Sudan Update

We are only a few months away from the proposed referendum to decide on the secession of Southern Sudan as originally agreed in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005. So how are things looking in Africa’s largest country? Word on the street is that preparations for the vote are behind schedule. The first problem is getting agreement between the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) on where the actual border will be demarcating North from South.

Differences have emerged over several distinct sites along the envisioned dividing line and work to define it is behind schedule. Relationships between NCP and SPLM are as strained as ever. A new militia opposed to the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) has emerged in the South and renegade SPLM elements are making their presence felt. Joint NCP-SPLM commissions deciding on voter registration, financial & logisitical planning and voter education/information have yet to be formed. The United States is a key player and continues its efforts to bring the parties together so that the referendum will happen on schedule.

The Head of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, Professor Mohammed Ibrahim Khalil, said that the Commission has completed preparations to start its work and its members will soon move to the headquarters.

In the meantime the South Sudan National Anthem Committee has asked musicians and writers to compose a national anthem. “Just because we are preparing an anthem does not mean that there will be separation, but we do have to prepare for that,” said anthem committee member Mallak Ayuen Ajok.

In the business sector, Sudanese authorities have ordered exchanges to stop issuing foreign currencies, except at airport terminals. US imposed sanctions have created a foreign currency shortage and the maximum travellers are allowed to take out of the country is €2,000. This has only led to a thriving black market with traders using fake air travel tickets to obtain currency at the airports. IMF data shows that Sudan’s foreign currency reserves are down 75% since 2006.

In the media, the Government has suspended BBC Arabic on FM radio. This, apparantly is not to do with content but working practice agreements that the authorities say the BBC have breached. Cited examples include bringing satellite equipment in through diplomatic channels and working in Southern Sudan without prior approval. Sudan’s Information Minister Kamal Obaid said the disputes go back two years and a framework deal with the British Government was now needed.

Last month President Omar al-Bashir defied his ICC arrest warrant when visiting Chad, which is an ICC member state. Chad stuck by the African Union which has urged its members not to act on the ICC warrant. Chad’s Interior and Security Minister, Ahmat Mahamat Bachir, insisted the President would be allowed to return home unmolested. “What country has ever arrested a sitting head of state? Bashir won’t be arrested in Chad,” he told the AFP news agency.

Then on August 4th President al-Bashir flew to Tripoli, Libya to meet Colonel Gaddafi. Libya is not one of the 111 countries that are State Parties to the Rome Statute underpinning the ICC.

Finally, we can report that 19 men in Omdurman, near Khartoum, were flogged for cross-dressing. The court said the men had broken Sudan’s strict public morality codes. Police arrested them at a party where they were found dancing “in a womanly fashion”, the judge said. They hid their faces as a crowd of hundreds watched while they received 30 lashes each. Ouch!