This - combined with al-Turabi's reduced access to Islamist financial sources abroad - means the PCP faced serious economic problems.

The PCP now participates vigorously in the Juba Coalition of Forces, but it is not clear if all PCP members support this rainbow-coalition politics or agree with al-Turabi's newly adopted liberal line. The PCP's linkage with the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) is less strong than in the early days of the Darfur conflict. Despite the common Islamist heritage, many Zaghawa members of JEM in particular blame Turabi for what happened in Darfur. Al-Turabi, as former chief ideologue of the Islamist regime, is held ultimately responsible for the empowerment of the regime in 1989.

The different factions/groups of the PCP are not likely to pursue different strategies in the run-up to elections. This being said, however, it is also possible that individuals or PCP networks may seek to engage with former colleagues of the NCP. As events of last December have shown, al-Turabi is determined to continue to reach out to other opposition parties - ranging from Umma to the SCP - to facilitate his own political survival whilst hampering the NCP wherever possible.

Southern opposition

Southern opposition parties are fragmented and disunited, and political programs in effect have not had a political impact except for the call to join one of the two major parties: the NCP or SPLM. The Sudan African National Union (SANU) and the two factions of the Union of Sudan African Parties (USAP I and II), are largely seen as proxies of the SPLM, while the Southern Sudan Democratic Forum has been accused of being both co-opted by the NCP and being a one-man show funded by Southern Sudanese diaspora. All three parties clearly lack popular support.

Complaining that the SPLM is not contributing to a competitive political environment in the South, both SPLM-Democratic Change and Southern Sudan Democratic Forum so far have failed to organize themselves properly and have had difficulties attracting segments of the Southern population to their ranks. It remains to be seen how far these and other non-SPLM forces will translate into an effective political force in the run-up to elections.

Scenarios for possible election outcomes

The Sudanese general elections of 2010 are particularly far-reaching in their scope: Besides the national presidency and parliament in Khartoum, the Sudanese are also called to vote for the South Sudanese presidency, state governors, the Southern parliament, and state assemblies (BBC 2009). In the absence of reliable pre-election opinion polls, all predictions of the election results are bound to contain a large element of speculation. This is particularly true for the current political climate in Sudan, which has become increasingly tense and volatile in the run-up to the elections. However, if the voting does take place on schedule and proceeds in an orderly manner, a number of scenarios for its outcomes can be drawn.

Presidential elections

The presidential elections have turned into a hotly contested race, and they have consequently been the focus of much media attention. The stakes are high for the NCP to seek a confirmation in office of the current president, Omar al-Bashir. Not only would this consolidate the NCP's hold on power, it would also deal a blow to the ICC's attempts to bring al-Bashir to court and give some sort of retroactive legitimacy to the NCP's ascension to power by unconstitutional means in 1989.

Al-Bashir stands as the main contender against a number of opposition presidential candidates, among whom Yassir Aman (SPLM) and Sadiq al-Mahdi (Umma) are the most serious rivals. The nomination of presidential candidates by a number of opposition parties seems to be part of a strategy by opposition parties to deny al-Bashir early victory in the first round. If, in a second round, all opposition parties were indeed able to forge a "rainbow coalition" and rally behind a common candidate, this could represent a serious challenge to the NCP's plans. Against this tactic, the NCP has threatened to harden its position on the implementation of CPA issues that are still unresolved (border demarcation, status of Abyei, use of oil pipelines, etc.) - all in the hope of driving a wedge between the SPLM and opposition forces in the North.

Government of Sudan

The most important question concerning this election - besides doubts over the NCP's willingness to guarantee free and fair elections in the North - is whether the NCP will garner enough support to consolidate its dominant role in Sudanese politics, or whether it will be forced to enter into a coalition with other parties. Three scenarios are possible:

The first scenario sees an undisputed NCP victory against a fragmented opposition. Using its accumulated wealth, efficient government-led party machinery, mobilizing its urban and rural constituencies, and scaring off its opponents, the NCP may win a clear majority in a "reasonably free and fair" election. The SPLM might, in this case, reveal its character as a Southern political force unable to wield much support outside its territory proper, while disagreements between the Northern opposition parties would prevent them from playing a greater role. However, even if it wins a majority in the legislative elections, the NCP might still be forced into a second round in the presidential elections. Since it cannot afford to lose the latter, the NCP might offer a relatively high price for support by the DUP and smaller political parties, in exchange for seats in parliament or state governor positions.

In a second scenario, the NCP emerges as the strongest party, but is forced to enter into a coalition with one or more of the Northern opposition parties. For this, the NCP would have to succeed in driving a wedge between the SPLM and the Northern opposition parties, scaring or buying off opponents and confining the SPLM to the South. The NCP has never closed the door on a coalition that would bring it closer to the major Northern parties, especially Umma or the Democratic Unionist Party. The NCP strategy in this case would be dominated by scare politics, portraying itself as defending Northern interests against radicals in the North and emerging regional forces in the South, Darfur, and the East.

A third scenario, finally, sees the SPLM join a coalition of Northern parties and regional forces in order to defeat the NCP. Both the Northern opposition and regional movements in Darfur and the East would, in this case, be working toward forging a coalition or alliance with the SPLM. This constellation would make the SPLM the "king-maker" in Sudanese politics: They would be in a position to make or break the electoral coalition. Both the NCP and the opposition parties are trying to woo the SPLM leadership, and the latter have not yet decided what offer on the table to accept. The worst thing that the NCP fears is a strong alliance between the SPLM and Umma - hence the NCP's ceaseless efforts to scare the SPLM by pointing out that Umma has never recognized the CPA and will not deliver on CPA commitments. It remains to be seen whether Darfur rebel groups would join the electoral process.

Government of Southern Sudan

The results of the elections in South Sudan are unlikely to cause much surprise. The SPLM stands a good chance of securing a landslide victory on all levels of the elections. Since he is running undisputed, the confirmation in office of Salva Kiir Mayardit as president of the government of Southern Sudan is also largely taken for granted. However, as described above, the SPLM's dominant position in Southern Sudanese politics is not only based on popular support, but also on its practice to deny rival political parties equal chances.


The signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 raised high hopes for a democratic transformation of Sudan: a transition from war to peace, from one-party to multi-party rule, from authoritarianism to inclusive government. Five years later, however, little of this has materialized. Tenets of authoritarianism and militarism still remain intact. As in the country's past transitions, this has contributed to the further erosion of earlier gains with respect to democracy and civil society. The present transitional period, therefore, does not hold any conclusive signs for a steady, cumulative build-up for democratic change.

The NCP has instead evolved into a sort of "hybrid regime," opening up to some degree while successfully combining democratic procedures with autocratic practices. The SPLM/A, on the other hand, has yet to undergo a structural transformation from a rebel army to a political party, and as a government still has to create institutions that are more responsive to the needs of its citizens. Equally, the regional rebel movements of the West and the East have not yet been able to be transform into functioning political parties. They are lacking both political programs and organizational structure. Nevertheless, unlike the rather passive and powerless traditional parties, rebel movements - due to their dynamic and pro-active nature - currently seem to be more attractive to the population of Sudan's peripheries, and especially the younger generation.

Hopes are now pinned on the general elections to do what the transition period since 2005 has failed to do. However, the shape of Sudan's political parties is sobering. The SPLM is punching below its weight in national politics, while the formerly influential Northern political parties seem disorganized and lack a clear political program. Parties with a more sophisticated party structure, like the SCP or the PCP, are lacking in popular support or, in case of the latter, sincere commitment to the fundamental principles of democracy. A strong opposition alliance still has to materialize. However, this seems to be difficult, as traditional political parties are increasingly forced to compete with the more dynamic rebel movements of the peripheries.

Despite all this, the 2010 general elections can be a genuine moment of political participation and national cohesion at a difficult but critical juncture in Sudanese history. However, it is hard to see how they could make up for all that has been missed in terms of democratic transformation since the signing of the CPA.

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