Sudan Civic and Voter Education Baseline Study
In August 2008, IFES, through the support of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), fielded a team of experts to carry out a baseline study of civic and voter education in Sudan as a resource to the Canadian government and to the wider Electoral Donors Group (EDG) in Sudan. The team included a Sudanese civil society expert, who conducted some elements of the research in the region of Darfur in the months prior to the team’s arrival. Additionally, CIDA’s own experts in Sudan and the valuable advice of UNMIS representatives and others, fed into this study to complement the scope of the emerging framework for support to civic and voter education programming.
This report discusses the opportunities and challenges in conducting effective civic and voter education outreach to ensure the full and informed participation of Sudanese voters in the general elections planned for 2009. Whereas the study focuses primarily on challenges in northern Sudan—given that information had been collected on southern Sudan through other initiatives—the report also seeks to draw out issues with nationwide implications with a view toward providing solid actionable recommendations for an overall strategic approach and next steps.
The report recommends that key actors should commit to a shared strategic approach to promote collaboration and coordination. This will serve to promote collaboration and facilitate coordination of civic and voter education activities. Certain basic guiding principles and general recommendations are proposed to help frame specific actions to be taken by national and international election stakeholders, including the following:
Coordination: A number of different efforts are required to ensure coordination of support to civic and voter education and information activities. Although coordination efforts are being carried out, it is clear that there is still room for improvement. Enhanced coordination should be activity–oriented, following the electoral calendar, and linked to joint interests. The coordination mechanisms are so far built around the north-south division, which could be cause for concern if not properly linked and working within a common strategic approach. It goes without saying that some initiatives may be relevant to the south and not the north, but it is important to avoid creating two separate systems.
Working Funding Mechanism: For a successful start of civic and voter education activities through civil society organizations, it is essential that funding through the basket fund as well as through the bilateral funds is accessible as soon as possible and that civil society organizations have a clear understanding of the requirements to access those funds.
Quick Start of Activities: The election calendar is uncertain, as are the types of support that will be requested by the NEC and the SSEHC, but this should not hamper the design and start-up of civic and voter education programs. In fact, the uncertain timing argues for the need to support quick-start projects in the short term while finalizing the plans, soliciting and reviewing bids for implementation, and engaging in discussions with local and international partners with regards to implementation modalities. Voter registration will take place in the first quarter of 2009, thereby making it necessary to establish the framework for the delivery of voter information well before that time. The new National Elections Act 2008 provides adequate information for the development of a first round of voter education messaging, which can be adjusted later as the electoral procedures and timing are clarified.
National Approach with Decentralized Implementation: It is often said that Sudan is "one country, two systems." However, a national approach can be created through consistency of messaging and outreach materials, promotion of partnerships between northern and southern-based organizations, and strong linkage and collaboration between the Khartoum-based and Juba-based Civic and Voter Education sub groups. Under the umbrella of a national approach, the decentralization of the implementation of civic and voter education will ensure that delivery is completed by organizations with access to and the trust of the local communities, that messages are in local languages, that messages are localized to include relevant references to conditions and characteristics of the target groups, that all sectors of society are reached—particularly at the grassroots, and that local ownership and capacity is fostered. The development of regional or state-based consortia is also recommended.
Program Monitoring and Evaluation: Periodic assessment of civic and voter awareness through focus groups and surveys and the use of a common activity tracking instrument are two mechanisms that can be used to assist message development and program monitoring without aggravating institutional sensitivities, and program evaluation sessions with all partners can also be held periodically.
Supporting the Democratic Process: In reviewing the operational plans for civic and voter education for the elections, longer-term goals should be discussed and activities proposed. One critical issue is how civic/voter education for the elections can lay the groundwork for the referenda. Also, how can these election-focused activities contribute to the institutionalization of civic education in Sudan, and to the long-term building of a democratic society?
In the current environment in Sudan, it is anticipated that civic and voter education will be conducted primarily by civil society organizations, the media, and political parties. The 2008 Election Law does not assign responsibility for the conduct of voter education, therefore at this point, it is not known to what extent the National Election Commission (NEC) will be engaged in conducting voter education, and even voter information, which is normally well within the responsibility of an election management body. There is great interest on the part of international and domestic actors to undertake active approaches to civic and voter education, incorporating information about the electoral process into ongoing programming, and to expand outreach to ensure that civic and voter education messages get to the grass-roots level. Planning for civic and voter education in support of the elections is well underway in both northern and southern Sudan, with UNDP and others in the process of designing programs and examining coordination mechanisms.
This report seeks to provide a menu of options that can be started immediately, but which will also develop into longer-term contributions to democratic pluralism and the peace process in Sudan. It is important that the following civic and voter education best practices be incorporated: message development must not be donor-driven but rather consultative, based on needs assessments with local partners, and designed to build a sense of local ownership; consistent nationwide civic and voter education messages should be applied across the north, south, and the three areas, but attention must be given to local variation and languages; outreach strategies should include utilization of media and face-to-face techniques and be comprehensive in geographic coverage and across population sectors ensuring that no area or peoples are left behind; and impartiality and transparency should be kept at the center of any civic and voter education activity.
The donor community will play a crucial role in providing effective support to the local actors and institutions in order to carry out the responsibility of educating the electorate. With the development of a common vision, strong coordination and the quick mobilization of resources, this report details the following short-, medium- and long-term recommendations that can be undertaken immediately:
Short-Term Recommendations (next three months)
- Provide enhanced technical assistance to the Civic/Voter Education sub-groups through the addition of resource persons to support the formulation of the strategic approach and to support quick start and other activities.
- Develop an Electoral Glossary to serve as a resource to civic educators and broadcasters.
- Establish a Sudan Election Information Website as a means to share information and provide a resource on the electoral process including international election standards, best practices, and tools to support participation.
- Conduct a Survey of Civic and Voter Awareness in order to maintain a constant cycle of grassroots involvement in message development, testing and monitoring and evaluation.
- Develop Voter Education Tools such as pamphlets, discussion questions and radio messages on electoral topics to facilitate dissemination to the public.
- Organize Funding Workshops for interested civil society organizations to provide essential information on accessing available donor funds to carry out civic and voter education initiatives.
Medium-Term Recommendations (next six months)
- Establish State and Regional Consortia to incorporate local organizations with the proven ability to reach target groups and that can ensure effective partnership with local authorities and other key local actors. Each consortium could develop a team of civic engagement officers to serve as trainers and resource persons to local groups and to monitor civic and voter education activities.
- Program Monitoring and Development to track activities and collect information about the number and types of voters reached so that routine assessments can determine where gaps in programming may exist.
- Identify Civic Spaces Network to provide the much sought-after locations where citizens can access information on the electoral process and could serve as civic education information outposts in hard to reach areas.
- BRIDGE Training for Opinion Leaders to strengthen their knowledge and understanding of key electoral processes and their capacity to network effectively.
Long-Term Recommendations (next nine months)
- Work toward institutionalizing civic education by supporting projects to adopt curricula, textbooks and manuals for use at schools and universities. Other means could be supporting projects that provide direct experience in democratic decision-making.