Africa: it’s big, it’s complicated and it’s very far away.
When we call a situation ‘complex’ we are essentially washing our hands of the issue and putting it in the too hard basket. Turning our back on Sudan over the next couple of months has potentially catastrophic consequences.
On the 9th January 2011, a referendum is scheduled in Sudan, the largest country on the African continent. The people of southern Sudan have the opportunity to decide whether to remain united with the larger Sudan or declare their independence.
Sudan has endured unrelenting instability due to a range of political rivalries, clashes between tribal groups, natural disasters and conflict fuelled by scarce resources, drought and oil revenues. Over the past 55 years, 40 of those years has been marred by bloody civil war causing Sudan to have the highest number of Internally Displaced People in the world; an estimated 4.9 million
Which it is, but that doesn’t mean we should switch off. One of the myriad of issues that result from this complexity: only 56% of the population have access to clean drinking water .
The quote “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph in the world is for good men to do nothing” springs to mind in a lot of conflict situations, but in this case it seems particularly pertinent. The origin of the quote was Edmund Burke, an 18th century Irish statesman, philosopher and all round great talker. On one hand he was a champion for liberty but also a firm believer in authority.
In 2009, a dramatic increase in inter-ethnic violence in Southern Sudan caused a significant deterioration in security. For the Sudanese to enjoy a safe and prosperous future there needs to be a carefully measured balance of democracy and power. The international community and the UN have to be prepared logistically and financially to deal with the humanitarian consequences of the months ahead.
Australia increasingly plays a hand in Sudan, and we are certainly ramping up our aid spending in Africa with $140 million in extra assistance towards maternal and child health programs in Ethiopia, Tanzania and southern Sudan announced in September. According to Transparency International, Sudan is viewed as the fourth most corrupt country in the world. Needless to say there has been some noise in the aid and development sector about aid reaching its intended targets.
But it’s not all doom and gloom – Australia has also deployed 27 Australian Defence Force and Australian Federal Police peacekeepers to the United Nations Mission in Sudan. KRudd said Australia would continue to work with the UN, African Union and the international community to tackle security and development challenges in Sudan, in the lead-up to and beyond the January referendum. Australia’s assistance will comprise of:
• $3 million to the UNDP Referendum Basket Fund, to support the referendum, including voter registration and training for domestic observers;
• $1 million to the International Organisation for Migration to conduct out of country voting, including registration and polling of southern Sudanese in Australia;
• $5 million to UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund to provide health, education and other essential services to women and children in southern Sudan.
We as global citizens need to keep watch to make sure Sudan doesn’t plunge even further into violence and human rights abuses. For more info go to Human Rights Watch – Sudan and listen to the podcast.