By Tim Flatman
September 25, 2013 - The Communique of the 397th Meeting of the AUPSC at the level of the Heads of State and Government, 23 September 2013, offers nothing to the Dinka Ngok community. No date for a referendum. No revised timetable. No mechanisms for achieving referendum without the willing consent of the Government of Sudan. No way of removing SAF from Kec/Diffra. Not even a promise of a special AUPSC session on Abyei.
It even insults them by attributing the threat of a unilateral referendum to RSS, as if the Dinka Ngok community were not capable of carrying it out themselves. Paragraph 11 states that “Council urges the two countries not to undertake any unilateral actions concerning Abyei that might impede progress towards the implementation of these commitments.” However, the threat of unilateral, peaceful, action does not come from the state of South Sudan but from the Ngok community itself.
Community leaders have used the threat of unilateral referendum to put pressure on the African Union to act. However, the threat originates from the grassroots. It is grassroots Ngok who started registering with their chiefs in preparation for this action. No community leader could force any Ngok to leave Juba and go to Abyei if they did not want to. Ordinary people in Abyei and Agok feel that enough is enough, that they want to “do something” and express their beliefs about their land. They know the chances of persuading the international community to endorse the results of a unilateral referendum are slim, but they want to do this for themselves, regardless. They do not fear complicating the efforts of the AUHIP, because they have no confidence that the AUHIP will ever resolve the issue.
In December 2010, a unilateral self-declaration by Ngok was avoided. Ngok decided to refrain from making a self-declaration that Abyei was in Southern Sudan out of goodwill to other Southerners, to avoid jeopardising Southern independence, and at the request of Deng Alor and Pagan Amum, then acting on behalf of the Government of South Sudan. Now South Sudan is independent, and Deng Alor and Pagan Amum are no longer part of the government, these conditions do not exist. RSS is not able to prevent a peaceful unilateral referendum exercise in Abyei, no matter how much pressure the international community puts on it.
No-one has the right to prevent Ngok from carrying out a unilateral referendum. The international community has the right not to endorse the results, but it does not have the right to prevent Ngok freedom of assembly or freedom of expression. UNISFA’s mandate to protect civilians is not affected. Even if the UN disapprove of the peaceful activities of Ngok, they must still protect civilians against any attempt to disrupt those activities.
Those urging communities to refrain from violence should also support a unilateral referendum if, as now seems likely, the Ngok community choose that path. The alternative to taking this action is not no action, it is to do something else. Empowering those within the community (especially in the church) arguing against violence, may mean supporting a unilateral referendum, even if we are dubious.
Tim Flatmanis based in Agok, Abyei. He can be contacted on his twitter account: @Tim_Flatman