As presidential elections and a vote on north-south succession approach, Zach Vertin of the International Crisis Group sat down with NewsHour special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro in Sudan to discuss the challenges the country still faces. NewsHour correspondent Larisa Epatko reports on their meeting.
Sudan is holding its first multi-party elections in more than two decades in April. "It's going to be difficult, particularly among communities that haven't exercised this democratic experience before. A large percent of the population is illiterate," said Zach Vertin of the International Crisis Group. "But, that said, I have seen some good things coming out of this." During voter registration "you could see the beginnings of democracy and a state here. But elections are going to be a tall task," he said.
In addition, some key items under a five-year peace agreement in Sudan require further negotiation, including demarcation of the north-south border, distribution of oil revenues, and the holding of a referendum for the south to decide if it wants to stay unified with the north, according to Vertin. The referendum where the south will decide whether to break off as its own country is scheduled for January.
Another challenge in Sudan is the matter of disarmament -- collecting weapons civilians acquired during decades of civil war, he said. "Disarmament in the past has not gone very well in south Sudan. Previous campaigns have been incomplete at best and at worst caused greater violence"
But Vertin said he believes the government has learned lessons from previous disarmament campaigns. "This time instead of just using force, they are trying to some degree to engage local communities to work with traditional leaders to try and first ensure a sort of pseudo voluntary handing over of weapons."