Abyei and South Kordofan contested areas – a pattern of political interdependence
Part II of Jens Pedersen’s paper for MSS: Making Sense of a Thorny Separation. Part I can be read here: The Political Economy in North Sudan and Internal Politics and Part II here – Internal Dynamics of the South
In Abyei, various aspects of the implementation of the CPA, such as the separate referendum for the area, the border demarcation and security agreements made and eventually abandoned, have all but hampered the entire CPA implementation. The referendum in Abyei initially stalled and eventually never took place, mainly due to lack of political ability and will to address the thorny issue of voter eligibility. One reason is probably that it was a calculated decision based on the assumption, that an approval of the greater referendum in Southern Sudan would be enough to ensure some acceptance and hard needed credibility for the NCP government. However, in the period leading up to and following the referendum, the area of Abyei, including areas of Greater Bahr el Ghazal, witnessed increased levels of insecurity, through aerial bombardments and militia attacks. Several of these aerial bombardments, were later confirmed by the UN mission in Sudan (UNMIS). Still, the negotiations regarding the Abyei issue, in the same period was a key example of the brinkmanship and political chess game played out by the NCP.
The process and the involvement of the international CPA partners have been criticised by analysts and activists, most notably by the distinguished Abyei historian, Douglas Johnson, who in early 2011 criticised the approach by the international CPA partners, in particular the US special envoy Scott Gration. In summary, the process was accused of involving compromises of previous compromises within the CPA, and in turn compromising agreements based on international court rulings. In Johnson’s opinion, the proposals from Mr Gration brought into question the previous agreements in the CPA, and the credibility of international law (PCA). But the various proposals also failed to address the root causes of the conflict and tension surrounding Abyei. Other critics, such as Eric Reeves, a Professor of Philosophy at Smith College, Massachusetts, sought to highlight the failure of the international parties in the negotiations, to recognise an evident need for more pressure on the NCP, instead of the previous tradition of equal pressure on both parties and amicable compromises. Reeves sought to highlight this by referring to evidence from the Satellite Sentinel Project and other advocacy groups, indicating a military build up in the Northern side of the border area.
All of this, combined with the failure to, through political avenues, address the Abyei issue, became all the more relevant, when the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), entered Abyei on the 20th of May and took control of most of the Abyei area North of the 1956 border. The takeover has later been described as a premeditated military operation. This resulted in the civilian population of Abyei fleeing further south, virtually emptying the area of the Dinka Ngok population, who are considered by many to be the indigenous population of the Abyei area. Bashir has made it clear in various statements that the takeover of Abyei was a legitimate response to a SPLA meditated attack on a SAF convoy being escorted out of Abyei by UNMIS, although no consensus on the exact number of casualties and details of this event exists. Bashir has also made it clear that, in spite of appeals and demands on the contrary, SAF will not pull out of Abyei, until a new agreement has been made regarding Abyei. Whether this agreement referred to concerns the security (meaning whose troops get to stay in Abyei), the political status of Abyei, or the disputed referendum to be held is not completely clear. In short, brinkmanship looms and it reveals a dilemma indicating the NCP”˜s non-adherence to the CPA.
The final implementation of the CPA has now become increasingly difficult. Not least because the leverage available to the international community is limited, and because the takeover of Abyei has provided a whole new set of bargaining chips for the NCP government in Khartoum. These bargaining chips are about to increase. After the disputed elections in the South Kordofan State, the NCP with Bashir’s fellow ICC indicted representative Ahmed Haroun, claim to have won the gubernatorial election as well as the majority in the State legislative assembly. This electoral validation of the NCP in Kadugli (capital of South Kordofan) as seen in Khartoum in April 2010, has given impetus to the NCP, and handed them a chance to exert themselves in well-known confrontational manners. Most recently, this has materialised in the demands that what remain of the SPLA Joint integrated Units (JIU’s), based in the two remaining transitional areas (South Kordofan and Blue Nile States) being requested to withdraw south of the previously mentioned 1956 border. Clashes have already taken place in South Kordofan. These clashes, it is suspected, may turn out to have some resemblance with what happened in Abyei; a military takeover of contested territory contravening previous agreements, resulting in large scale displacement (by some deemed ethnic cleansing).
What concerns several observers, however, is the pattern in all of this, indicating the military aspects of a deliberate political strategy of slowly taking back control, through military means, of these transitional areas, in order to improve the bargaining position of the NCP government in Khartoum. Looking back, this may not seem so farfetched, as none of these transitional areas have witnessed the popular consultations, to the unclear extent stipulated in the CPA, and part of the comprehensive approach to the contested border region. This has also been delayed by the process of brinkmanship, so well known and practised in the political custom of Sudan. What is of concern and alarm to the South and SPLM/A in all of this, is that the NCP may be getting away with non adherence to the various agreements. Consequently, slowly but safely ensuring a takeover of areas, which were suppose to be subject to more inclusive processes, during the CPA period. This fear along with the fear of the NCP trying to forcefully change the ethnography of the contested areas seems prevalent in the South. Changing the demographics could be in order to expand the tradition of contested voting results and popular expressions, providing legitimacy for the NCP regime. As mentioned above, Bashir has hinted at interest in conducting the referendum in Abyei. Whether this is another sign of political manoeuvring or due to the fact that at present there is very little of the Dinka Ngok population left in Abyei, to vote against Abyei being part of North Sudan remains speculation.
From the SPLM the reaction has been military restraint, proven by the SPLA forces allegedly pulling out of Abyei, when the area came under attack, while at a political level laying claim to the Abyei area and demonstrating sympathy with the Nuba population of the southern part of South Kordofan.
In summary, the approach to the contested areas of Abyei and South Kordofan, illustrates how the various parties, are using each other in order to ensure “domestic” political support and to maintain some level of “domestic” political cohesion. In the case of the NCP Government, this is done by hard line rhetoric and military strategies, where as in the South, the SPLM is walking a fine line of maintaining the main source of revenue namely oil, along with the challenges of ensuring domestic political support among an increasingly discontented population by standing firm against the NCP, while responding to internal security threats as well.
A catch 22 and commonalities as a possible way out:
The difficult and challenging separation of Sudan and the creation of the new Republic of South Sudan, has recently reached new levels of intransigence and challenges. What in January seemed to be a success of a comprehensive internationally mediated peace agreement, through the completion of the referendum, now seems to be a catch 22 for the coming nation of South Sudan. A catch 22 where the commonalities and interdependence of the two alienated parties of the NCP and SPLM/A, may be the most reliable option to avoid larger conflict. The most obvious of these commonalities, seems to be the economic vulnerability of the two parties and the reliance that both economies have on oil as the main source of revenue. Furthermore, there are other relevant market connections, which tie not only the border areas together, but also have an effect on local economies beyond the immediate border. The recent blockage of the border, has resulted in not only prices rising in the South, but prises falling on grain markets in the North, due to fewer options of exporting grain to the South. In addition, the prices of other commodities in the North supplied from the South, such as cattle, have increased in the North, due to the same border obstruction.
Another commonality is the political dependence on one another, in order to build and maintain domestic political consensus. The two parties simply rely on each other for their own political survival. Political unity within either of the parties is difficult to maintain let alone imagine, should the opposite party not be present.
Given the past, where the level of influence of international partners, mainly the US and EU, has proven to be limited, and the AU have managed only to achieve several forums for negotiations and temporary agreements, a more coordinated and novel approach, may be needed. So far, the regional body of IGAD and the involvement of players such as Ethiopia may seem to be the best offer currently on the table. Although Ethiopia has previously been involved, it has so far been on a smaller scale. There are few options for leverage left in the US and even less so within the EU towards Khartoum (sanctions have so far failed to financially impede those in Khartoum making the decisions), and with the very pragmatic approach applied by China in Sudan, there is little hope that a comprehensive solution can be reached through these avenues. Thus, although there is little room for optimism currently, there is no excuse for not exploring the options of novel and different ways to address the compounded situation. These should refrain from the previous approaches of deadline diplomacy practiced in the process of the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA).They could involve considerations regarding both the ICC indictment of Bashir and issues such as more transparent and possibly pre-arranged oil revenue sharing schemes as well as involvement of the new regime in Egypt, which has reasonable interests in staying on good terms with both Juba and Khartoum. Furthermore, Egypt and Ethiopia rely if not equally, than at least on both North and South Sudan and as such, schemes as the previously proposed oil for electricity with Ethiopia could offer an interdependent option for political and economic integration. The same could be said for Egypt, who also would benefit from the option of further integrating the regional reliance on certain resources (oil, water and electricity).
Jens Pedersen is a humanitarian worker with experience of working in Darfur, South Sudan, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone.
 Sudan Tribune: “Sudanese warplanes have effectively bombed South Sudan – UN confirm”, Sudan Tribune, 14 December 2010, Retrieved 21 May 2011, Available from <http://www.sudantribune.com/Sudanese-warplanes-have,37266>
 The July 2009 ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitrations, regarding the borders of the Abyei Area
D H Johnson: “Abyei: Sudan’s West bank”, Enough Project, 4 April 2011, Retrieved 8 April 2011 from <http://www.enoughproject.org/publications/abyei-sudans-west-bank>
 E Reeves: “Continued Military Advance by Khartoum’s Forces, Increasing Risk of Major Confrontation”, 13 March 2011, Retrieved 13 April from <http://www.sudanreeves.org/Article315.html>
 The administrative border during colonial rule prior to independence. It is considered highly disputed and in the case of Abyei altered by the 2009 PCA ruling.
 News24.com: ” Sudan’s move into Abyei “premeditated” 27 May 2011, Retrieved 28 May from < http://www.news24.com/Africa/News/Sudan-move-into-Abyei-premeditated-20110527>
 D H Johnson: “Abyei: Sudan’s West bank”, Enough Project, 4 April 2011, Retrieved 8 April 2011 from <http://www.enoughproject.org/publications/abyei-sudans-west-bank>
 Small Arms Survey: “Armed Entities in South Kordofan”, Small Arms Survey Briefing Paper, June 2011.
 The Nuba Mountains in South Kordofan is home to populations, who fought long the SPLA during the civil war but who are ethnically different from the main groups in both North and South Sudan. As such, the area presents a dilemma of a potential opposition to the NCP. In the past, the population have expressed concerns regarding fear of marginalisation and although Muslim, the population was subject to a Fatwa issued by the Islamic NCP during the civil war.
 The mentioning of Abyei as a part of South Sudan in the interim constitution of South Sudan, caused condemnation from Khartoum, but was likely to be a signal sent to the Dinka population of Abyei.
 Although the majority of the oil will be located in the future Southern State, it will have to be processed and transported through the North, in order to reach international markets.
 USAID: Sudan Referendum Impacts on Market Flows and Livelihoods, May 2011
J Flint: Rhetoric and Reality: The Failure to Resolve the Darfur Conflict, Small Arms Survey Working Paper, January 2010
 A de Waal: “Darfur’s Deadline: The Final Days of the Abuja Peace Process”, in A de Waal, War in Darfur and the Search for Peace, Harvard Equity Initiative, Harvard University and Justice Africa, 2007