Inflammatory uncertainty: the rumour mill and reality

Nobody can give any definite idea of what will happen after the vote.  The more I look for commentary from what I think of as solid political or academic sources, the more I wonder how large the difference really is at the moment between considered opinion and speculative rumours.

This sounds obvious, but it’s rare that there’s such a historical turning point that you really feel that there’s no clear idea of what will happen.  This is definitely reflected in the rumours that I’ve heard and read in circulation.

There doesn’t appear to be much academic literature on rumours, partly because of the nightmare of recording and analysing such ephemeral and transitory beliefs, particularly when, post-fact, people can deny they ever gave credence to something they considered briefly at the time.  It’s hard to remember how uncertain you felt before once you know what happened next.

Musambachime says that ‘Rumors are often fuelled by a desire for meaning, a quest for clarification, or the search for a logical explanation of an event,’ and notes sociologist Edgar Morin’s conclusions that rumours are ambiguous, and that ‘good’ ones spread because they reflect the concerns of the population.  Two psychologists, Bordia and DiFonzo, say that ‘when credible explanations are not available,’ rumours ‘offer a sense of control.’  They distinguish between ‘dread and wish’ rumours, although I think categorising rumours like this is somewhat down to the interpretation of the individual.

It’s obviously important to look at why those (successful, if they manage to get to me in Durham) rumours actually have gained social momentum – including the NCP official who said Southerners wouldn’t get ‘even a needle’ in a northern hospital, to SPLM’s Yien Matthew Chol and Atem Garang saying the NCP are intimidating voters and will rig the results in the North, and of course Nafie’s excellent work generally stirring things up with a big stick.  Bol Makueng, SPLM Secretary of Information, Culture and Communication, has not helped by claiming that some Southerners are only receiving treatment in the north after promising doctors that they would vote for unity.  However, the actual rumours making it into circulation on the internet are probably worth looking at too.

There’s a good proportion that are misinformation, such as the idea that if a registered voter doesn’t vote, their vote is counted as a “unity vote”, and that registration centres in Jonglei are demanding 5$SP to register, when they are asking for a 5$SP donation to support costs.  There’s also an ongoing argument about whether dual citizenship is allowed (I can find a provision for it in the nationality act 1972, but this doesn’t mean it’s still on the books – Sudanese law is really hard to get hold of).

There are some quite specific accusations – such as a registration centre at Kura Salam registering Arabs. Otherwise, the majority are extremely vague: Southern Sudanese in the US, as well as Kiir and others in the South, are saying there are ‘dubious characters’ trying to ‘create chaos’.  This obviously centres around the rumours of rigging through registration.  The biggest rumour is that because the registration lists are going to Khartoum, the NCP will be able to manipulate them: that they will, and are, creating ‘ghost voters’, registering children from 12 upwards, and bribing non-Sudanese to register and not vote.  The fears of NCP rigging have actually led to protests in Uganda, Australia and the US.

Interestingly, the rumour in early December that Southern Sudanese ministries were seizing registration cards developed yesterday as the SPLM-DC chairman Isaac Akot Dubo was arrested when 900 referendum cards were found in his house.

Obviously my favourite rumours are the big, post-referendum leadership ones – that Nafie will take over from Bashir in a coup, and that Kiir will flee abroad on 9 January and Machar will take over.

I’m not claiming to be able to analyse these rumours any further than the obvious – that they’re clearly reflecting the power struggles, uncertainties, citizenship questions, fears of rigging and worry over the voting quota of 60%.  If anyone knows any other rumours, please let me know.  Because this is only a blog, I haven’t referenced every rumour to a news report, but I’m quite happy to provide saved web pages.

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1 Comment

Filed under Referendum, Sudan

One response to “Inflammatory uncertainty: the rumour mill and reality

  1. Pingback: The rumour mill in Juba | internally displaced

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