Global Policy Forum

Sudan: The Census Saga Continues


By Blake Evans-Pritchard

Inter Press Service
April 15, 2008

Sudan's crucial national census has been delayed by a week over concerns that displaced persons living in the north have still not been repatriated to the south, something which could seriously affect the results of the count. Millions of people in this vast country have been forced to leave their homes as a result of various internal conflicts, including a two-decade war that pitted the Muslim north against the Christian and animist south.

The Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) took up arms against Khartoum to protest against repression and marginalisation. A peace deal -- the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) -- was signed in 2005, establishing a largely autonomous government in the south. It also provided for the census, which will help determine sharing of key oil resources, as well as constituencies for national elections scheduled to take place next year.

Over the weekend, the Government of South Sudan (GoSS) said it wanted to delay the census until the end of the year, to give returnees more time to head home. However, following crisis talks on Monday between First Vice President and GoSS leader Salva Kiir and head of state Omar al-Bashir, the south said that it would only postpone the census by a week.

The poll has already been delayed twice, for financial and logistical reasons. There is widespread fear that any further delay could mean the 2009 ballot will also have to be postponed.

Officials of the SPLM, which occupies key positions in GoSS, believe that the government may be deliberately preventing people from returning home, particularly to the disputed, oil rich Abyei region, in order to skew the results of the census and give Khartoum a greater portion of the country's oil riches. The SPLM is also unhappy about the decision to leave questions concerning ethnicity and religion off the census form.

However, Yasin al-Haj Abdin, head of Sudan's Central Bureau of Statistics, claims the SPLM is simply trying to derail the count for its own political aims. "This census is very important for supporting the goals of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and it should not be delayed," he told IPS. Khartoum has been widely criticised in the past for not releasing sufficient funds for conducting the census.

Last week, a political furore erupted when a United Nations adviser accused the government of holding back 13 million dollars needed to pay the salaries of census workers. Abdin rejects these charges. "We had some financing and logistical problems in the past, but now everything is fine," he said. Abdin also dismisses the idea that ethnicity and religion should be dealt with by the census.

"We have discussed these questions at some length and come to the conclusion that they are not relevant," he said. "We were advised that, as a post-conflict country, we should not include in the census any questions that were part of the conflict in the first place. If the SPLM is interested in this data, why don't they collect it after the census?" The SPLM, though, would rather have the data officially captured by a government poll than in a later survey which might prove less influential.

Isaiah Chol, chairman of the Southern Sudan Commission for Census, Statistics and Evaluation, told IPS: "The identity of Sudan is a hugely political question. People still think of Sudan as a predominantly Muslim country, and those in the south want to straighten this out. This is a very sensitive matter to both the north and the south." "An equal representation of power and wealth is crucial for keeping the peace…Once you know the numbers, then wealth sharing can be done."

The success of Sudan's census has been closely linked not only with the administration of elections in 2009, but also the referendum on south Sudan's independence in 2011. Despite the signing of the CPA in 2005, certain parts of the country remain tense and there is a fear that war could break out again: Abyei, in the centre of Sudan, has already seen a resurgence in ethnic violence.

An aid worker in the area who declined to be named told IPS that the situation there had worsened since the appointment of Edward Lino as governor of the region at the beginning of this month. The ruling National Congress Party (NCP) says that Lino has been stirring up old ethnic tensions in the area between the Ngok Dinka, who supported the SPLM during the war, and the Messeria, an Arab tribe. The SPLM, on the other hand, criticises the NCP for not having pulled its military forces out of Abyei, as required under the CPA.

Human Rights Watch says that recent militia attacks by the government may reflect an attempt to influence the results of the census in the disputed region, by deterring displaced people from returning home. The census had been due to take place from Apr. 15-30, but will now be held between Apr. 22 and May 7.

More Information on The UN Security Council
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More Information on The Dark Side of Natural Resources
More Information on Oil and Natural Gas in Conflict


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