Sudan – Darfur Referendum


Voting will determine whether Darfur’s states are to be unified or kept as separate entities, although many boycott proceedings.

On April 13th voting concluded in a three-day referendum to decide as to whether to keep the current state divisions or to unite the Darfur area into one semi-autonomous administration; the vote was said to involve around 1.4m citizens and more than 500 voting centres in 18 localities, although many opposition groups did not participate and accused the government of rigging.

The referendum had been condemned by the United States (US), claiming it would undermine the peace process. According to the US government, due to the ongoing conflict in Darfur, the insecurity would mean that many would be unable to participate in the vote.

According to the Sudan News Agency (SNA) around 2500 observers participated in overseeing the vote. Chairman of the National Group for Civil Society Organisations, Ibrahim Shaglawi, said that they provided logistical support across Darfur during the referendum, and affirmed the neutrality of all observers.

A united Darfur has long been the aim of the rebels fighting the Sudanese state but they have largely denounced this referendum as unfair. The referendum was initially supposed to take place in 2011 following the Doha Agreement, signed between the Sudanese government and rebel groups.


However analysts have stated that the result is likely to favour the current five-state system, as this reportedly gives Khartoum greater control.

Since January there have been reports of heavy fighting in the Jebel Marra region, and according to some analysts, the government, by holding this referendum, just wants to show the rest of the world that nothing untoward is happening.

“You have this picture being painted that Darfur is coming together,” said Ahmed Soliman, a political analyst from the UK-based Chatham House, reported by RFI.

Akshaya Kumar, deputy United Nations (UN) Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said “there’s been reports of gender-based violence mass rapes…and on top of all that, you have a dire humanitarian crisis, millions who still live in camps, further displaced. And people who are now being displaced,” reported RFI.

Many local leaders and activists called for a boycott of the vote, calling for people to stay at home and not to recognise the results. In North Darfur, activist Zahra Abdelnaim said that “the government has already identified the outcome of the referendum in advance.”

Religious leader Sheikh Younis Matar described the referendum as “aiming to turn the ownership of the province over to new settlers bought from West Africa”. A development expert and consultant, El Walid Adam Musa Madibo said that it “aims to divide Darfur and legalise tribalism,” reported Radio Dabanga.

On April 13th, one man was arrested by the Sudanese National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) for drawing offensive caricatures mocking the lack of turnout in the voting process. On April the 12th two people were detained protesting in Khartoum, while on April 11th, three students were detained at El Fasher University, reported Radio Dabanga.


Zam Zam IDP camp, Darfur CC 2007

In 1994 the Sudanese government decided to split Darfur into three states, fuelling unrest that eventually led to fighting, with many rebels from the Fur tribe, the largest tribe in the Darfur region, claiming that the split into states helped the central government enact greater control.

In 2003 the conflict in Darfur began when largely non-Arab tribes rose against the Arab-led government under current President Omar al-Bashir. According to the UN more than 300,000 people have been killed in Darfur, 4.4m need assistance and more than 2.5m have been displaced.

The two main rebel groups fighting in Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), have accused the government of rigging the vote to keep Darfur split into several states, reported Reuters.

Al-Bashir himself, continues to rule in Sudan despite an 2009 indictment by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for charges of mass killing, rape and pillage against civilians in Darfur.

The vote is one step in a long and drawn out peace process that was originally negotiated in Doha; rebels have for many years requested more regional powers. However the recent upsurge in violence and widespread allegations of vote fraud, suggest that the peace process is a long way from being concluded.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin

SUDAN: Darfur Fighting Continues
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.53, Issue.3, Pp.20942C–20943B

SUDAN: Peace Talks End without Deal
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.11, Pp.20797C–20798A

SUDAN: Further Attempts at Dialogue
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol.52, Issue.10, Pp.20762A–20762B

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