Abyei Beyond the Arbitration Decision
“˜Abyei beyond the decision of the International Court of Arbitration (ICA)’ was the theme for a meeting held in Justice Africa Sudan offices in Khartoum on 29 July to discuss the implication and ramification of the ICA’s decision. The ICA decision raised more questions than answers. The main question is who is going to oversee the implementation of the resolution especially redrawing the borders at the time of lack of trust between the two parties to the CPA.
The questions which we put to the meeting and tried to seek answers for are:
– Is the whole dispute just about the oil and the distribution of its proceeds and not about the local people and their livelihoods?
– Is it the start of a border dispute between the supposed to be two countries after 2011?
– The court decision only decided on Abyei area borders and not whether it is part of the south or the north, which depends on an outcome of a referendum on the area.
– About the status of the oil rich area of Hejlej the court decided that it is not part of Abyei but they didn’t say it is part of the north. The SPLM is claiming that is part of the Unity State according to some 19th century records. Is this another dispute and who will be going to be resolve it?
– Is it possible for the people in the areas from different tribes and ethnic groups to peacefully co-exist as was the case for hundreds of years?
– Is the political difference between the CPA parties fueling racial tension which might lead to conflict?
– What about the claim from the Nuba that Abyei was part of the Nuba Mountains before 1900, and the British contributed in driving them out and replaced them with the Arabs and the Dinka?
The meeting was attended by many Sudanese prominent politicians, activists, academics and journalists .The main speaker was Dr Abdelbasit Saeed. He is from the Messiriya, a former regional minster and now a research consultant. In his presentation he mentioned the reasons for taking the Abyei dispute to the ICA and in his view that it was due to the refusal of the government of Sudan (National Congress party) to consult or involve Sudanese experts who were not part of the NCP or the government and instead they decided to consult people with a very low understanding of the area, geography, demography and history. They repeated the same mistake when they decided to select their representative in the Abyei Boundary Commission (ABC) as part of the Abyei Protocol according to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). That led to their failure to influence the ABC’s decision, which was later rejected by the NCP and that reduced any chance of maneuver or compromise with their partner the SPLM. The ABC decision was in favour of SPLM and the Dinka Ngok. It was obvious that they refused to give any concession to the NCP or the Messiriya and according to the CPA the ABC decision was supposed to be final and binding for all the parties. Despite this the NCP decided to reject it and that led to some violent clashes in the area. His view on the ABC decision is that it was based on evidence, facts and sounds logical. He said the Abyei area is divided into three districts, Abyei county and Abyei town, with a size of 62,000 square km. According to the CPA it has been reduced first when the two parties to CPA decided to get rid of West Kordofan region and according to that they moved Lagawa locality with the size of 10,620 sq km to south Kordofan. Abyei is now 10,460 sq km. He also said the area which is supposed to be a joined area with the population of 60,000 people is now mostly uninhabited. He also said in 1997 the population of all Abyei district was 18,000 people and not 90,000 according to the government claim and their assumption that they will win the referendum for the status of Abyei was not based on facts, but he believes that is not the case and the Dinka are the majority.
Most of the speakers in the meeting asked for an unreserved acceptance of the court decision as final and binding and they have asked all the parties to work together to resolve all obstacles, which might lead to more conflict in the area.
Abdalbasit thinks the main worry for the Dinka now is the arming of the Messiriya Arab as that represents the biggest threat to the security and stability of the area. He asked for the start of a process of disarmament and engaging the locals in serious dialogue to resolve the issues facing them including the nomadic and the pastoralists’ people seasonal movements
The losers and the winners
The two parties SPLM and NCP pretended that each of them was the winner. That was at the time of the court decision. But later and before the arrival of the joint delegation from the Hague, the crack is starting to show between them. This proved that oil is the main concern for them. The Ministries of Energy and Finance immediately started to work out how to change the oil sharing formula with the main objective of reducing the share of the Government of South Sudan (GOSS), and they are even looking at how to backdate that decision. This is itself is a sign of more troubles to come between the two parties.
People from the two tribes in the area have seen many changes in its map which will affect them in the future. For example, the current Foreign Minister Deng Alor’s village is now not considered part of Abyei and that means people there have not got the right to vote on the future of Abyei unless they move south. Something similar happened to some of the Messiriya villages. More than ten of them now consider to be part of Abyei, and one of them is the village of Dr Suliman Dablio a leading figure among the Messiriya intellectuals. He spoke about his personal experience through all this process and talked about what they will do to deal with the court decision even though he affirmed their commitment to accept the decision.
The partition raised many questions some of them on the plight of the population from the two main tribes. The most senior tribal leader of the Messiriya asked for compensation from government for the Messiriya, who lost access to Bahar al Arab according to his claim. Just two days before the decision, the leaders of Messiriya tribes met in Al Mujlad and affirmed their commitment to accept whatever decision came from the court. That itself was a good sign which managed to defuse the tension, as the Messiriya who were supposed to be allies of the NCP feel betrayed by the NCP. Many voices are now asking for resettling the people affected by the decision to places outside Abyei before 2011, with the anticipation that the majority of Abyei’s inhabitants will vote to be part of the south and the south will vote for secession.
Many questions were raised about the future of the area especially the pattern of the nomadic tribal life and whether that can be sustained into the future or has it to be changed. Some considerations must be part of the government’s strategic planning in the long term and cannot be changed now, but the immediate action must include investment to preserve the water resources in the area to allow them stay close to their area and not to move across the south looking for water for their animals. The other option is to change their economic activities by regenerating the area to create jobs for them especially in the agriculture sector.
What is urgently needed now is to create a process which engages the local people from different tribes to discuss the future of the area beyond 2011, to ensure a peaceful co-existence between them whatever is the outcome of the 2011 referendum