By Luka Biong Deng
October 16, 2013 - The people of Abyei are now in October, the month that was promised by the AU to conduct a referendum to determine the final status of their area. With this promised referendum and the right decision taken by the government of South Sudan to allow all public civil servants from Abyei to go to participate in the referendum, most people of Abyei are now converging in Abyei to settle in their home areas, yet to determine the political future of their area.
It is almost ten years when Abyei Protocol was signed in 2004 and such agreement was received with jubilation by the people of Abyei. They felt that at last justice has been done as they would freely determine the final status of their area through a referendum. It is almost four years since the Hague International Court of Arbitration announced its ruling in 2009 that defined the area of Ngok Dinka. They felt again justice has been done by the international court and expected their referendum would now be conducted smoothly despite the fact that they have lost about 44 percent of their area as defined by Abyei Boundaries Commission.
It is nearly three years when the people of Abyei were expected to have their referendum to be conducted simultaneously with that of the South on 9th January 2011. Yet they are still waiting for such referendum because of intransigent of Sudan that caused instead enormous human suffering including the assassination of their Paramount Chief Kuol Deng. Equally, they were promised to receive as of 9th July 2011 two percent of oil produced from their area to assist in the return and rehabilitation of their area. Yet, they are unable to access these oil resources that are being usurped by Sudan.
Since the invasion of Abyei by Sudan in 2011 and the displacement of more than 150,000 persons, the international community has not been able to assist the return with exception of limited intervention by USA. Other countries are unwilling to provide assistance in Abyei under the pretext of not contributing to the pull factors of return. Ironically, even with the people who have voluntarily returned to Abyei, the international community is unable to assist because of uncertain future of the area; a condition created by Sudan with complacent by the international community. Humanitarian assistance is to assist rather than prescribing to the people of how to manage the causes of their vulnerability. While Sudan has deliberately decided not to sign a document for the formation of Abyei Joint Humanitarian Coordination Taskforce, the international community seems to be rewarding such action by not encouraging humanitarian intervention in the area without the consent of Sudan.
In October 2012, The AU urgently called on the international community to assist the safe and dignified return of all displaced persons to Abyei and requested the AU Commission to convene an international conference on the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Abyei. It is more than one year and international community is not available to assist the safe and dignified return of the Ngok Dinka. The AU, paradoxically, decided in September 2013 to recite and without remorse the same decision it took more than one year ago without asking itself of what happened to its previous decisions.
Besides the apparent failure to assist the return of the Ngok Dinka, the stance of international community in resolving the final status of Abyei has been so inconsistent. Thousands of people went out in demonstration in Juba, Abyei and New York demanding the AU to endorse the Proposal on Abyei in its meeting in September. Also most African civil society organizations including those from Sudan and South Sudan as well as most international human rights organizations called on the AU to endorse the Proposal on Abyei.
What did they get from the meeting of AU? A poor and confused communiqué that is so inconsistent with its earlier decisions and so appalling and damaging to the credibility of the AU institutions. This communiqué underscores one fundamental fact that our African institutions are so dysfunctional and so weak to resolve African problems. It is worthless for one to analyze the inconsistency of the decisions contained in the communiqué. The slogans of African solutions for African problems, African renaissance and Pan-Africanism are becoming increasingly elusive and mere rhetoric.
Even the communiqué of the Sudan and South Sudan Consultative Forum was as well shallow as it mirrored the deficiency in the communiqué of the AU. The only glimpse of hope was the statement delivered by Ambassador Power, the US permanent representative to the UN, to the Forum that emphasized the right of people of Abyei to determine their political future. Some countries and particularly Russia seems to judge the situation in Abyei on a rather uninformed ground. Russia seems to lock itself in a wrong understanding that the issue of Abyei is a territorial dispute.
If the issue of Abyei is a territorial dispute, Russia is uneasy as that may set a precedent in imposing solutions for other border disputes between other countries including Russia. Despite the UN Resolution 2046 that endorsed the AU Roadmap of April 2012, it seems Russia has been effective in influencing the members of AU not to endorse the Proposal on Abyei and even seems to be threatening to use veto right in the UN Security Council. The issue of Abyei is not a territorial dispute as the territory of Abyei has been defined by the international court of arbitration and what is remaining is the conduct of Abyei referendum that was penned by the two countries, agreed upon by internationally community and clarified by the AU Panel. The last decision by the AU on Abyei seems to have been largely influenced by the Russian stance.
While the AU in its last communiqué has understandably asked South Sudan and Sudan as members state of AU not to take unilateral decision on the final status of Abyei, the Consultative Forum for no any good reason raised concern of the unilateral actions by Misseriyia community and Ngok Dinka community as if the area of Abyei is shared between Misseriyia and Ngok Dinka. It is so disappointing to see the deliberate intention of the international community not to recognize the glaring fact that there was final and binding international arbitration that clearly defined the area of Abyei as the area of the Ngok Dinka. Misseriyia nomads like other nomads such as Dinka Abiem, Dinka Twic, Dinka Ruweng, Dinka Panarou, Dinka Awan and Nuer have the same right in Abyei of seasonally accessing water and pastures for their cattle. Singling out Misseriyia as the only nomads in Abyei area is a reflection of ignorance of international community. Equally, not all Missseriyia nomads move through Abyei but only two sections.
The People of Abyei were expecting the AU to endorse the Proposal on Abyei and to set a clear timeline for the conduct of Abyei referendum. The last communiqué of AU on Abyei has not only delayed justice but it has contributed to the long history of disappointments and frustration experienced by the people of Abyei. As rightly stated by President Mbeki in his report to the AU in July 2013 that the people of Abyei are running out of patience in the face of delayed implementation of the final status of their area, the people of Abyei may be pushed by the inaction of international community to self-determine their political future.
There are only two options available to avert any unilateral decision by the people of Abyei. First, the AU during its visit to Abyei in October has the last opportunity to endorse the AU Proposal on Abyei; particularly after receiving official letter from President Salva that made it clear that they have reached a dead-end with Bashir over Abyei. Or the expected summit between the two presidents in Juba in October 2013 to agree to implement the decision of AU to establish, with clear timeline, the Abyei Referendum Commission as per the AU proposal on Abyei.
Such decisions will assist President Salva, who enjoys respect and trust of the people of Abyei, to prevail on them not to take any unilateral decision. One would expect by the end of October 2013 that either the AU to endorse the proposal on Abyei or the expected summit of the two Presidents to agree on establishing Abyei Referendum Commission or the people of Abyei may decide their political future. For the sake of peace and stability in the area and to consolidate the improved relations between the two countries, the unilateral decision of the people Abyei must be averted by immediate action by the AU and the political will of two Presidents to implement the AU decision to form Abyei Referendum Commission.
Luka Biong Deng is a senior member of South Sudan’s ruling party the SPLM and a former Co-Chair of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee. He can be contacted at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org