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South Sudan: last call for stability 0

South Sudan is a tinderbox ready to explode. This is the thought that comes to mind while I’m on my way back to Nairobi after a trip in the region. I visited the cities of Rumbek,  Akott, Malakal, Juba and some of their neighbouring villages to produce reportages and documentaries for the Italian state television RAI.

There is a huge ferment for the first multi party elections to be held on April 11 2010 after 24 years of president Omar Hassan El-Bashir’s coup induced regime. He is leading the biggest African country with heavy hands.

The Sudanese will elect the President of the Republic and the new members of Parliament, but also local governors and MPs of the 25 federal states which compose the country.

Certain well-informed politicians suppose that the elections could be postponed however. And numerous alarm bells are ringing. The Nuba population denounce irregular registrations of their people with voting rights: number of registrations being higher than the number established by the central government. For this reason, they are asking for a 60 day delay of the elections.

The respected NGO for human rights Carter Centre – which was founded by the ex US president Jimmy Carter – has just asked for an electoral postponement in order to better check the lists. But there is also a risk that the 2011 referendum for Southern independence could be postponed, with a potential consequence of making the difficult political agreement for peace after war vanish.

The delay could be easily accepted by the two main speakers, enemies until the end of the war. Splm (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement) fears that in Southern polls there may lay bad surprises, with smaller parties gaining consensus and reducing political control on the area that the political-guerrilla party had conquered in its years of civil war against the central government. Actually, there are signs of open protest against the always more powerful Splm, mined also by deep corruption in the administrative management and its political class’ poor quality. Amongst other happenings, this emerged in the errors they committed while preparing the electoral lists.

On the other side, the Khartoum central government fears that Yasir Arman (the Movement for South Sudan Liberation candidate) could gain such an electoral success that a second ballot would become an inevitable consequence for President Omar El-Bashir, the National Congress party candidate.

Bad news is also coming from Darfur, where police has surrounded refugees’ camps several times to stop election rallies. Well-informed sources say that the Umma Party – the Islamic party, which candidate Sadiq al Mahdi was Prime Minister in 1989 when General Bashir made his coup – is allied with the former enemies of Splm party to punish the dictator.

The situation is still confused and marked by violence. I personally experienced the firm control police, the army and intelligence services have on the region.

Even though we were allowed to shoot a documentary, my Kenyan cameraman Edwin Kariuki and I were stopped and held three times for hours by people in civilian dress that not once revealed their names, positions or functions. We were forced to endure farcical interrogations with the charge of aiming at instilling anti-national feelings among the population through our film shooting.

President Omar El-Bashir is seeking to restore confidence however.  At the beginning of March 2010 he said that “even though numerous people, parties in particular, have asked for a delay, this won’t happen.” Those who know the president well are conscious that his political agreement is written on water and recorded on the sand: it is at the mercy of immediate convenience.

Bashir has included the South in his electoral campaign, promising development and better sanitary and educational structures.

But there were also clashes and accidents, fuelled by Khartoum, to demonstrate that Southern political forces are not able to govern, with the clear aim to eliminate the peace agreements signed in 2005, Splm sources told us.

I also must say that, having talked to people on the ground, I witnessed how the electoral body is determined to become independent, even if this means avoiding voting for high level candidates, but choosing ones faithful to the South, with the aim to escape the central and Islamic government in Khartoum.

By Enzo Nucci for – RAI

Enzo Nucci is the RAI correspondent, the Italian state radio and television, in Africa. He is based in Nairobi, Kenya, but covers all the main issues of Sub Saharan Africa’s affairs.

Photo by Justin Rubo

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