Looking to Sudan’s Referendum Sunday

The Financial Times covers a new report from Global Witness that concludes that a new oil revenue sharing agreement is needed to prevent Sudan from returning to war:

The Khartoum government has yet to make good on an agreement on sharing oil wealth with southern Sudan, potentially jeopardising the fragile peace as the south’s population votes on whether to split the country in two, according to a report by Global Witness, the UK-based resource lobbyists.

The sharing of oil income, which accounts for half of state revenues in the north of Sudan and 98 per cent in the south, is among the thorniest issues as predominately Christian southerners prepare to vote on independence on Sunday. The south is widely expected to secede and emerge as Africa’s newest country.

. . . .

“Far less data is being published by the Sudanese government now than it was in 2008 and the first half of 2009, which even then was insufficient to be able to verify the oil revenue sharing,” said the report.

Yesterday, the US hailed the latest overtures from the Bashir government to indicate that it was prepared to allow the rerendum, and succession, to proceed peacefully:

The United States has led pressure on the Khartoum government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir not to impede the secession vote. Carson said Washington was “extraordinarily pleased” by Bashir’s statements on a trip to the south Sudan capital of Juba on Tuesday that Khartoum was ready to let the south go.

“We hope that the north … will live up to those very promising statements,” Carson said.

Bashir’s visit is the latest sign that the referendum, which many analysts earlier said threatened to spark a return to war between the north and the south, may unfold peacefully.

Key issues including borders, citizenship and the fate of the oil-rich region of Abyei remain to be decided, making the six-month transition period following the secession vote a potentially dangerous period.

U.S. officials are already working on a development plan for an independent south Sudan, which accounts for 70 percent of Sudan’s overall oil production.

The United States is ready to recognize the new government quickly and appoint an ambassador to help lead efforts to improve basic infrastructure, healthcare, and education as well as trade and investment, officials said.

“We anticipate ramping this up very quickly after the referendum,” said Larry Garber, the deputy administrator for Africa at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

A senior U.S. official, speaking on background, denied suggestions the United States was motivated primarily by a interest in south Sudan’s oil, which remains a key sticking point in dealings between Khartoum and Juba and which has been largely off limits to western oil companies thanks to U.S. sanctions imposed on Sudan in 1997.

US officials also expressed confidence that political agreement would be reached on oil revenue and other economic issues and that the status of Abeyei is “longer a potential flashpoint for war,” such that they do not expect further “major violence”.

Here is this week’s roundup “As vote nears, Sudan’s south anticipates independence and problems” from Jeffrey Fleishman in the Los Angeles Times. And here is Rebecca Hamilton’s “Sudan Dispatch” in The New Republic.

China to send observers to Sudan Referendum–what will they look for? [Updated Jan. 6]

The link to the Reuters report from Beijing is here.

China will send observers to Sudan when the south holds an independence referendum on January 9, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.

“At the invitation of both the north and the south, China will send observers to participate in the referendum,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a regular news conference.

“China is willing, together with the international community, to continue to play a proactive and constructive role for the sake of Sudan’s peace and stability,” Hong said.

Hmm. Will these be people who have observed an election before, much less participated in one? If China is serious about peace and stability within the parameters of a democratic process then great and welcome to the community, but if they are just protecting their own interests irrespective then what are they adding?

This is surely a clear example of a diplomatic observation rather than an assistance effort–no indication that China has an interest in improving democratic elections abroad.

Radio France International has an interesting take on the Chinese diplomatic strategy:

Beshir’s more reconciliatory tone is however a diplomatic advantage for China, which is a long-time ally of Beshir and a major investor in the country’s oil industry, which is mainly based in the south.

“China is working very hard to in effect play both sides of the border,” says David Shinn, the former deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Khartoum. “It wants to maintain its very close relationship with the Beshir government and it wants to maintain as close a tie as possible to the southerners if they secede.”

China has a consulate in Juba and has been providing some assistance to southerners over the last year, but Shinn says it will still have to work hard to create a good relationship with the south, should it become independent.

“They certainly will have an uphill climb in that they are well known to have been very strong military backers of the northern government and those feelings will not disappear quickly,” says Shinn. “On the other hand, the Chinese have shown great propensity over the years to be able to make the switch to the new rulers in town”.

Chinese financial resources will give it an advantage, especially as it is almost alone in having a state sector that is willing to make investments. The Chinese government also backs several banks in Africa, which able to provide low interest loans fast.

Shinn says China has enough invested in the north to want to maintain a good relationship with the north even though most of Sudan’s resources come from the south. Beshir’s diplomatic approach has given China a chance to work with the south without upsetting the Khartoum government.

“Who knows, behind the scenes maybe China has even been encouraging that,” says Shinn.


Kenya Referendum Retrospective–some lessons from the voting and election observation

This week will see the formal implementation of Kenya’s new Constitution to much fanfare. Before looking ahead, I wanted to take time to share by permission this excellent report from a grassroots election observation conducted in Western Kenya by Quaker Peace Network teams through a program called the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams.

For those of you who may not be familiar, roughly half the world’s Quakers are said to live in Africa’s Great Lakes region and Quaker Meeting Houses are common and important in Western Kenyan communities, including in areas impacted particularly by the 2007 post-election violence.

Yesterday we had the debriefing for the fifty observers. The feeling was that the new Interim Independent Electoral Commission did an excellent job of conducting the election. Yet there were some concerns:

1. It was not completely clear the criteria for the validity of the votes so that different poling stations rejected votes that other stations accepted.

2. In some communities the youth voted well, but in others very few youth voted. There needs to be more outreach to youth.

3. In some places the cell phones of the observers were confiscated for the day by the voting officials. This meant that the observer was out of communication and could not report something if needed. We felt that observers should be allowed to keep their cell phones, perhaps on vibration mode.

4. In at least one station, election officials were showing voters how they should vote.

5. There were no good guidelines on how illiterate voters should be handled when they did not come in with a family member to assist them.

6. In areas where there was violence after the 2007 election, some voters left to go back to their home community because they were afraid of violence after this election. This meant that these voters were disenfranchised.

My particular polling station in the hard hit town of Jua Kali had 80% turnout with 81% voting “No.” But it was in one of the 18 (out of 210) constituencies that had electronic registration of voters. Voters put their left thumb on a device that immediately brought up their picture, registration card, etc. on a computer. This worked extremely well with only about 5 people where it did not work These were sent to the Presiding Officer who checked their name manually on the hard copy–in every case the voter was a valid voter and allowed to cast his/her vote. Another significant innovation for most of the country was the Presiding Officer was give a special cell phone so that he/she could send a text message with the results from his/her station to headquarters in Nairobi. Results were being announced two hours after the polls closed and by 10:00 PM it was clear that the Yes side was winning by a landslide. There was no ability or time for rigging of voting returns at the headquarters as happened in the 2007 election. The cell phone results then had to verified by the official documents signed by the Presiding Officer and agents for the two sides.

In other words, as Andrew commented, although not much happened at the polling stations, our presence was a valuable part of the process. We found that most of the polling stations had no neutral election observers and in one constituency, the QPN observer was the only independent observer.

This type of detailed and candid reporting is what is needed to continue to improve the election process and the presence of a neutral peace-oriented group of grassroots observers living and working in the region seems ideal for the challenges presented by elections in this area.

Kenyans Vote (Updated)

UPDATE: Polls have closed at 5pm in Kenya, 10am Eastern in the US. See new Gettleman story “Kenyans vote on new constitution”.

Follow the voting and results through live updates with this Global Voices page as well as at Uchaguzi.

My sense going into the vote is that the constitution would pass by a good margin and the level of violence would be relatively lower than feared. Things do seem to be going smoothly so far. Violence in the past has either been state-supported or tied to the misconduct in counting the votes. With what seems to be a serious effort by the security services to work against violence this time, reflecting President Kibaki’s apparent commitment, the environment seems quite different for this vote.

See Gettleman in this morning’s NYTimes on the atmosphere in the Rift Valley prior to the voting, and this story from the BBC.

“Electoral Fraud and the Erosion of Democratic Gains in Kenya” — James Long of UCSD Center for Study of African Political Economy presents new draft paper on Kenyan election

James Long with whom I worked on the USAID/IRI/UCSD/Strategic exit poll has more detailed study of fraud in the 2007 Kenya elections along with further discussion of the exit poll and its handling.

Read Long’s working paper as presented May 1 to the Working Group in African Political Economy meeting at Pomona College.