About the Author: Heather Hwalek works for the Department's Sudan Programs Group.
In the United States, there has been much focus on the Democratic and Republican parties’ National Conventions to be held later this summer, when they will nominate candidates, establish a party platform, and rally their members for upcoming campaigns. Last month, the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) held its own National Convention in preparation for what will hopefully be Sudan’s first free and fair national elections, to take place in 2009. Plans for national elections are an integral part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which, signed in 2005, ended 21 years of civil war between the SPLM, a Southern-based opposition movement, and the National Congress Party, based in the North, and which currently controls the central government.
The SPLM’s first National Convention was held in 1994, at the height of the civil war, in secret and under threat of aerial bombardment. This second Convention brought together more than 1,500 delegates from every Sudanese state, and many from the diaspora, representing all the different religions and ethnic groups that make up Sudan, together in the auditorium of Juba’s brand new Cultural Center. Members of all the other political parties in Sudan were invited to commemorate the landmark event, and the State Department, along with many other foreign missions, was invited to observe this unique political gathering in Sudan.
Besides taking care of official business, such as democratically electing party leaders for the first time and developing the party’s platform on key issues heading into elections, the Convention attendees also knew how to have fun. Party leaders chanted to rally the crowds, delegates joined in singing and dancing, and even the Secretary General of the SPLM took his turn reading a poem and leading the crowd in song. A marching band in bright red uniforms performed patriotic songs while the audience cheered on. And the event did not go unnoticed by members of the international community – in addition to the many members of the diplomatic corps in attendance, actor Ben Affleck even put in an appearance!
The successful SPLM Convention marked a significant milestone, not only in the transformation of the SPLM into a national political party, but for the democratic transformation of Sudan as a whole, and helps set the stage for what will be a very important and exciting year in Sudan’s history.