By Luka Biong Deng
June 30, 2013 - Abyei is one of the issues that dominated the quality of relations between Southern Sudan and South Sudan since the independence of Sudan in 1956 and it will continue to do the same after the independence of South Sudan. The transfer of the Ngok Dinka by the British colonial administration in 1905 from Southern Sudan to Northern Sudan with the good intention of protecting them from the barbaric slave raids by the Arab nomads has turned into misery and suffering that will continue to haunt the Ngok Dinka. Despite the effective participation of the Ngok Dinka in the first and second civil war that ended with peace agreements that addressed the issue of Abyei, yet the final status of Abyei remains to be concluded.
Unlike the way the issue of Abyei was vaguely addressed in the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1972, the Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) addressed it with much clarity with Abyei having its protocol as one of the six protocols of the CPA. In fact the Abyei Protocol was mediated by Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). In particular, the Abyei Protocol provided for a referendum for the Ngok Dinka of Abyei to determine their final status and to establish Abyei Boundaries Commission (ABC) to define and demarcate the area of the nine (9) Ngok Dinka chiefdoms (not Misseriyia Arab nomads) that was transferred in 1905 from Southern Sudan to Northern Sudan. The CPA made it very clear that the report of the ABC shall be final and binding. The ABC presented its report to the Presidency of Sudan (Bashir, the President of Sudan, Dr John Garang, the President of Southern Sudan and Ali Osman, the Vice President of Sudan) on 14th July 2005. The report of the ABC clearly defined the area of the Ngok Dinka as approximately 18,559 square kilometers.
Bashir and his party rejected the final and binding ABC report and that marked the beginning of clear abrogation of one of the provisions of the CPA that was paradoxically signed by the government of Bashir. This dispute over this report lasted more than three years and resulted in eruption of war in the Abyei Area in May 2008 that caused massive displacement and loss of innocent lives. In an effort to save CPA and to maintain peace and stability after the invasion of Abyei by Bashir in May 2008, Bashir and President Salva signed on 8th June 2008 the Abyei Roadmap for the return of the displaced Ngok Dinka and implementation of Abyei Protocol. In this Roadmap, the SPLM as a signatory of the CPA and upon the request of the Government of Sudan accepted to take the matter of dispute over the report of ABC to the final and binding international arbitration. On 7th July 2008, the Government of Sudan and SPLM as signatories of the CPA signed the Arbitration Agreement on Delimiting (defining) the Abyei Area.
The Abyei Arbitration Tribunal under the facilitation of the Hague Permanent Court of Arbitration and after a process that took nine (9) months that involved the two Parties and almost the entire leaders of Ngok Dinka and Arab Misseriyia nomads passed its ruling on 22nd July 2009 and redefined the area of Ngok Dinka as approximately 10,460 square kilometers (almost 54 percent less than the area defined by the ABC). The Tribunal noted that its decision is meant to ensure the inclusion and participation of most members of the Ngok Dinka in Abyei referendum as its main targeted community. While Bashir welcomed the decision of the Abyei Arbitration Tribunal with emotional statement on 22nd July 2009 that they have won the case, President Salva on the same day described the decision as a victory for all Sudanese and reaffirmed the commitment of the SPLM to the full implementation of the decision as a final settlement of the issue of Abyei Area.
While the ruling of the Abyei Arbitration Tribunal was seen to resolve not only the determination of the area of the Ngok Dinka but also the eligible participants in Abyei referendum, Bashir insisted that the Arab Misseriyia nomads to participate in Abyei referendum and refused to establish Abyei Referendum Commission to be chaired by a nominee of the SPLM as previously agreed upon by the parties. Bashir invaded Abyei again in May 2011 and displaced about 150,000 Ngok Dinka from their home areas and the referendum of Abyei did not take place simultaneously with that of Southern Sudan on 9th July 2011 as stipulated in the CPA.
In order to rescue Abyei Protocol and to assist the return of Ngok Dinka to their home areas, the two parties agreed on 20th June 2011 on the Temporary Arrangements for the Administration and Security of the Abyei Area. In particular the agreement provides for the process for resolving the final status of Abyei with a commitment by the Parties to consider, in good faith, proposals that the AUHIP shall make to resolve the final status of Abyei. The AUHIP made six proposals for resolving the final status of Abyei but Bashir and President Salva could not agree on any of these six proposals.
In an effort to put the two countries on track of peace, the AU came with a Roadmap that provides a framework within a time-bound of three months for resolving holistically all the pending issues between the two states including the final status of Abyei. When the Parties failed to agree on resolving the issue of Abye, the AUHIP came up on 21st September 2012 with a proposal on the final status of Abyei. This Proposal provides clarity and addresses fundamental questions of eligibility for Abyei Referendum (only residents but not nomads), the date of the referendum (October 2013), the chair of Abyei Referendum Commission (appointee of the AU Commission) and special status of Abyei area (status of state with oil revenue allocated to Abyei state (30%), national government (50%) and localities north of Abyei area in Southern Kordofan State (20%).
This Proposal was prepared by three prominent African leaders (former President of South Africa, former President of Nigeria and former President of Burundi). There is no any other African solution for African problem than the AUHIP proposal on the final status of Abyei area. As Bashir has been calling for the issue of Abyei to be resolved within African context, the AUHIP Proposal on Abyei is an African proposal prepared by African leaders without any influence from western countries. Abyei is a litmus test of how AU will stand by its commitment in resolving African problems by Africans themselves.
Luka Biong Deng is a senior member of South Sudan’s ruling party the SPLM. He is currently a fellow at Harvard Kennedy School. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The article was originally published by the New Nation Newspaper.