Trading Democracy for Elections in Sudan?

When the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Accord was signed by South Sudanese rebels and the central government, there were hopes that it could transform the political landscape of Khartoum. The CPA, as it is known, brought southern leaders into the central government in Khartoum and mandated the country’s first national elections in twenty years.

The highest expectations were that the elections would usher in Sudan’s transformation to democracy that would eject Sudan’s genocidal clique from government. Even if these ambitions were unreasonably high, few would have thought that the national elections would strengthen that very clique’s hold on power.

Yet, that appears to have been just what happened. The ruling party won elections that were neither free nor fair. And now, it would seem, a post-election crackdown has begun in earnest.

Rebecca Hamilton, in a collaboration with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, reports in the Washington Post about one civic group which is being systematically harassed by police.

On July 5, three Girifna activists were arrested while they were distributing the group’s first “magazine” in Khartoum North, a suburb of the capital. The two-page, double-sided pamphlet, printed on bright orange paper, contained a statement of the movement’s nonviolent aims and photos of students it says have been murdered by Sudan’s internal security apparatus.

The activists were charged with calling for a violent opposition to the state and breaching public safety.

What followed was a 48-hour ordeal in which the activists were twice removed from the jail by security agents and taken to other locations, where they were beaten and coerced into agreeing to spy on Girifna for the government, Musa said. The activists are meeting with a lawyer to discuss what to do next.

But as a matter of policy, Girifna speaks out publicly about the government’s actions against its members. “We all know if we don’t say anything, it will just keep on happening,” Musa said.

What seems to particularly rankle these activists is that the international community—in particular, the United States, which was the main diplomatic force behind the CPA – seems to have abandoned any pretensions about a democratic transformation in Sudan. The main goal of US policy appears to have shifted from “democracy in Sudan” to making sure that the 2011 referendum on Southern independence proceeds on time. This is great news for independence minded southern Sudanese, but it leaves the democracy activists in the north out in the lurch.  So far, though, that appears to be a trade-off the Obama administration is willing to accept.