Mohammed Ibrahim Khalil, chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC), speaks to reporters after swearing in 50 members of the State High Referendum Committees in Juba on Monday.
The process of formalizing these state committees is an important step on the road to the referendum. According to SSRC spokespeople, the committees will be tasked with an array of responsibilities pertaining to the referendum including civic education campaigns, the formation of regional sub-committees and the identification of polling stations. Perhaps most important among these is the voter registration process which, at this late date, has yet to begin.
During the presidential, parliamentary and gubernatorial elections in April, registration discrepancies were a major problem. Many voters turned up to vote and were unable to locate their names on vast registration sheets posted at polling stations. Many were turned away as a result. The issue prompted considerable concern among southerners that similar issues during the referendum could have devastating effects.
Given southern Sudan’s remarkable underdevelopment, poor infrastructure and limited experience with the voting process, the logistical and administrative aspects of the referendum present serious challenges. The formation of these state committees is a good and encouraging sign. Upon chatting with newly sworn-in members, however, I was surprised by many of their ambiguous answers to specific questions regarding the coming months. When I asked what they planned to due upon returning to their home states, few had specific answers. “I plan to do something special for my people,” one new member told me. I respect the optimism but would have been more encouraged by specific plans.
Often times it seems that these things have been well plotted on paper but their actual manifestations leave something to be desired.