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Sudan Tribune

Plural news and views on Sudan

People-to-people dialogue on Abyei a way forward

By Jacob K. Lupai

October 17, 2010 — North and South Sudan will soon split either peacefully or violently depending on how the split is managed. There are conflicting indications on the nature of the split. The two parties that are responsible for the management of the split are the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). The NCP represents the interest of the North while the SPLM represents that of South Sudan. Both the NCP and the SPLM have difficult decisions to make for the way forward either to drag Sudan back to conflicts or to follow a roadmap that guarantees a peaceful co-existence and prosperity. However, one can assess that overall the people of North and South Sudan are yearning for peace.

North and South Sudan fought two bloody wars expanding 40 years of misery especially to the people of South Sudan. The North which had monopolised all the successive governments of Sudan fought the two bloody to maintain the unity of Sudan by force of arms. It fought for power and control of resources with no recognition whatsoever of the aspirations of the people of South Sudan. In contrast the South fought for a fairer system of government that would recognise the aspirations of the marginalised and diversities of Sudan.

Sudan is a diverse country of different races, ethnicities, languages, religions and cultures. However, the North fought the war to maintain the unity of Sudan as though it was a homogenous country of one race, ethnicity, language, religion and culture. Specifically the North was fighting to maintain Sudan as a united Arab Islamic country while the people of the South are predominantly neither Arab nor Muslim. In addition the North, in full control of resources, ignored the development of the South. This naturally couldn’t have made unity of Sudan attractive.

North-South Sudan wars ended when the North at last realised the futility of unity by military means and concluded what became known as comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) with the South. The NCP and the SPLM signed this landmark CPA in 2005. The CPA among other things provided the South a choice of either to be part of Sudan or to be an independent nation of its own. One other important article in the CPA was a choice given to the people of Abyei region to either join the South or remain in the North. The region of Abyei was administratively transferred to Kordofan in the North in 1905. The Abyei region by the time of transfer to the North was populated by Dinka Ngok, the kindred of the Dinka in the South. The choice of the South to be independent and that of Abyei to join the South were all to be confirmed through referenda on the 9th January 2011 held concurrently as stipulated in the CPA.

The interim period for the implementation of the CPA was 6 years (2005-2011). Among others things crucial to the successful implementation of the CPA were the demarcation of borders and formation of referendum commissions. After nearly 6 years of the interim period to date the demarcation of North-South border and that of Abyei has not been carried out. The formation of the South Sudan Referendum Commission was behind schedule and that of Abyei has hardly been formed. The NCP has been deliberately dragging its feet in the implementation of the CPA within the interim period. It is clear that the main aim of the NCP is not to carry out the two referenda that would see the South and Abyei breaking away from the North. It is obvious that it is NCP strategy to delay the carrying out of the referenda only to exploit to the maximum the resources in the South. The NCP will go to any length to torpedo the referenda.

Senior NCP members have stated that without the demarcation of he North-South border there can never be a referendum in the South. Failing in that respect they are now starting to use Abyei to abolish the referendum there. NCP members have been also beating war drums in preparing their youth for holy war (Jihad) in the South. However, this is all a psychological warfare. There is no way the referendum will not take place in the South. The people of South Sudan have been waiting for the last half century for this opportunity to decide their destiny once and for all that the NCP is simply playing with fire. The NCP in its narrow partisan politics thinks it has all the ammunitions on its finger tips that it has infinite alternatives to sustain its greed of southern resources and wealth. The NCP focus is now shifting to Abyei, the main source of lucritive business and wealth to the North.

The Abyei issue is not as complicated as others would like people to believe. The NCP is hoping to use Abyei to destabilise the South. It is claiming to represent the Misseriya nomadic Arabs who are cattle herders and seasonal migrants through Abyei for pastures and water for their animals. Due to this the NCP is making a meal out of this for the Misseriya nomads to be recognised as residents of Abyei with full voting rights in the referendum. The NCP is apparently turning a blind eye to the fact that when Abyei was administratively transferred o Kordofan in the North the Misseriya were already classified as people of the North. There was no way the Misseriya could have been considered residents of Abyei at the time of transfer of Abyei from the South. The only people recognised as the legitimate residents of Abyei were the Dinka Ngok. The North may go ahead to rewrite history of Abyei after its dismal failure to make unity attractive. This will not make an iota of difference at all. The focus on the Misseriya seems to be the last resort the NCP has, assumingly, to win the war after having lost the battle on the ground when it signed the CPA.

In Inside Story of the Aljazeera English programme on 16 October the panel discussion on Abyei was interesting. The panel consisted of three members plus the presenter. Two of the members were Sudanese and one expert on Sudan. Of the two Sudanese members one was a professor from the University of Khartoum and the other an SPLM member. It was unfortunate that the NCP seemed not to have been represented in the panel discussion. However, it was not clear whether the professor was representing the NCP, the northern viewpoint or only himself. Two main themes seem to have been the focus namely the delay of the referenda, and the North and the South claim to Abyei.

As usual the presenter posed questions to the panellists. On the delay of the referenda, and the North and the South claim to Abyei the presenter asked whether this will spark a war between the North and the South. In response the professor sounded explicit and confident that the NCP does not want war because it will lose tremendously. He said the North fought for 40 years but none could win the war. The professor said the Sudanese army will never fight in the South again. He saw the statements by individual NCP senior members to mobilise for war as not representative of the presidency. The professor said the President and Vice President of Sudan have not advocated for war.

On the issue of Misseriya the professor is of the opinion that the Misseriya have the right to vote in the referendum in Abyei. According to the professor the Misseriya have lived in Abyei for the last 100 years. The professor said the Misseriya have no choice but to preserve their rights. He asked the panellists what could they do if they were in the situation of the Misseriya. As an academic and objective the professor admitted that indications are that the South will secede. He said in the event of secession of the South there may be unfriendly relations with the North. The professor added that the Misseriya then may not have any right to grazing land and water in the South for their animals. He asserted that the Misseriya are not puppets of the NCP but are simply defending their right to grazing land and water for their animals.

On the delay of the referenda the professor blamed the NCP and the SPLM for the disagreements that negatively affected the formation of the referendum commissions. According to the professor due to the disagreements the commissions may not be able to fulfil their functions as expected. The professor thought that the time of the referenda should be amended or ignored and suggested the need for dialogue and compromises.

The SPLM member of the panel said the North was preparing for war. He cited an example of presidential advisor declaring in the North for the youth to prepare for war. On Abyei the SPLM member said in the protocols in the CPA Abyei is defined as Dinka Ngok area transferred to Kordofan in the North in 1905. He said the Misseriya only had traditional rights for grazing and watering their animals when passing through Abyei. The SPLM member asserted that nowhere is Abyei the land of the Misseriya. He emphasised that the Misseriya only have access to grazing land and water for animals and nothing else.

On war flaring up the expert on Sudan in the panel said the signs are in the soldiers of the northern army moving their families away from Abyei and according to the expert this is indeed worrying that war may be imminent. The expert said the United Nations does not have airpower like Sudan. This means the North may be encouraged where innocent civilians may suffer the most. On the referenda the expert said there is a possibility that a deal can be struck on time. The expert’s understanding of the Misseriya is that the NCP used the Misseriya groups against the SPLA during the war. Unfortunately according to the expert the NCP did not have an agenda for the Misseriya. The expert said it is now time that the NCP needs to give the Misseriya an agenda for their future. In Abyei the expert said the Misseriya only have secondary rights but not owner rights. The expert wondered when boundaries occur between the North and the South how will the Misseriya have access to pastures and water for their livelihood. According to the expert on Sudan, Dinka Ngok have historical rights to vote in the referendum and will vote to join the South.

The panel discussion on Abyei shows clearly that a solution imposed is not going to be helpful. The Misseriya chief has already shown his distrust of the NCP and the SPLM. The people of Abyei also distrust the NCP which they see as an impediment. The NCP and the SPLM are distrustful of each other. In such a situation people-to-people dialogue may be an appropriate alternative in defusing the situation. Here it means the Misseriya and Dinka Ngok need to have a conference to discuss their past relations and how that may improve peaceful co-existence and prosperity for all without taking up arms or using threats of violence.

It seems the problem in Abyei is not the exclusion of the Misseriya from voting in the referendum but the problem is how to guarantee the right of the Misseriya to free movement and access to pastures and water in the South once Abyei has joined an independent South. This right cannot be guaranteed by pledges but by law. It is recommended that a bill for the right of the Misseriya to have unlimited access to pastures in the South should be drafted probably by a committee comprising equal members from the Misseriya and Dinka Ngok chaired by a neutral body. It is the council of ministers in Juba to pass the bill to the southern assembly to be enacted into law. The Misseriya fear is the perception of the lack of commitment by the South to allow them free movement and access to pastures south of the northern border when the South has achieved independence. The Dinka Ngok who have lived with the Misseriya for quite a long time more than any other southerner could act as guarantors of the full enforcement of the law giving the right to the Misseriya free moment and access to pastures in South Sudan.

In conclusion, people-to-people dialogue on Abyei is an appropriate way forward to avoid unnecessary friction. The NCP will obviously use any opportunity to satisfy the northern greed of southern oil. The Misseriya who seem distrustful of the NCP should instead look to their immediate neighbours, the Dinka Ngok, for a peaceful co-existence that guarantees them their traditional rights of free access to pastures in South Sudan. Threats of violence are not the solution but enactment and enforcement of the law is the solution.

The author can be reached at [email protected]