For Darfur displaced, Sudan elections offer little hope

Abdelmoneim Abu Idris Ali
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A Sudanese woman carries a baby at the Zamzam camp for Internally Displaced People (IDP), North Darfur, on April 9, 2015

A Sudanese woman carries a baby at the Zamzam camp for Internally Displaced People (IDP), North Darfur, on April 9, 2015 (AFP Photo/Ashraf Shazly)

Zamzam camp, Darfur (Sudan) (AFP) - Sudan's elections are of little concern to the latest arrivals at Darfur's Zamzam camp, forced to flee their homes by fighting this year between rebels and President Omar al-Bashir's forces.

Indicted by the International Criminal Court over alleged war crimes in the western region, Bashir is widely expected to extend his rule in polls starting on Monday.

But Zamzam's newest residents, overwhelmed by their tough living conditions, have paid little heed to campaigning.

"Someone who votes is someone who lives in stability," said Adam Idriss, as he waited at a well for water.

The white-bearded septuagenarian abandoned his home and livestock and fled to Zamzam in January when the government's latest offensive came to his village in North Darfur.

"In this state, how can we vote?" he asked.

Women in brightly coloured robes milled around behind him at the NGO-run well.

Nearby, in a small clinic, a health worker said they treat some 120 people daily for a variety of illnesses.

Most people there arrived after January, although Zamzam, 12 kilometres (seven miles) from North Darfur state capital El Fasher, was built for some of those first displaced in the conflict.

Its densely packed mud huts house some 165,000 people, and it has sprouted a new wing for those fleeing the government offensive dubbed "Decisive Summer 2".

Some new homes are fashioned from dried grass, but the only shelter many people have are the clothes they fled with, stretched over fallen branches.

"How do they want me to take part in these elections and I'm here under this burning sun?" Hamed Mohamed Ali asked.

Tens of thousands have fled the latest unrest, the United Nations said last month, and a humanitarian worker at Zamzam told AFP as many as 1,000 families may have arrived there.

- Cycle of conflict -

They are the latest victims of the cycle of conflict that has engulfed the western region for 12 years, and for them the elections offer little chance of peace in the near future.

Ethnic insurgents rebelled against Khartoum's Arab-dominated regime in 2003, complaining of marginalisation.

The conflict has left 300,000 people dead and displaced 2.5 million, the UN says, although the Sudanese government puts the toll at 10,000.

It also saw Bashir indicted by the ICC for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Fighting has raged this year, but the government has vowed that voting will go ahead in all but one of Darfur's electoral districts.

There will also be no voting in seven districts in South Kordofan, where the Sudan People's Liberation Army-North has battled the government since 2011.

With most opposition parties boycotting the polls and Bashir standing against 15 little-known candidates, the 71-year-old is widely expected to extend his 25-year rule.

"Unfortunately this will likely mean some in the regime will still believe they can win militarily this conflict, and thus the violence will continue," said independent analyst Jerome Tubiana.

Rebels from the Justice and Equality Movement have also vowed to stop the vote.

JEM "will spare no effort to impede this electoral farce" in Darfur, its spokesman Jibril Bilal told AFP.

- Bashir vows stability -

Rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile have said they will do the same.

Bashir has said his next electoral term will be one of nationwide stability, promising to spur economic development in areas such as Darfur.

He has also touted a national dialogue he announced last January as a way of resolving Sudan's conflicts.

The talks have yet to take place, but Bashir says they will happen after voting.

But the tough humanitarian conditions in Zamzam camp mean there is little interest in politics.

Around the sprawling, dust-whipped settlement, the number of election posters taped to huts can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

At the well, Zakaria Abakir Ishag says he believes the government's promises are the best chance for progress.

Although he admits he is not very interested in politics, he said that he backs Bashir.

"We'll benefit from his victory," he said.

Khartoum has also called on the UN-AU mission in Darfur, which provides security at camps like Zamzam, to prepare to leave.

UNAMID deployed in 2007 and has 15,000 police and military peacekeepers across the region.

But its attempts to investigate a reported mass rape last November angered Khartoum.

Talks have begun on the mission's withdrawal, with Bashir's government saying it can protect civilians and secure humanitarian aid.

Yacoub Ahmed fled his home in North Darfur because of the recent government offensive.

Incensed, the 50-year-old cannot see how the elections will change anything.

"They kicked me out of my village. How can I vote in the elections if they can't bring peace and security?"