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Trip Report by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to Ghana & Sudan, Feb. 5-13, 2010

February 15, 2010

Rosalynn, John Hardman, Nancy Konigsmark, and I were fortunate to travel with Carter Center Trustee Richard Blum in his new Gulfstream. The purpose of this trip was to promote health programs in both countries, to attend a regional conference on Access to Information (ATI) in Accra, and help to prepare for April elections in Sudan and a referendum in Southern Sudan scheduled for next January.

ACCRA: Ghana has reduced the level of trachoma low enough for our program to be terminated, and progress on Guinea worm is (finally) very satisfactory. From an original 176,000 cases in 1989, there were 242 in 2009, and although the first three months of the year are the most endemic season, only three cases were discovered through the first week of February. It was obvious that President Mills and all his ministers were familiar with our program and deeply interested and involved in its gratifying progress.

Directed by Laura Neuman of The Carter Center, the ATI conference was attended by 130 ministers and other officials from 20 African countries, plus experts from about 10 other nations. Africa is lagging far behind other regions in guaranteeing its citizens access to information about the activities of governments and public officials. This is a basic human right, and the intense interest in our conference showed a realization that unwarranted secrecy promotes corruption and impedes democracy, economic progress, trust of citizens in their government, and is of great concern to international donors. South Africa has had such a law for ten years, Mali is making some progress, and Ghana has a bill pending in its parliament with excellent prospects for adoption. The recent discovery of oil in Ghana makes this especially urgent to avoid the attendant increase in corruption that usually occurs.

The value of making foreign aid projects fully transparent was emphasized, so that potential recipients of announced schools, roads, or health care could detect the loss of their funds to corrupt domestic officials or to intermediate "contractors" of donor nations. USAID was singled out for special criticism because of frequent failure to publicize prospective funding and compare final results with original plans. On the other hand, it was pointed out that the U.S. passed a Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (outlawing corporate bribery) in 1978, and no other developed country has a prohibition or penalty of equal severity to prevent bribery.

KHARTOUM: We arrived in Khartoum on February 8, where we were met by David Carroll, director of our Center's Democracy Program. Two crucial elections are scheduled in Sudan, mandated by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) forged five years ago, each fraught with serious consequences if unsuccessful. A nationwide election in April will permit voters to choose officials at all levels for the entire nation (plus special elections for parliament and president in South Sudan). The CPA also requires a referendum in Southern Sudan on whether the region will form a separate state or remain part of a united nation. In addition to our many health workers who began assisting Sudan in 1995, The Carter Center has had a team of observers in Sudan for about a year in preparation for the April election. (We were invited by the governments of Sudan and South Sudan.) During this time a national census was conducted and voter registration completed with surprisingly good results. About 80 percent of expected voters are included, but with a lower level of 67 percent in Darfur due to limited coverage, and because many people in displaced persons camps feared that this might preclude their later return to home villages.

Our first meeting of candidates for president was with Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir and his top advisor, Dr. Ghazi Salahuddin Atabani, and we discussed preparations for the two electoral periods. I was especially concerned about potential use of a National Security Forces Act and a state of emergency that exists in Darfur that might be used to restrict legal freedoms of candidates and parties during the campaign. Al Bashir assured me that there will be no restraints or harassment as long as the electoral laws and regulations are observed, and that all international observers will have freedom to monitor electoral processes and carry out authorized duties. Until now, ours are the only observers, but any others will be welcome.

Dr. Ghazi (with whom I have negotiated several times in the past) would be traveling the next day to Doha to continue discussions with representatives of Darfur factions, and several international observers will be there for the peace talks, including U.S. Envoy General Scott Gration. I urged Al Bashir to resolve the remaining disputes with the SPLM (the governing party in the South) and other political parties that relate to the consummation of the CPA.

Later, Dr. Ghazi requested a private meeting and assured me of the government's commitment to an orderly election, the January referendum, and to genuine efforts to reach a peaceful resolution of remaining issues in Darfur. Obviously, we will monitor all such activities very closely, and will join with other observers in bringing international attention and influence to any departure from these promises.

A notable effort is underway by an African Union panel headed by former president Mbeki to formulate a Code of Conduct to be observed by all participants in the elections.

We had a satisfactory meeting with Minister of Health Dr. Tabita Boutros Shokia. The relationship between our Center and the Government of Sudan has been excellent during more than two decades of work on health and agriculture projects in the 15 Northern states. This will be followed by additional health meetings in South Sudan.

We then met with the National Electoral Commission (NEC), who assured us that they will be adequately prepared for the April contests. This will be Sudan's first election in 22 years, in an area covering more than 2 million square kilometers and with 69 political parties plus independent candidates. There are 12 candidates for president. Voters will also be electing governors for 25 states, 450 national assembly members, plus a president and 170 parliamentarians for S. Sudan. Twenty-five percent of both assemblies must be women, to be chosen with separate ballots. All of this means that each voter in the North will mark eight ballots and those in the south 12 ballots. Members of the NEC expect a number of other international observers to participate, including the European Union, African Union, Arab League, S. Africa, and Japan.

During the day we had a series of meetings with leaders of the major political factions, including Hassan Al-Turabi, Sadiq Al-Mahdi, Mohamed Osman Al-Mirghani, Mubarak Al-Fadil, and leaders of the Communist party. As always, we listened to their concerns and described the legitimate role our Center can play by observing and using our voice and influence within the nation and the international community.

JUBA: We spent the next two days in and around Juba, capital of S. Sudan, where we joined by Dr. Don Hopkins, Vice President for Health Affairs. Our first meeting was with President Salva Kiir and his ministers and he assured us that he would observe the constitution, laws, and regulations during the April election. These leaders have political challenges in dealing with the large numbers of candidates from both opposition parties and independent candidates who will be challenging those anointed by the SPLM, and have not yet eased all the tensions involved. As in the North, there will have to be vigilance in preventing any deprivation of the rights of parties and their candidates.

After thorough briefings from our Carter Center health and democracy teams, we were prepared for our visit the next morning to a Guinea worm-endemic region in Terekeka County north of Juba. There were several thousand people assembled, along with the governor, archbishop, local officials, and our staff and trained volunteers. Our progress in eradicating Guinea worm has been closely related with the peace process in Sudan.

When we first came into South Sudan following the 1995 "Guinea worm ceasefire" we found about 110,000 cases, but our work in villages was greatly hampered by the resumed conflict. During this interim period we sent in about 9 million "pipe filters" (a small tube with a filter inside) that individuals could wear around their necks and suck even contaminated water through to remove the copepods and parasites. When we gained further access after the 2005 CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement], we discovered 20,600 cases and have laboriously reduced these to 2,753 in 2009. Each year our accuracy of reporting and close observation (containment) of infected persons has improved. We are still adversely affected in some regions by insecurity to our personnel and equipment, in areas that also happen to be the most endemic. We met with the Minister of Health for S. Sudan, Dr. Joseph Monytuel Wejang, who promised to require monthly reports on the status of water supply to Guinea worm endemic villages. We also met with partners of the S. Sudan Guinea Worm Eradication Program, including representatives of the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Water, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, USAID, etc.

At this time we have a very large project underway to eradicate these last cases of Guinea worm, with 12,277 volunteer village workers, 1230 voluntary trained supervisors, and 138 field officers, and we expect a much higher rate of improvement in this year and the following months.

One of our final political meetings was with Vice-President Riek Machar, who is the chief negotiator for Southern Sudan, and whose wife is one of the independent candidates, running for governor in Unity State against an SPLM nominee. We then met with almost a dozen leaders of opposition parties, who are concerned that they will be harassed because they are contesting SPLM candidates. Before returning from Juba to Khartoum and then back home, we also met with the S. Sudan Minister of Health and representatives of WHO, UNICEF, and other partners in our Guinea worm project.

Our next visit to Sudan will be to monitor the election in April, guided by our long-term observers who have many months of experience in the country.

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