Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sudan: Consultations reveal little change in Blue Nile

Source: United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS)

Thousands of Blue Nile State residents are continuing to voice a need for development and services in daily public forums called for by Sudan's 2005 peace agreement.

The 21-day "popular consultations" process, which began on 14 January, was reaching mid-run today as some 500 plus people gathered at a large tent housing the public hearings in Musfa village, Baw locality.

Acknowledging security as a positive outcome of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), people of the village – a two and a half hour drive south of the state capital Ed Damazin – claimed an urgent need for development.

"Since peace has come, we sleep well at night," Osman Ahmed said into a microphone at the front of the tent, where note takers and other staff were sitting. "But there has been no development ... we need a hospital, doctors, electricity, water, schools."

Some noted the lack of a mosque, grinding mill for their crops and paved roads, while others claimed that rural women were the worst off, being forced to "bring water on their backs" due to a lack of working hand pumps in their villages.

Sheikh Hassan Hussein started off at 8 o'clock in the morning from his village of Adar, an hour's walk from Musfa's public hearing centre. He was waiting to participate in the process to express his people's demands, as "CPA promises were not kept".

"Peace meant peace of mind but nothing else," Mr. Hussein said, adding that his village previously had about 3,000 residents but was now home to only half, as villagers left for urban areas in search of better services.

Claiming that Adar had only one basic school but no health centre, midwife or doctor, the Sheikh added that villagers collected water from holes dug in the wadi (dry riverbed of a seasonal river), as their single hand pump was broken.

Like Mr. Hussein, many participants viewed popular consultations as a way "to remedy all this injustice", welcoming the process to freely express their needs, while acknowledging that they lacked such freedoms before peace came.

Besides advocating for better services, some people said they wanted federation for Blue Nile, while others pushed for autonomy -- the Sudan People Liberation Movement's preferred form of governance.

Mohamed Gibril, advocacy officer with the local non-governmental organization Paralegal Association, said there was a need for improved civic education so that citizens were fully aware of the goals and ways of the process.

"This should be a lesson to people in Southern Kordofan," Mr. Gibril said, alluding to upcoming popular consultations in that state, which were also granted by the CPA. He expressed hope that the process there would improve due to lessons learnt in Blue Nile.

Public hearings for popular consultations are expected to continue until 2 February at some 100 hearing centres across the state's localities. The consultations allow Blue Nile citizens to express opinions at six forums held in different locales each day.

Once consultations are concluded, the Popular Consultation Parliamentary Commission will consider speakers' opinions and submit a report to the state assembly. If the assembly decides the CPA has failed to satisfy Blue Nile people, it will negotiate with the national government to rectify shortcomings in the constitutional, political, administrative and economical arrangements of the CPA to ensure faithful implementation of the agreement.