Last week we reported on the successful and peaceful close of voter registration in Sudan for January’s referendum on southern independence. In another promising development, this month Blue Nile state began popular consultations, a political process guaranteed by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended Sudan’s violent, 22-year civil war. Located on the north-south border, Blue Nile was on the frontlines of the war, and the state’s people had mixed loyalties—some aligned with the north and others with the south.
While the CPA stipulated that southern Sudan would vote on whether or not to secede from the north, it also determined that Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan states are part of the north. The agreement further required public hearings in the two states to determine the will of the citizens—whether they felt the peace agreement adequately met their aspirations. If not, additional negotiations would proceed between the states’ democratically elected state legislatures and the central government. Popular consultations are significant because they provide a unique opportunity to instill civic participation into Sudan’s public life, empowering citizens to understand their rights and responsibilities and make their opinions heard.
In Blue Nile, the process began with pilot citizen hearings in Damazin and Roseires December 12-13, where 876 citizens registered to attend, and nearly 300 of those expressed their opinions. Participation among women was strong. The Chair of the Commission encouraged women to come forward and minorities to speak in their own language, providing a positive sign that the state’s diversity will be reflected in the consultations. Over 100 similar meetings supported by USAID will be held across Blue Nile by January.
In Southern Kordofan, popular consultations cannot begin until after state elections are held next year.
USAID has been helping Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan prepare for the popular consultations since 2008—providing logistical support, organizing civic education campaigns to inform citizens about the process, and taking community leaders on study tours to Indonesia and Kenya, which have conducted processes similar to popular consultations. Many citizens have incorrectly believed that the process includes a vote on secession, like the southern referendum, which highlights the importance of civic education so that citizens understand the process and their rights.
For further analysis on the importance of the popular consultation process, read this special report from the United States Institute for Peace.
For more information on USAID’s work in Sudan: