News and Films From Sudan’s Frontline (Beta)


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Fighting broke out in June 2011 between Sudan’s government and Nuban rebels. Nuba Reports was founded by people living in the region after journalists and NGOs were banned. Our goal is to provide Sudan and the International community with credible and compelling dispatches from the front lines of this conflict and to illuminate the war’s impact on civilians. more

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“It will forever be engrained into the minds of Sudanese people and people in Al-Fashir that students from Al-Fashir university protested to resist the referendum and this is what we hoped for,” said Mohamed Mudathir*, a student at Al-Fashir University.

A large number of students from Al-Fashir university protested the Darfur referendum, held between 11-13 April to determine whether to create a single, contiguous Darfur state or to retain the current five states. The referendum was stipulated in the 2011 peace agreement, the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur (DDPD), which brought together the Sudanese government and several Darfur rebel groups.

But the people of Darfur, a region in western Sudan the size of France, have rejected the government initiative. They have done so not through the gun but via protests and simply not voting. Local citizens assume the vote is rigged, ensuring the ruling party gets the results they want: a Darfur region divided into states. These states, largely separated by ethnic lines, will allow the government avenues to manipulate and control the region. The rebel groups, who have fought Khartoum for 13 years now, prefer a united, single region. The referendum also provides Sudan’s President Omar Bashir a veneer of peace and control in the restive region; a tool to woo foreign investors and lift western sanctions for the cash-strapped nation.

In February, those displaced by the conflict in North Darfur protested against the referendum and urged the government to focus on addressing insecurity in the region instead; but the government insisted and President Bashir toured the five states ahead of the event.

“The authorities only marketed the five-state option and never clearly expressed why it is better for us as citizens than the one-region option,” said Hind Mohamed*, a young lawyer from Al-Fashir. “But I expect the actual result of the referendum to be the birth of more states along ethnic lines, we will have ten states very soon.”

Protests are rare in all of Darfur states where armed resistance has overshadowed and repressed any attempts at civil resistance. The security apparatus deals with peaceful protesters as if they are carrying arms, often making demonstrations extremely dangerous –if not fatal. In 2012, state authorities fired live ammunition at high school students in Nyala, South Darfur, for protesting against the lifting of fuel subsidies, killing at least eight students.

However, 13 years of conflict and imposed silence has instigated students to take more risks.

“We knew that we were at risk of death, arrests and even permanent suspension from the university, but we were encouraged by our families and neighbors who, for the first time, were so fed up with the situation, they didn’t fear that we may be killed,” said Mudathir, a student at the university.

No lines, no voting

“I saw that there were no lines, just empty voting stations,” said Hind Mohamed*, a young lawyer from Al-Fashir who lives next to a polling station. “I saw just a few people voting in the voting station in my neighborhood, Awlad Al-Reef, this sent a strong message that this is not our priority now and people are not interested,” she told Nuba Reports.

In Zam-Zam IDP camp, North Darfur, there are six voting centers according to local sources. “In one voting center they had only nine votes submitted in the three polling days,” said Moez Yahya* a Zam-Zam Camp administrator who has monitored the referendum process. “The authorities claim that more than 14,000 were registered in Zam-Zam, but if you call out the names on the sheets, you would be shocked by the amount of fake names, I would say not even two percent [of the population] voted in this camp.”

Authorities pressurized five out of six polling stations in Zam-Zam to rig the elections, Yahya said. The polling center with only nine votes represented the single polling center where staff refused to rig the results. In one polling center, a staff member managing the polls had temporarily left the center for a meal, Yahya said. “She came back and somehow found a full ballot box.”

Another IDP in the camp said that the referendum had no observers to monitor the process. “There are no observers in the centers and the staff there can do whatever they want,  I personally did not vote and I don’t know anyone who did and I think this is real resistance to the referendum,” said Mansour Omer who has been in the camp for over ten years.

Some of those displaced voted due to pressure telling Nuba Reports that security agents threatened to target them if they did not participate in the process.

An official from the Darfur Regional Authority (DRA), the body that organized and supervised the referendum, said in confidence that she expected a low turnout. “In South Darfur where I am from and based, there was mass rejection to the referendum from the start. This was more evident in the polls, the turnout was negligible,” said the official in a phone interview, adding that the results have been decided upon beforehand.

Omer Abdullah, a trader in Nyala, South Darfur, however, said that voting rates are high in his area. “I think that any low turnout at the voting stations could be due to problems in access and lack of means for transportation,” he said.

April 2015 repeats itself

Last April, Sudan had general elections that saw President Bashir re-elected for another term since coming to power through a military coup in 1989.

Out of nearly 13 million that registered to vote, only a third casted their vote based on reports by African Union observers. The opposition parties boycotted the elections beforehand saying that it will not be free and fair.  But the real boycott was from the Sudanese people who chose not to vote as a way to take a stance against what they considered pre-determined, rigged elections.

Judging by the numerous boycotts of the referendum, it is clear that the people of Darfur do not support or believe in this forced vote. Nor does the international community. On April 9, the US issued a statement claiming the registration process was “inadequate” and, under the current conditions in Darfur, “cannot be considered a credible expression of the will of the people of Darfur.”

After dispersing the Al-Fashir University protest last week, police arrested a number of students and held them in custody until the referendum was over to stifle any brewing protest movements, according to a lawyer who spoke to Nuba Reports.

The university protests were the talk of the town just as much as the expected results of the referendum.

The lawyer, Yassin Ahmed* was working with students to secure the release of their colleagues told Nuba Reports that it is uncommon to see protests in North Darfur, but this protest had a far-reaching impact. “In my view, the only problem is the university campus is a little far from the city and the authorities repressed the protests before it had reached busy areas,” the lawyer, requesting anonymity for security reasons, told Nuba Reports. “If it had, I think average citizens would have joined this protest.”

  * Names have been changed to protect the sources

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