For the past two months, USAID has responded rapidly to the historic events in Egypt. We are pivoting our existing portfolio of 36 democracy programs implemented by Egyptian, U.S. and international organizations to support the new opportunity.
During the protests, our partners deployed observers throughout the country to report on the democratic movement, provided legal and humanitarian aid to protesters and detainees, and disseminated information to local communities so that those not directly involved in the demonstrations could participate in the debate on political reform.
In support of the referendum on constitutional amendments, USAID’s partners trained domestic election observers and conducted media campaigns to encourage voter participation, especially among youth and women. Looking to the future, USAID grantees are advising at least 30 new political parties that aspire to contest the parliamentary and presidential elections later this year.
Like most days in Port-au-Prince, Haitians began to fill the streets at sunrise. On this Sunday, however, they were headed to the polls, eager to exercise their democratic right in the presidential runoff and parliamentary elections.
Voters at many polling stations waited calmly in line for their turn to vote. At a few other polling stations that opened late, long lines of would-be voters seemed anxious about the missing their chance to vote.
I was part of a small U.S. Government team that traveled to several polling stations around the city. As we roved from polling station to polling station, we identified those that were running smoothly and those that were experiencing problems.
It was my first time as an election monitor, so I was lucky that my two team members were experienced experts. Our team leader, Denise Dauphinais, also heads USAID’s elections support program in Haiti. She shares her first impressions of the polling stations she visited in the video embedded in this blog post. Among her impressions, she notes:
There appeared to be more people in and around polling stations than there were during the first round of elections last November.
There were logistical problems early in the morning that caused some polling stations in Port-au-Prince to open late, but the Provisional Electoral Council and United Nations seemed to address them.
The mood appeared more comfortable and calm than it did during the first round of elections in November.
Dauphinais and the rest of our small team were part of a much larger effort to support the elections on Sunday. The U.S. Government disbursed a number teams – more than 40 people all told – across the country to monitor election-day activities. The international community, led by the Organization of American States and the United Nations, and a cadre of domestic partners also provided important services throughout the day: election observation to vote counting to name a few.
Support for elections in Haiti may have been most visible on Sunday, but it was only the latest crescendo in an effort that took millions of dollars and months of planning by Haitian institutions and the international community. The U.S. Government alone invested more than $15 million in support of both rounds of elections, including:
A public information campaign using SMS messages, radio, television, billboards, and a call-center to inform people about the location of their polling station;
Training for poll workers and election observers; and,
Equipping poll stations with supplies such as ballots, ballot boxes, and tamper-evident transport bags.
As we wait for the preliminary results to be announced by March 31, and final results by April 16, both Haitians and the international community are no doubt hoping that the relative calm on Sunday is a sign of what’s to come.
Provisional results announced in Juba Sunday for the referendum on self-determination for southern Sudan indicate that southern Sudanese voted overwhelmingly to secede and form a new nation. Of more than 3.8 million votes cast, nearly 99 percent chose secession, and just over 1 percent chose unity with northern Sudan.
Southern Sudan Referendum Commission Chairman Professor Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil and Deputy Chairman Justice Chan Reec Madut, who is also chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau in Juba, jointly declared provisional results of the referendum, which is part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended more than two decades of civil war in Sudan.
“The people of South Sudan are … indebted to the government and people of the United States of America, USAID,” Justice Chan said in remarks at the announcement. “The Southern Sudan referendum on self-determination could not have taken place on time without the support of the international community,” he said. “Our international partners and friends put in robust material, technical, and moral support that is still literally lapping on our doorsteps.”
USAID provided comprehensive assistance to help carry out the referendum, including technical and material assistance, civic and voter education, and support for domestic and international observation of the process, and funded out-of-country registration and voting in eight diaspora countries, including the United States. This assistance is part of USAID’s broad goal of supporting peace in Sudan, including by helping to implement all provisions of the CPA.
Final results of the referendum are expected to be announced February 7 in Khartoum if no legal challenges are filed, and February 14 if legal challenges must first be addressed. If secession is the final outcome of the referendum, establishment of a new nation would not occur before July 9, 2011, when the CPA expires.
At the center where I observed, Lologo Center in Juba, five Sudanese poll workers, five Sudanese domestic observers, and four USAID staff members gathered in one of the two rooms of a primary school where all week the poll workers were on duty from 8 a.m. until 5 or 6 p.m. as their fellow citizens came to vote. After working all day on the last polling day, January 15, the poll workers continued directly to counting the vote, despite that they had little to eat or drink all day.
Once the 14 of us were assembled in the room, a policeman posted outside to guard the vote-counting process shut the heavy metal classroom door so that no one else could enter, screeching the sliding door lock into place.
First the chairman of the referendum center, a secondary school teacher named Primo Celerino Monai, announced the number of registered voters at that location—2,596—and the cumulative number of votes cast according to the daily log, 2,536—a 98 percent turnout. A poll worker took out seven envelopes that contained spoiled ballots from each of the seven days of voting, and opened each envelope, emptying the spoiled ballots onto a table in the center of the room. There were a total of 5. One of the poll workers then retrieved a tarp from the USAID-funded polling kit that contains supplies needed at the referendum center, including scissors, tape, a calculator, and battery-operated lanterns that were necessary because as is common in southern Sudan, there was no electricity at this center, and it soon became dark.
Southern Sudanese poll workers at Lologo Center, Juba, with USAID staff Mickey Richer, Cliff Lubitz, and Maura McCormick stand in front of 2,483 votes for secession after ballots were counted. Photo Credit: Angela Stephens/USAID
The poll workers spread the tarp over a large table in the center of the room. One poll worker placed the translucent box that contained the ballots on the table, cut the plastic ties that had locked the box all week, removed the lid, and emptied all the ballots onto the table. The five poll workers then bundled all the ballots into stacks of 50 for ease of counting, and once that was complete, counted to make sure the bundled ballots equaled the number of ballots cast as recorded each day in the center’s journal.
Occasionally during the course of the vote count, Mr. Monai read through the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) polling and counting manual provided to the more than 14,000 poll workers trained with the assistance of USAID partner the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), which explains step by step how to proceed with all the procedures of polling, including the vote count.
The poll workers wrote signs that read “Unity,” “Secession,” “Unmarked,” and “Invalid,” and taped them to the edge of the table nearest to us observers so they could pile the ballots into each category after opening and reading them.
One of the poll workers then stood in front of us and one by one, picked up a paper ballot, showed us whether or not the ballot had the required red stamp of the SSRC, the Sudanese body in charge of the referendum process, and then turning over the form, showed us the ink thumbprint that indicated whether the voter chose unity (written in Arabic and English, and indicated visually by two clasped hands) or secession (indicated visually by a single open palm). A few ballots were unmarked, and a few were invalid, either because the voter’s thumbprint was apparent on both unity and secession, or because the ballot lacked the required red SSRC stamp.
As the reading out of votes began in the solemn room, lit only by three battery-operated lamps on the table, the poll worker announced as he held up each ballot one by one for us to see: “The stamp is valid”—showing us the stamp and then turning the ballot over –“and the vote is secession.” Five hours later, when the poll workers had opened all the ballots, the final count was 2,483 votes for secession, 19 votes for unity, 19 invalid, and 15 unmarked.
The transparency of the process and the sense of duty and professionalism the poll workers displayed was admirable. Each of us in the room could see every ballot and every stage of the counting process.
The enormity of what those dedicated and exhausted poll workers were doing was lost on none of us—it was nothing short of transmitting the voice of the people of southern Sudan, after decades of war and hardship, through the ballot box as they decided their future course as a people.
By Michael Eddy, Democracy and Governance Team Leader, USAID/Sudan
JUBA—Here at the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau (SSRB) data center, staff are hard at work processing results forms of the votes cast in the referendum on southern Sudan’s self-determination, which concluded January 15 after seven days of voting. Voters had two choices—unity with northern Sudan, or secession.
“All the truth will come out from this office, and we have made sure it is accessible to the observers,” SSRB Chairman Justice Chan Reec Madut said of the data center, which he called the most important part of the SSRB, the Juba-based bureau of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC). “We made clear everything should be done in a very transparent way and we share it with the people,” he added.
Data center Director Benedict Lagu—the son of Joseph Lagu, Sudan’s former Vice President and former Ambassador to the United Nations—returned to southern Sudan in 2009 from the United States, where he lived for 19 years. He studied computer science in Iowa and was a professor of information technology at Elizabethtown Community College in Kentucky. He is now director of management information systems at the Southern Sudan Electricity Corporation, but was released from his position for three months to run the SSRB data center.
Results forms from 2,638 referendum voting centers across southern Sudan began arriving at the data center January 18, two days after the polls had closed. Staff enter the data into a database, which verifies voting center information such as the number of eligible voters, processes the forms, and aggregates the results.
After the results from all 2,638 referendum centers in southern Sudan are aggregated, the SSRB will announce provisional results of the ballots cast in southern Sudan—estimated at more than 3 million. Those results will be transmitted to a Khartoum data center, which is currently processing results from voting centers in northern Sudan and the eight other countries where voting occurred (Australia, Canada, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and the United States). The SSRC is scheduled to announce preliminary results by January 31 and final results by February 14.
“It’s a very emotional thing for our people,” Justice Chan said. “They never thought they’d have this opportunity.” He added that the data center will create an archive of the results forms once they are entered. “These are documents that have something to do with the destiny of the people of southern Sudan,” he said. “We want to keep them for the people who will come after us.”
Support for the data center, including the database software and staff training, is just one aspect of USAID’s comprehensive assistance for the referendum, which is part of a broader assistance to help maintain peace and improve lives in Sudan.
Observers with the Carter Center confer as voting results forms from two locations arrive at the Southern Sudan Referendum Bureau Data Center in Juba January 19, 2011, and a policeman deployed to provide security looks on. USAID is among a community of donors supporting the Carter Center’s independent international observation of the southern Sudan self-determination referendum. Photo: Angela Stephens/USAID
“Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.”
—James Madison, 1788
This month’s historic referendum will determine southern Sudan’s future, either as an independent country of part of a unified Sudan. Voting ends on Saturday, January 15, and enormous efforts have been launched by U.S., Sudanese, and international agencies to support a credible process—that voters know how and where to vote, that the Sudanese referendum commission is equipped to carry out referendum logistics, that sufficient ballots and voting materials are available, and that poll workers and election observers are properly trained.
At the same time, the United States has continued to provide development assistance that strengthens democracy as well as demonstrates the benefits of peace. These efforts include improving health care and access to clean water, building roads and transportation infrastructure, providing microcredit loans to spur economic growth, and—of particular importance—increasing access to and the quality of education.
Formal education is not a prerequisite for wisdom, but it is a critical part of active participation in the democratic process. Literacy is crucial for making informed voting decisions and lobbying representatives for change. The public’s ability to effectively organize and work in groups provides protection against political abuses and dictatorships. Research supports the intuition that investments in education pay returns in peace and democracy. (See a related interactive graph.)
In 2005, when Sudan ended its 22-year civil war, only 37% of southern Sudanese men and 12% of women were literate. Primary school enrollment was low, and girls in particular faced many obstacles to attending school. These obstacles included high direct and indirect costs, discriminatory attitudes and school policies, and poor access to feminine hygiene products and lack of sanitation facilities.
USAID has worked closely with the Government of Southern Sudan Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology to improve its ability to plan and implement educational reforms, increase access to primary education especially among girls, train teachers, and foster community-wide support for education.
One example of USAID’s work is the opening of a school in the Blue Nile State—a region on the north-south border of Sudan that was a major site of conflict during the civil war. The Granville-Abbas School serves 120 female students and serves as a model of girls’ education in the region, with three sets of classrooms, a library, theater, and a computer center with internet access. Better education for girls leads to benefits for their families and communities including increased economic growth, reduced poverty, improved health and nutrition, and better HIV/AIDS control.
U.S. educational programs throughout Sudan helped to increase primary school enrollment from 1.1 million in 2007 to 1.4 million in 2009. In addition, U.S. programs have trained over 2,300 teachers, including many female instructors who serve as critical role models to young girls. Beyond bricks and mortar institutions, USAID has also supported radio education to help students study English, math, local languages, and life skills. In 2009 alone, the radio programs reached over 350,000 youth and adults.
On Sunday, voting began in the historic southern Sudan referendum. Through January 15, southern Sudanese will cast their ballots to determine whether the region will stay unified with the north or secede and become an independent country. More than 3.9 million people are registered to vote in Sudan, and more than 60,000 are registered in eight countries that have large populations of southern Sudanese, including the United States.
Southern Sudanese wait to vote in Juba on the first of seven days of polling for the referendum that will decide whether southern Sudan will remain united with northern Sudan or will secede and form a new nation. The referendum is part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Credit: Angela Stephens/USAID
President Obama wrote in a New York Timesop-ed on Saturday, “Not every generation is given the chance to turn the page on the past and write a new chapter in history. Yet today — after 50 years of civil wars that have killed two million people and turned millions more into refugees — this is the opportunity before the people of southern Sudan.” The White House also released a written statement yesterday in praise of the referendum and its implications for the peace process.
On Saturday, Senator John Kerry and U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration held a press conference in Sudan. On the importance of the vote, Senator Kerry said:
“What happens in Sudan – some people may be scratching their heads in some parts of the world and say, ‘Well how does this affect me?’ The truth is that the stability of Sudan is important to all of us. In a world that has become increasingly more complicated, increasingly more volatile, increasingly more extreme in various places, we want to see Sudan — north and south — contribute to global stability, and become a partner for peace all around the world. That’s the future that we can grab onto tomorrow, and we’re proud to be here today to help contribute to it.”
Two hands clasped together, or one hand alone? This is the choice that southern Sudanese voters will face in less than one week, when they choose either to remain part of a unified Sudan or to secede and form an independent country.
Several democratic milestones have paved the way for Sudan to reach this point: a peace agreement that ended 22 years of civil war, the first national census in 15 years, and the first multi-party elections in 24 years. While these achievements were not without hurdles, the country is nevertheless still on track for its historic referendum on January 9 to 15, 2011.
The next step in the peace process invokes complex and controversial issues: self-determination and government cooperation, the re-integration of soldiers into civilian life, and a decision on the fate of Sudan’s profitable oil fields, just to name a few.
But for the vote to be successful, the smaller, tangible pieces also need to be in place. Poll stations need to be well-equipped and orderly, with the right materials in the right places in the right quantities. And perhaps most importantly, the frontline poll workers need to know how to use the materials to carry off a successful and fair vote.
For established and peaceful democracies, these voting logistics are a given. But in a region that is still recovering from war and that has poor transportation, education, and communication infrastructures, details matter.
In recognition of this fact, on December 23, 2010, USAID and the United Nations delivered polling kits and ballots to assist the official Sudanese commission carrying out the referendum. This delivery followed earlier support to the voter registration process. USAID’s polling kits included critical materials for running a polling site, such as indelible ink, thumbprint pads, ballot box seals, and banners.
The ballots ask voters to place a thumbprint next to their choice—unity or secession, shown in English and Arabic text as well as pictures for voters who may speak one of the country’s more than 125 other languages. In addition, thanks to USAID and its partners in Sudan, over 14,000 poll workers will have been trained in polling and counting procedures by the time the referendum takes place.
USAID’s attention to the details of a successful vote complements its broader activities to support peace, security, and good governance throughout Sudan.
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.