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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sudan: Politics and the Possibility of Change

Last week, for the first time in 24 years, the people of Sudan went to the polls to democratically choose their government.

Despite pre-election fears, the polling was largely peaceful and voter turnout was high. Still, the electoral process was and will continue to be heavily criticized by Sudanese opposition parties, local observers, and the international community. Few seem to expect that anything will change for the millions of Sudanese who live their lives in a constant state of uncertainty and stress. A democratically elected Omar al-Bashir government will be no more accountable to the citizens of Sudan.

Hala Al-Karib, a Sudanese human and women’s rights activist, writing in the Sudan Tribune on the last day of the elections lamented that: “Various factors have transferred the elections into a meaningless process and stolen the possibilities of change.”

For the people of South Sudan, the recent election was most significant as a dress rehearsal for the in many ways more important independence referendum scheduled for January 2011. That referendum would allow the people of South Sudan to vote to become an independent nation. Yet, as the dust of the recent election settles and attention turns to 2011, some observers are already calling South Sudan a “pre-failed state”.

But to believe that change is impossible and that Sudan has failed before it even began would be a mistake. It would mean abandoning millions of people who need us to act in compassion and solidarity now more than ever.

Sudan’s nation-builders do indeed have a monumental task ahead of them. Peace has remained elusive. Basic infrastructure is virtually non-existent. The World Food Programme has warned that, due to conflict and drought, the number of people who will need food aid in 2010 has more than quadrupled: 4.3 million Sudanese will go hungry throughout the year.

These are complex and pressing problems. Until they are addressed, it is hard to see how Sudanese citizens will truly be able to write a new beginning for themselves.

Thankfully, people are tackling the problems. HOPE International Development Agency’s colleagues in South Sudan have worked against incredible pressures to keep the possibility of change alive for thousands of South Sudanese families who have survived the past decades of conflict and who persist despite unspeakable acts of brutality. They will continue to stand with the poor and displaced in the face of violence, hunger, and insecurity. And we will continue to stand with them.

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