Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Juba must make Oil Concessions with Khartoum to get Abyei out of the Quagmire

 Martin Garang Aher

It is imperative that Southern Sudan will overwhelmingly vote for secession in January 2011 referendum as predicted by many keen observers of the Sudanese conflict.  This vote is particularly loathsome to NCP and the entire northern Sudanese population- the economically oppressed, the politically disenfranchised groups and the Muslim/Islamic theocratic leadership.  This makes 2010 and 2011 the years of determination of nationhood and survivability. Only one area has become a silver bullet which would, nonetheless, bring about lasting peace in the country, but a threshold for doom to the entire nation. This area is Abyei. Abyei had become the footstool where decision makers rest their feet while debating the future of the country, particularly on wrong and deceitful terms.

The justifiable token for not accepting all the deliberations on Abyei by the NCP Government is not that Abyei holds any significance in the people that live in it for them. The matter in holding on to Abyei at this crucial time is a matter of survival. It is not true to suggest that the transhumance Messeriya herders who seasonally maraud while grazing and watering their livestock in Abyei will be permanently deprived of the use of the resources by southerners - grazing land and water. No supportive historical evidence is present today which can point to any occasions when the Messeriya had unduly been denied grazing and temporary sojourning by the Ngok Dinka of Abyei.

There is something deeper than what is being demanded in a manner particularly so incognito by the Sudanese government and the ruling party, the NCP. Many writers and analysts have highlighted this several times and have come to the conclusion that Sudan’s precious commodity in Southern Sudan is oil. About 80% of the Sudanese revenue is known to come from oil, and much of this lies in southern Sudan, a region presently threatening to go away as an independent sovereignty. What will happen to Northern Sudan's economy should southern Sudan leave with all the oil? What are the guarantees that southerners will, in the near future, decide to reunite with northerners to form a much-desired United New Sudan? And what is the point of holding on to Abyei when all the Sudanese citizens in the north know that the Nine Ngok Dinka are indeed Dinka People and, therefore, Southerners?

Somebody doesn't have to be a rocket scientist to discern the demand of the Sudanese government that has been hidden behind the status of Abyei. But this demand can be asked politely and southerners would consider a brotherly option for it. Clamouring and displaying higgledy-piggledy demeanours will not solve it. If anything, manners as such can destroy the country. Abyei has always been a Southern territory and its administrative sway in the twentieth century does not make it a Northern area of jurisdiction. The point is clear to all Sudanese. It is, therefore, incumbent upon the two parties, the SPLM and NCP to do something about the heavy anchor in Abyei's matter. Something has to be done before unconditional return to war. No further tricks or clandestine hypotheses of togetherness will normalise this stalemate but oil. Juba must agree to share oil with Khartoum even if it means doing so on a long-term basis allocation. After all, Sudan has always been one country. This gesture will be honourable to all Sudanese.

This is hard to fathom, but it is evident that before the end of the year and without a concrete breakthrough, Sudan will go to war based on the premise of protecting the right of Messeriya nomads and on salvaging the land of the Ngok Dinka and the oil fields.  Should this happens both NCP and SPLM will carry the burden of the blame. The variance of the war to be waged by either side cannot be conclusively attributed to one party, but the probability that NCP will wheedle the Messeriya to jumpstart the war is one. This affirms the normative argument put forward by NCP that Messeriya, who are the majority in the area and native to nearby Muglad, are to be considered inhabitants of Abyei and therefore, have inalienable right to vote in the deciding referendum for Abyei. Professor Mading Deng disputed the concocted right of the Messeriya to vote in Abyei's referendum on the United Nation TV a few days ago in a response to the Sudanese ambassador in the USA. The ambassador reiterated his government’s call to allow the Messeriya herders to vote. professor Mading quipped and said, “There is no need for a referendum in Abyei then if the Messeriya are allowed to vote. The Messeriya  are the majority in the area and giving them the option on the future of Abyei automatically means they will want to keep Abyei under Northern administration.” He went on to say that what is needed the most is the capacity to build the trust between the Messeriya and Ngok Dinka. Some harmonious platform that will allow the two communities to remain in an acceptable coexistence with each other as well as to coexist as peaceful neighbours irrespective of the future of Abyei.

So where is the logic with which Khartoum is forcing the Messeriya to take up such a radical position on Abyei? Messeriya were part of the peace delegation five years ago. They knew that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement granted Ngok Dinka a suffrage in a referendum to decide their future. Their main complaints as herders, at the time, were their animals and how they would survive if Abyei went to South Sudan administratively. This complaint was addressed adequately in the CPA.  Existing cordial relationships between the two communities were held in high regards during peace negotiations. The undeniable right to graze and water animals on the part of the Messeriya was part of the agreements. What then makes Messeriya think that the CPA was wrong and the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling was also a bluff? The answer could be found in oil.

To break the deadlock on Abyei, freeze war, inculcate a mutual understanding among the Sudanese citizenry and solicit a mutually assured development between the two sides of the Sudan, the South should, by virtue and wisdom, allow the North to share oil with her.  This natural bounty is the last thing that keeps the two Sudan together.


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