This year will be decisive for the future of Sudan. Africa’s largest country is only a few months away from the groundbreaking elections that will be followed by a referendum for independence of South Sudan in 2011. A new country is on the political horizon. The million-dollar question is will elections really happen? And if they do, will the Islamic North indeed let the Christian-animist South decide about its own future?

The civil war between the North and the South ended with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. To understand the conflict and the power of the upcoming elections in Sudan, a brief excursion into the country’s history is enough. The tension between the two entities (North & South) started with the colonization. The British wanted to create a cultural wall in what is today South Sudan to stop the spread of arabization in Africa. The official language of the South became English and Christianity was introduced as a superior religion. Missionaries over-floated the region and institutionalized education. The North responded to colonial agenda by building its own cultural fortress. The secular curriculum in schools was replaced by the teachings of Koran. After the independance in 1956 the predominantly Arab government started introducing the politics of arabization and islamization of the South leading to a conflict that turned into a 21-years lasting civil war (1983-2005).  Therefore, the upcoming elections are not just a democratic momentum, but also a groundbreaking event to show whether there is place for two multi-ethnical entities in Sudan. But will elections actually take place?

In the beginning of January, New York Times printed what Doctors without Borders, International Rescue Committee, Oxfam and other international non-governmental actors were trying to make apparent for moths. Violence in South Sudan, manifesting itself in ethnical clashes, is an obvious violation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005. The state of the matter is that international community does not want to witness a collapse of an agreement that took years to negotiate (2002-2005) and ended one of the longest civil wars in African history. But apparently, more energy was spent for negotiating the deal then for implementing its provisions. For example, one of the first steps of building peace is Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) of former combatants. This step is to assure that the weapons are laid aside and that combatants are ready to return to their civil life. In Sudan, this step happened rather late or in fact, too late. According to UNMIS (UN Mission in Sudan) “after a period of negotiations and technical preparations“, the DDR process started only in 2009 – four years after the peace accords were signed and one year before the scheduled elections.

The 2005 peace agreement gave Sudanese people the hope that they might live in peace. However, with 2,500 killed in South Sudan last year and 350,000 that fled their homes (Joint NGO Briefing, Jan 2010), that hope is now gone. In an environment that does not guarantee ‘freedom of fear’, it is impossible for fair and free elections to take place. If the peacebuilders neglect the worrying security situation and support the elections, they are in fact restoring the conditions that lead to Sudan’s civil war in the first place.