Abyei: Not a People’s Partition
Last week, the Abyei Arbitration Tribunal, sitting in The Hague, made a technical decision on the status of the findings of the Abyei Boundary Commission, which translates into defining the boundaries between Abyei district and the rest of Kordofan. The decision was awaited with much anticipation and some had feared that it would occasion a new conflict between the NCP and the national armed forces and the SPLM/SPLA. That hasn’t happened. The decision appears to be not only legally sound but also politically astute, in that it accommodates the principal interests of both the NCP and SPLM and allows them both to claim victory.
The arbitration ruling involved drawing a line on a map. The fact that it appears to be a relatively well-drawn line, balancing the concerns of potentially opposing parties, should not distract us from the basic fact that any line will be a problem for the people who live in the vicinity. The facts of land use and livelihoods, habitation and cohabitation, cannot be reduced to a single irreducible line in any simple way. Some boundary lines may be less bad than others, but all divide people. There are creative ways of lessening the impacts of administrative and political boundaries, including national frontiers. The arrangements on both sides of the Denmark-Germany boundary are an exemplary case of accommodating the mixed identities and differing political allegiances of the communities who live in a border zone that has been fluid and disputed over centuries. Arrangements for common citizenship rights, free access to resources and transit rights for pastoralists, etc., can all reduce the sting of a new border. But no arrangement can eliminate the traumas of redrawn boundaries entirely. We see this in the continuing fears and worries of the Missiriya and Ngok Dinka who live in and around Abyei.
The Abyei ruling and its implementation are widely seen as fore-shadowing the bigger challenges that will arise when the southerners exercise their right of self-determination in just eighteen months’ time. One of the lessons of Abyei arbitration is that drawing boundaries and partitioning states is not just a matter for political leaders, lawyers and sovereign authorities–it is a people’s matter too.
There is a desperate need for the Sudanese people from all parts of the country to discuss–as citizens–what the exercise in self-determination will mean for them. The matter is too important to be left to political leaders. Whatever happens in 2011, the Sudanese people will need to continue to live together as neighbours. The best preparation for exercising and implementing self-determination is to conduct a national dialogue involving everyone. Only southerners will vote in the referendum. But southerners need to hear the views of others, and the outcome is a concern for all.
If the southerners’ decision is to remain within a single Sudan under something resembling the current ‘one country two systems’ framework, then such a dialogue is necessary to establish Sudan’s long-awaited permanent national constitution. If the decision is to secede, then all the citizens of greater Sudan have an even greater need to talk through the challenges of a peaceful, orderly and consensual transition to the new order.
How and where do you imagine this conversation happening?
What you didn’t write was that many of the “activists” are feeling let down because the AAT ruling is a balanced judgment that promotes peace, instead of what they had hoped for, which is a provocation to the NCP which would have served as occasion for them to trumpet another example of NCP bad faith. For many of them, anything that allows Khartoum to claim victory, no matter how small or proportional, is a reason to be discomfited. They are on a mission to humiliate the Sudan government and compromise has no part in that.
I absolutely concur that a people’s compact is needed, prior to any partition of Sudan. Many southerners are, I fear, laboring under the illusion that independence means independence from any objective political economy.
I think the court ruling raised more questions than answers. Yes it gave something for everyone, the CPA partners tried to show the world that they are happy with the decision and committed themselves to implement it. But before the arrival of the joint delegation from The Hague the cracks started to appear in their positions, even within the National Congress there is no agreement. Abdel Rasol El Nur (former governor of Kordofan) member of the northern Sudan delegation told al Sharq al Awsat newspaper that the decision is unfair for the Misseriya. I do agree with you that the whole issue is about the people and not the oil. A man from the Misseriya tribe said we are interested in preserving our livelihood and have nothing to do with the oil. The only beneficiaries from the oil proceeds are the elites in the central and in Juba the oil is curse for the locals, it polluted the areas and creates more destruction to the local environment. It is important to engage the people; they used to live together for centuries, politics always divided them and created more problems for them.
As we are approaching 2011 the issues of the referendum in south become the main factor, the two parties to the CPA are looking at the revenues from the oil more than the plight of the inhabitants of the areas and most of the talk now is about sharing the oil revenue and not reach an agreement which preserve the livelihood of the locals.
What is really needed is the support the local from the Dinka and Misseriya to start talking to each other so they can narrow their differences and prepare themselves for 2011, whatever the result I think it is better from them to be good neighbours
One of the most encouraging outcomes of the AU Panel’s public hearings on Darfur is that it demonstrates the possibility of having these kinds of public conversations with all stakeholders. I know that a number of Sudanese civil society organizations are interested in such a process, including Justice Africa’s plans for a “Sudan-Sudan dialogue.”