Sudan faces split into two one-party states

An internationally brokered peace deal that was supposed to transform Sudan into a unified democracy could be about to split Africa’s largest country into two one-party states.

In six months time, people from Sudan’s oil-producing south are due to vote in a referendum on whether they should secede and form Africa’s newest nation — a plebiscite promised under a 2005 accord that ended decades of north-south civil war.

Most analysts say south Sudan’s poverty-stricken population, traumatised by the conflict and years of perceived northern exploitation, are likely to vote ‘yes’ for independence.

Many are already looking beyond the referendum to work out what an independent south — and a newly separated north — might look like. The political prognosis is not good, particularly following elections in April when opposition groups say the main northern and southern parties stamped out competition with intimidation and fraud.

Read the rest on Reuters.

Juwama vs. the Nile Republic – South Sudan searches for a new name

What’s in a name? An entire cultural and national identity if you are from Sudan’s oil-producing south.

The region of southern Sudan is now less than seven months away from a referendum on whether it should split away to form Africa’s newest country.

One of the biggest unanswered questions hanging over the vote is what the new nation should call itself if, as widely expected, embittered southerners choose to secede.

The easiest option would be to stick to what people call it now — South Sudan or Southern Sudan.

But there are some serious branding issues. Say “Sudan” to most outsiders and they will immediately think of a list of nasties — Darfur, the never-ending north-south civil war, military coups, militancy and crippling debt.

A new nation might be grateful for a new name with a clean slate.

Read the rest on Reuters’ Africa blog.

Ethiopian ‘aid for arms’ story sparks storm

The BBC sparked a storm this week with a story claiming millions of dollars sent to help starving people in Ethiopia’s 1980s famine were used to buy arms by rebels.

The rebels, who now dominate Ethiopia’s government, and some aid groups dismissed the story. Bob Geldof, the Irish rock star who helped raise a lot of the money in the 80s with his Live Aid campaign, said it was “simply not the case”. Britain’s Independent newspaper published a blog saying the claim was a slur, cooked up by enemies of Ethiopia’s government ahead of looming elections.

Ethiopian blog Ethiopian Recycler, clearly not fan of the country’s current regime, begged to differ and defended the BBC story in two posts Aid money, arms, and Sir Bob Geldof and Live Aid money did pay for weapons:

Millions of aid money raised in the 1980s was indeed diverted to buy arms and had provided rebel leaders with a lifestyle that was inhuman and extravagant even by today’s standards. That is no news. Thousands of the hungry from Tigray were forced to trek to the Sudan in the course of which many perished. And hundreds that were resettled in southwestern Ethiopia were returned to Tigray through the Sudan [hundreds of which perished en route]. That is no news either. The fact that yesterday’s BBC report is followed by the question whether this scam ever took place is simply absurd.

Read the rest on GlobalVoices.

Since the article was published, Bob Geldof has stepped up his rhetoric in The Guardian and Rob Crilly has joined the debate:

I don’t know why Bob Geldof got his knickers in a twist over the BBC’s report on aid to Ethiopia. Surely anyone who knows anything about Africa knows that in dealing with emergencies, aid agencies will have to deal with unsavoury characters.

When is an election boycott not an election boycott?

When it takes place in Sudan.

Preparations for Sudan’s general elections — due to start tomorrow — were thrown into confusion over the past two weeks as opposition parties issued contradictory statements over whether they were boycotting the polls.

Some announced a total withdrawal, protesting against fraud and unrest in Darfur, only to change their minds days later. Others pulled out from parts of the elections — presidential, parliamentary and gubernatorial votes are taking place at the same time — then changed their minds days later. Others left it up to individual candidates to decide.

Even a day ahead of voting in the divided oil-producing state, serious questions remain.

These confusions are more than mere technicalities. read more

“I am a British journalist”

A visiting friend recently left us with a copy of Chris Cleave’s bestseller The Other Hand.

I particularly enjoyed the following scene, in which the heroine, a Nigerian refugee, is deported back to Abuja accompanied by her friend, a women’s magazine editor.

The military police were waiting for me in a small room, wearing uniforms and gold-framed sunglasses. They could not arrest me because Sarah was with me. She would not leave my side. I am a British journalist, she said. Anything you do to this woman, I will report it. The military police were uncertain, so they called their commander. The commander came, in a camouflage uniform and a red beret, with tribal scars on his cheeks. He looked at my deportation document, and he looked at me and Sarah and Charlie. He stood there for a long time, scratching his belly and nodding …

The military police followed our taxi from the airport. I was very frightened but Sarah gripped my hand. I will not leave you she said. So long as Charlie and I are here, you are safe. The police waited outside our hotel.

If anyone out there is short of a few bob, I would pay good money to watch you try that “I am a British journalist” line in a similar setting.

Cultures collide in the Ethiopian blogosphere

What happens when cultures collide? One of the best places to find out is the Ethiopian blogosphere, with its writers spread across the Ethiopian Diaspora, from China, through Europe to the United States of America.

Bloggers spent the past few weeks writing posts inspired by the differences between Ethiopia and the far-flung nations which many Ethiopians now call home.

Zewge A. Assefa, the writer behind Negere Ethiopia, was unnerved when he first moved to Norway as a student. At first, he wrote in First impression is not always the lasting one, everyone seemed so quiet and reserved. When he got up the nerve to talk to his fellow students, he had to overcome other cultural barriers:

I do not … mean to underestimate the difficulty for me as an African and in particular as an Ethiopian to give a proper picture of the place I call home. Many people seem to have a thick background reinforced with terrible images of war, famine and overall poverty…

Personally, I do not feel rejected. Neither do I feel fully embraced. I still live with the situation where more often than not, people prefer to sit by people of their color type even when I am sitting alone.

Read the rest on GlobalVoices.

Searching for reasons to be cheerful in Sudan

Only the most foolhardy commentator would dare to say anything optimistic about the coming year in Sudan, four months away from highly charged elections and 12 months from an explosive referendum on southern independence.

So here goes — five reasons why Africa’s largest country might just manage to reach January 2011 without a return to catastrophe and bloody civil war, despite the worst predictions of most pundits.

Often the cause of conflict, oil could end up helping to prevent it in Sudan. The country’s oil industry, as it currently stands, only works when north and south Sudan work together. The south has most of the known oil reserves while the north has all of the infrastructure — from pipelines to refineries to a sea port. Talk of a southern refinery and an alternative pipeline route to the sea via Kenya are currently “pie in the sky”, one diplomat told me.Both sides may choose to fight it out over contested border oilfields after the widely expected “yes” vote for southern independence, thereby disrupting oil flows and scaring off investors. But it would be much more profitable for all concerned to work out a revenue sharing scheme and live side by side as business partners. The south’s government gets up to 98 percent of its revenues from oil sales so would struggle to survive without some kind of deal. read more

Sudan leaders scuffle as time runs out for peace deal

It started with a small scuffle over a confiscated bag of protest banners outside Sudan’s parliament. And it ended in confrontations between baton-wielding police and protesters on the dusty streets of Omdurman.

At the finish, once the tear gas and protests leaflets had settled, just one victor emerged — in the propaganda stakes at least — the protesters from a loose alliance between south Sudan’s dominant Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and mostly northern opposition parties.

The SPLM and opposition groups called Monday’s protest to urge north Sudan’s dominant National Congress Party (NCP) to push through a raft of reforms they see as essential to elections, now just months away in April.

The Khartoum authorities played their part perfectly, first by banning the rally, then by starting the day detaining two prominent SPLM leaders.

Tear gas was fired, protesters beaten and at least one reporter detained. Opposition supporters sent round text messages saying Yasir Arman, the SPLM’s deputy Secretary General, had been hospitalised after rough treatment in a police cell.

International groups from the United Nations to Amnesty International released statements of outrage and criticism.

A couple of hours later Arman, apparently none the worse for wear, was being carried on his supporters’ shoulders into a packed, back-slapping victory rally at an SPLM base in Khartoum. read more

Day three

There is very little time to post right now but I am sure you have all seen the stories on the news. If not, here is a good summary by Associated Press. The best I can do at the moment is point you to my pictures on Flickr.

Just to say that they fall short in showing the full tension here on the streets and the terrible grief and injuries in the hospitals.

It is a very strange position to be in as a journalist. Everyone is desperate for you to record what is going on. I was practically grabbed by doctors and protesters at the Black Lion hospital and dragged from ward to ward. Before I could focus my camera on one patient I was being ushered out to the next ward and the next morgue.

People walk past you and shout “look at this” and “can you see what is happening”.

At one point a young man burst out of the morgue roaring with grief. He kept charging on the surrounding doctors, clenching his fists, desperate to find someone to take his grief out on. Seconds later he ran out of the room in tears.

Just for the record, I saw 11 bodies at the Black Lion and Zawditu hospitals, all with gun shot wounds, some to the head. As you know the official count at the moment is 22.

ethio hospital 6They all seemed to me to be in their twenties or at most their early thirties. Most of the protesters I saw earlier yesterday were much younger – see this picture of stone-throwing youths. The real worry is that this unrest will spread from the students to “street people” across the city, turning the protests into widespread unrest.

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“Trouble kicked off today”

I friend of mine out here just emailed me this account of yesterday’s events in Addis Ababa:

Trouble kicked off today – first there was the arrest of AAU students in the early hours of the morning then the university was surrounded by the police. I went off home and noticed loads of people on the streets and all the kids from private schools being whisked off home. An hour later I went back and saw the truck loads of male students being transported away in military vehicles under heavy armed escort. The girls followed, many crying, in buses. People lined the streets with tears in their eyes, braver souls shouted their support or raised their clenched fists in anger. The tension was palpable and the scene continued throughout the afternoon. Another hour later we received a phone call. Shooting had been heard in the vicinity of the British embassy and it was best to avoid the embassy road. We took a detour home but from the other side of the embassy we could see the build up of special forces and riot police.

We heard later that children from Kokebe Tsiba Secondary School had blocked the road trying to stop the passage of the military vehicles taking their older counterparts out of Addis to an unknown destination. Some people suggested Shoa Robit. In the past students have been transported to boot camp for correctional training for a few weeks while the situation calms down. A friend also saw pick-ups ferrying casualties, young students from the school to hospital.