The devil is in the details of South Sudan and Sudan oil agreement for Dinka Malual
Martin Garang Aher
September 27, 2012 will be remembered by Dinka Malual of Northern Bahr el Ghazal as the month which brought back to life the dark history over the control of the frontiers with Rizeigat Baggara of Southern Darfur. On that day in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, Bashir and Kir swapped the rhetoric with brotherhood; a new cowboy-hat-on-the-bald amity; and together they signed oil agreement which is courteously wrapped in throngs of other subsidiary agreements to form an angel in the framework.
The entire deal, which comprised of nine bilateral agreements, included the diabolic insertion of mile 14 pasture-land between Dinka Malual and the Rizeigat into the national frames of both countries, thereby making it a bitter contested border zone. Panthou is already a thing of the past and Abyei referendum, always used as a winning bargain or peace mantle by South Sudan, remains as elusive as ever. To Dinka Malual, nonetheless, mile 14 situation is almost akin to the time between 1860 and 1880 when Zubeir Pasha formed forces with the Rizeigat and drove Dinka Malual beyond River Kir/Bahr el Arab. Though Rizeigat had had the backing of the authorities most of the times that they ventured southwards, their numerous attempts in the early twentieth century had been prohibited forcefully by Dinka Malual. The result had been continuous traditionally acknowledged seasonal agreements between the two communities on how to access pastures on either side of River Kir. It is important to note that Dinka Malual never goes to Dar Rizeigat for pastures. Always, it is Dinka Malual that is forced to open up and be accommodative. And judging by the recent Kir-Bashir agreement, they have once again been forced - perhaps sooner or later - to relent for the sake of peace that ought to kill them. Of course the anger is enormous in Aweil community worldwide. Some think they have been abandoned by their government through allowing another opportunity for the marauding Murahaleen to resume their rustling; while others view it as a trading off of their land for Abyei, a region that initially legally and administratively chose not to be part of South Sudan. Common men are asking whether Aweil should shoulder Abyei problem. But the reality is that both Aweil and Abyei will always shoulder their own problems with Rizeigat and Misseriya. And all have burdens to share with South Sudan and the Sudan.
Where is mile 14 conundrum; or what Magdi Gigouli, a notable Rift Valley Institute scholar, referred to as ‘Abyei in the making’ heading to? Might we be seeing old wounds being pricked once again? Paul Malong Awan Anei, the governor of Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, a former general in the SPLA army, a native of Dinka Malual whose part of his native area lies within mile 14 and a veteran who sustained more than eight bullet wounds from the Baggara as the then zonal commander in the Second Sudanese Civil war in Aweil area Command Post, made no less show prior to the conclusion of Kir-Bashir talks in Addis Ababa. Upon sensing that his state’s national security would be offered as a sacrificial lamb, he hastily went to Ethiopian capital where he had talks with his boss, president Kir and the mediating team. One is unsure if in the tense and pressurised atmosphere of the negotiations Kir was able to listen to him. His message to South Sudanese upon return to Juba and to Aweil citizens in particular were no less categorical, ‘I want to assure you that we are in Mile 14 and we will be there to stay. This is our area and we know how to manage relations,’ he said. He had indeed fumed earlier on that implementation of such an agreement would be done when he is not there. Whether this indicates a resignation or an old adage, ‘over my dead body,’ is a matter open to interpretation.
The whole scenario of withdrawing SPLA forces ten kilometres south of Kir River thereby paving way for creating a safer border demilitarised zone (SBDZ) carries an emotional charge among Dinka Malual of Northern Bahr el Ghazal. To the Rizeigat, it may mean an implementation of the boundary which the British governor of Bahr el Ghazal, Mervyn Wheatley and the then governor of Darfur, Patrick Munro agreed on and imposed in 1924; Dinka Malual never accepted the agreement that went any mile beyond Kir River. And to Dinka Malual, it is another imposition in which they are never consulted that had just occurred. The Sudanese had a delegation of Rizeigat presenting their case to the African Union High Implementation Panel (AUHIP) while South Sudan never spoke with Dinka Malual, the custodians of the border clues. This already justifies trouble. Both Dinka Malual and Rizeigat are a surprise to one another when it comes to what goes on along Kir River. In all the historical wars on Kir River, it begins with pastures, picks up in the water, culminates in the rustling and fully accelerates in the blood.
Many South Sudanese would not agree with mile 14 being a contested area. However, given the economical implications that oil shut-down had created, sceptics perceive this latest agreement as a sell-out to Khartoum for the oil to flow. Khartoum might praise its negotiation skills and views Kir-Bashir agreement as booty of war of attrition.The economic implication of oil stoppage gives an impression that South Sudan is dying for cash. The national treasury is running dry. In any sense, South Sudan is now frantically paying heavily for halting its oil torrent which constitutes the mildly spoken ‘lifeblood’ of the two nations by many analysts. The craving for economic freedom that accompanied government decision to stop the oil flow in the first place is now being ran down by an avalanche of desperation. People are angry and hungry. When South Sudan shut down its oil earlier in 2012, hunger was a minute thing that could be sustained. What was at stake was the national pride and economic freedom. The South Sudan chief negotiator, Pagan Amum - just like his country men and women who demonstrated on the streets of Juba in support of the decision that halted oil transit through theft-perforated pipeline of the Sudan - asserted his contentment saying it was a matter of national economic freedom. So it was, no doubt.
But to Dinka Malual, the adored economic freedom is now forfeiting their land for cash. The freedom in demand for Malual Giernyang or Malual Buoth Anyaar, as they fondly call themselves, is not only economic or political, it is freedom from dispossession that they must counter from any Sudan, be it South Sudan or Sudan. And as the governor asserted, so are the people of Aweil who will have to join the land when it goes north, or hang on to it to the detriment of peace between the two Sudans.