by M. Ulric Killion
Political Protest at Lafayette Park, in Washington, D.C., April 30, 2010; Photo by M. Ulric Killion.
During a recent visit to Washington, D.C., a small gathering of people (i.e., about 20 individuals) came to one’s attention when walking along Pennsylvania Avenue on the section of the road separating the entrance to the White House and Lafayette Park, which is a public park that is historically known as a place of political protests. From across the street and in the near vicinity of Lafayette park one could hear speakers with microphone in hand addressing the issue of Darfur and its recent elections.
The general concern of the speakers was rigged elections (i.e., Sudan ended on Thursday, April 15, its five-day elections), and bringing this issue to the attention of the public, especially the Obama administration. Pausing for only a few minutes to listen, it was difficult to ascertain the names of the speakers. It was, however, obvious that some of the speakers were Darfur citizens or at least former Darfur citizens, as some actually gave testimony of eyewitness accounts of what was happening in Darfur. For instance, one speaker giving testimony of eyewitness accounts couched his plea for U.S. assistance in the language of a denial of democracy.
There were also in attendance at least one non-governmental entity, and perhaps even more. Having listened to one speaker that was associated with an NGO, it seems reasonable to suspect there were representatives of other NGOs also present. The present memory lapse is due to the fact that this peaceful assembly or protest actually took place on April 30, 2010.
However, after witnessing this protest, though a small gathering, one can say it became a self-appointed mission to ascertain what occurred in Darfur, and the significance of the elections. Apparently, the perception by many of rigged elections is having a devastating influence on peace talks and stabilizing the region.
“Darfur’s main rebel group,” as the Voice of America (Darfur JEM Rebel Group Risks Losing Dominance, May 3, 2010) reported, “may risk losing its dominance in the region, as Chad ends support and rival rebel coalition gains strength.” Further reporting, on May 3, 2010, the “JEM – the Justice and Equality Movement – officially suspended peace talks with the government, following months of stalled negotiations. JEM has also accused the government of attacking its positions in western Darfur.”
As concerns the JEM’s suspension of peace talks, E.J. Hogendoorn, the Horn of Africa director for the International Crisis Group (ICG), said: “My initial reaction is that the JEM has been frustrated by the fact that Khartoum has been talking to other rebel factions; and it is now trying to put pressure on the government to deal more seriously with them.”
Then there is the issue or allegation of rigged elections. “The talks have been stalled in large part,” as Hogendoom explained, “because most of the people were focused on the elections. And I think that there was some perception that once the elections were completed there would be further movement along the talks. But that hasn’t happened” (Voice of America).
It is also difficult to ascertain whether there were fair or rigged elections. This is because there are many that also alleged rigged elections even before the casting of the first vote.
On the other hand, the Carter Center opined that the elections in Darfur met neither national nor international standards (Darfur elections do not meet national and international standards, Sudan Tribune, April 18, 2010).
The observations of the Carter Center also correspond with the official position of the White House or the Obama administration. For instance, an excerpt from a White House press release reads: “The United States notes the initial assessment of independent electoral observers that Sudan’s elections did not meet international standards. Political rights and freedoms were circumscribed throughout the electoral process, there were reports of intimidation and threats of violence in South Sudan, ongoing conflict in Darfur did not permit an environment conducive to acceptable elections, and inadequacies in technical preparations for the vote resulted in serious irregularities” (White House, Office of the Press Secretary, Statement by the Press Secretary on Elections in Sudan, April 20, 2010).
All of this only compounds the difficulty of understanding the nature and ultimate goal of the protest at Lafayette Park, especially the action that the protesters would like the Obama administration to pursue.
Additionally, one does not intend to over simplify the issue of peace talks in Darfur. This is because it is a complex issues involving several political factions and tribes (i.e., the JEM, the Sudan Liberation, and Justice Movement), and even pending arrest warrants issued by the International Criminal Court against President Bashir, which charge him with war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
For now and as concerns the significance of the elections, in the interim, as the issue of rigged elections became a dominant issue much-needed peace talks virtually came to a halt.
Copyright © Protected - All Rights Reserved M. Ulric Killion, 2010.