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Sudan’s identity and the notion of broken promises

By Biong Kuol Deng*

Feb 10, 2006 —

1. The policies that have continued to bedevil the
security situations in the Abyei area and those of
Darfur and Eastern Sudan and other marginalized areas
of the Sudan can be pigeonholed in the strategies that
the national governments, throughout our fifty years
of independence, have been executing. The ruling
elites, upon independence in 1956, declared the Sudan
as an Arab country; hence, their rush to apply for the
membership of the Arab League few days after the
declaration of independence on 01st of January 1956.
The Arab Republic of Egypt bulldozed this application
by influencing other members of the Arab League to
accept it within two weeks, notwithstanding the
opposition of some members of the Arab League on the
basis that the admission of the Sudan into the Arab
League was inconsistent with its Convention since the
Sudan was not, by all accounts, an Arab country.
However, Egypt, being the most powerful member of the
Arab League and the host thereof, used its realist
approach to prevail over other members of the Arab
League. This model has opened the floodgate for other
African countries to join the Arab League, for
example, Somalia.

2. It was this policy, among other things, that
triggered and sustained the war of attrition in
Southern Sudan since 1955 and which was only
punctuated by the Addis Ababa agreement (1972-1983)
and ended by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)
in 2005. It unfortunately continues to nurture and
define the current conflicts in Darfur and Eastern
Sudan. The ruling elites, who have assumed an Arab
identity, have always hoped that the so-called
non-Arab elements in the Sudan will follow the model
of other black African minorities in a number of North
African countries and Mauritania in West Africa
(Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and Mauritania) who have,
for all practical purposes, been relegated to being
second-class citizens. Many members of these groups
have resigned to and accepted their fate, except in
Mauritania where the majority of black Mauritanians
continue to wage their struggle against enslavement
and marginalization. It is paradoxical that these
black African minorities have a lot in common with the
Sudanese ruling elites!

3. In this respect, the notion of “us-and-them”
continues to be employed by the ruling elites when
designing their national policy strategies, which, by
and large, prioritize the rights of the so-called Arab
elements in the Sudan. In the Abyei area, since
independence, the so-called Arab elements have been
committing atrocities, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and
slavery with impunity. In 1964 and 1965, Al Misseriya
massacred Dinkas and other Southern Sudanese in El
Muglad and Babanusa in police stations, acts that were
carried out in the presence of the members of the
police force, and purportedly in response to the
conflict that had erupted between the Ngok Dinka and
Al Misseriya in the Ngok area. In this connection, Al
Misseriya, under the protection of the Sudan army
(Hajana Division), whose members were mainly from Al
Misseriya and Nuba, killed Ngok Dinkas and erased
their properties to the ground in the north of Abyei,
hence the commencement of ethnic cleansing because
since that time Dinka Ngok have not been able to
rebuild their houses because of lack of security. Some
members of Al Misseriya, who would want to rewrite
history of the area, currently claim that the conflict
in question was between Al Misseriyia and the rebels!
As a matter of fact, during that time (1964-65) the
Abyei area did not have rebels roaming around.
Of-course, Abyei’s sons and daughters joined Anya Nya
I in the South. Indeed, the balance of power would
have been different had the area had rebels to protect them.

4. In 1970, one army officer wiped out the entire
indigenous leadership of the Abyei area on the basis
that they were rebels; notwithstanding, at the time,
there was a relative peace in the country because of
the Addis Ababa negotiations that were ongoing. What
was at issue was that the army officer was wantonly
killing innocent civilians, who were not members of
the southern liberation movement (Anya Nya) and thus
the indigenous leadership pleaded with him to spare
their lives on the basis of their innocence. The
officer under whom these massacres were committed was
not even investigated by the Nimeiri’s government.
Again in the 1970s, the elements of Misseriya
intercepted lorries traveling from El Muglad to Abyei
and massacred those therein, including a Ph.D. student
in history, the late Mark Mijak Abiem, who was on his
way to conduct a field research, and many other
teachers and civil servants and civilians from the
area. Those involved though well-known individuals in
Al Muglad were not brought to books or made to account
for their crimes. Hence, the continuation of
commission of such atrocities since local
law-enforcement elements did not dare to stamp out
such criminal activities.

5. In the 1970s, Dr. Francis M. Deng, Abyei’s son,
negotiated a development project with the Harvard
Development Center, Harvard University, and the USAID,
with a view to addressing development challenges in
the Abyei area, which was expected to include
Misseriya in its second phase. Although the
Presidency, in conjunction with the Southern Kordofan
state, implemented the project, local authorities in
the Southern Kordofan state were lukewarm and
reluctant to ensure the success of the project. Hence,
Al Misseriya were again unleashed to raid the area and
create gross insecurity therein to the extent that the
project had to be prematurely ended. The main
objective of the project was basically to create a
semblance of development in Dinka Ngok’s area and that
of Al Misseriya with a view to addressing
underdevelopment challenges that had been responsible
for perennial conflicts between the two pastoral
groups. Again, ruling elites in the state of Southern
Kordofan were not enthusiastic about addressing the
direly needed development in the area.

6. In the l980s, the Nimeiri regime established a
military force known as the nomads’ force, whose main
responsibility, among other things, was to protect Al
Misseriya during their seasonal movements to the Abyei
area. Al Misseriya’s militia force was also
established to protect Chevron’s oil fields in the
unity province against the SPLA. The government also
used these forces to fight against the SPLA in the
Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile regions. These forces
wrecked havoc in these regions, especially in the
Abyei area, in term of ethnic cleansing, slavery, and
wanton killings and destruction of properties. Hence,
the formation of the Janjaweed-like forces during the
north-south war. The transitional government of Swar
El Dhab continued with the same policy. In the
democratically elected Sadiq El Mahdi’s government,
the defense minister was a son of El Misseriya, who
ensured that all these forces were strengthened and
supported by the army, in terms of military equipments
and organization.

7. Thus, the current government inherited these
forces, however, it incorporated them into its popular
defense forces to effectively execute the Jihad war
against the infidels (many Abyei’s citizens
fortunately or unfortunately fit this description). As
a result, Abyei’s citizens moved in droves northward
to Khartoum to form the majority of the displaced
persons in the periphery of Khartoum to labor under
inhumane and humiliating conditions of internal
displacement. Hence the institutionalization of ethnic
cleansing, wanton killings, and destruction of
properties. To this day, these forces continue to be
part of the armed forces of the Sudan and mainly
stationed in El Muglad, which has a small oil
refinery, with a view to serving the operational
purposes in the field. Thus, the concept of the
“Janjaweed” is not necessarily new. The only
difference, this time around, is that the
international community has not turned a blind eye to
its existence in Darfur as it unfortunately did during
the war in the South!

8. This kind of political orientation cannot,
of-course, sail us out of the current violent
political waves unless and until we genuinely and
honestly embrace our diverse cultural identity as
Africans, irrespective of our historical lineages and
mutations, and our skins’ pigmentations, and use the
Sudanese citizenship and residence as a determinant
factor in term of fundament rights and freedoms, as
stipulated by our Interim Constitution. Indeed, the
CPA may collapse because of the firm belief of some
elements within the National Congress Party (NCP) that
the CPA forsakes the “rights” of Al Misseriya in the
Southern Kordofan state. Al Misseriya, in this case,
may be used as a conduit and an excuse to exclusively
appropriate oil resources with which the Abyei area
has been endowed. This argument certainly and
blatantly denies the rights of non-Arab elements in
those areas, who have been respecting Al Misseriya’s
water and pasture rights, as fellow neighbors and
Sudanese. Indeed, the area receives, on an annual
basis Fulani, nomads from Nigeria and other West
African countries who are not Sudanese and as a
consequence of which some families have settled in
Abyei. Thus, such fears are certainly misplaced. It is
therefore critical for the government of national
unity, in the implementation of the CPA, to respect
its protocols by comprehensively and swiftly
implementing them to the letter, lest the entire
country revisits the “Somalization” tragedy.

9. Indeed, during the negotiations that ushered in the
CPA, the status of Abyei Area was the main stumbling
block for the parties to reach an agreement. At some
point, the negotiations faltered and the parties
almost reverted to their war positions because of
their disagreement on Abyei Area. However, they
finally, with the help of IGAD members and partners,
especially the USA, agreed to sign the Protocol on
Abyei Area. One of the provisions of the Abyei
Protocol focuses mainly on the determination of
physical borders between Abyei Area, inhabited by the
nine tribes of Dinka Ngok and the Misseriya. Article
5.1 provides: “There shall be established by the
Presidency, Abyei Boundaries Commission (ABC) to
define and demarcate the area of the nine Ngok Dinka
Chiefdom transferred to Kordofan in 1905, referred to
herein as Abyei Area.” This article recognizes and
takes notice of the fact that Abyei Area is inhabited
by the nine Ngok Dinka Chiefdom, an area that the
British colonial administration annexed to Kordofan
province in 1905, with a view to taking advantage of
the proximity of the area to their district council
(El Fula) in Kordofan and easing communications

10. The Abyei Protocol also provides for
implementation mechanisms with respect to the
determination of the boundaries of the area. In this
connection, Article 5.2 declares: “The composition and
timeframe of the Abyei Boundaries Commission (ABC)
shall be determined by the Presidency. However, the
Commission shall include, inter alia, experts,
representatives of the local communities and the local
administration. The Commission shall finish its work
within the first two years of the Interim Period.”
Indeed, the parties concerned formed the Abyei
Boundaries Commission (ABC) during pre-interim period;
and which, in turn, developed its own rules and
procedures. Since Dinka Ngok share boundaries with Al
Misseriya in the Southern Kordofan state, the drafters
of the Abyei Protocol identified Dinka Ngok and Al
Misseriya as two local communities that needed to be
represented on the Commission.

11. Thus, the negotiating parties (SPLM and GOS)
respectively selected five members. The ten members of
the Commission were mandated by the Presidency, in
conjunction with IGAD, to negotiate the boundaries in
question, failure of which the issue would be referred
to IGAD’s and its partners’ experts. The
representatives of the local communities failed to
reach an agreement on Abyei Ariea’s boundaries. The
negotiating parties then agreed at the behest of IGAD
and its partners that the experts’ final report “shall
be final” in this respect. Indeed, the representatives
of the local communities concerned made passionate
submissions before the experts, calling on the experts
to extremely and carefully examine historical records
and other pertinent documentary evidence before making
their unanimous decision, since such a decision will
be final. Indeed, the head of Al Misseriya’s
representatives, a diplomat by profession and a lawyer
by training, alerted, cautioned, and drew the
attention of the experts that their decision would be
detrimental either way and thus they should take due
care as “judges do when they decide on life-and-death

12. The Abyei Boundary Commission’s Experts finalized
their report and submitted it to the Presidency after
the swearing- in of the First Vice-President and the
President of the Government of South Sudan, the late
Dr. John Garang. In their report, the experts noted
that while they could not secure the 1905 map, they
nonetheless used different historical maps from the
British colonial archives, the American Library of
Congress, historical books on the area, oral history
statements from the peoples of the areas concerned
during their field trips, and other pertinent pieces
of evidence. On the basis of these vast records of
information, they demarcated the boundaries, which for
genuine inhabitants of the areas concerned were indeed
approximate to the original boundaries. However,
members of Al Misseriya, with explicit support of the
President and the Second Vice-President, have declared
to the media that the Abyei Boundary Commission’s
Experts have acted beyond their prescribed mandate,
that is, since they failed to locate the 1905 map,
they should have packed their bags and left. However,
what appears to be at issue here is that the Abyei
area is endowed with considerable oil reserves which
the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) would like to
have a 100% control thereof as opposed to the oil that
falls within South Sudan as defined by the 1956
boundaries. The oil in the South, according to the
CPA, is shared 50% for the National Government of the
Sudan and 50% for the Government of Southern Sudan.
Thus, if the Abyei area falls within the North, the
National Government of the Sudan will own 100% of its oil.

13. Indeed, regarding the sharing of the Abyei area’s
oil, the Protocol on Abyei Area specifies in Article
3.1 the following: “Without prejudice to the
provisions of the Wealth Sharing Agreement, the
net-oil revenue from the oil produced in Abyei Area
shall be shared during the Interim Period as follows:
3.1.1 Fifty Percent (50%) to the National Government;

3.1.2 Forty-Two Percent (42%) to the Government of
Southern Sudan;
3.1.3 Two Percent (2%) to Bhar el Ghazal Region;
3.1.4 Two Percent (2%) to Western Kordofan;
3.1.5 Two Percent (2%) locally with the Ngok Dinka;
3.1.6 Two Percent (2%) locally with the Misseriya
Thus, in terms of sharing Abyei Area’s natural
resources, the Abyei people have generously been
willing to share them not only with Al Misseriya per
se but also with other pastoral groups from the South,
Western Sudan, and foreigners from West Africa as
cited above. What is interesting is that some oil has
been found in the area of El Fula, an area that
belongs to Al Misseriya, which, of-course, Abyei’s
people will not be allowed to share it with their
neighbors, Al Misseriya. Thus, because of the
prevalence of a certain mentality, rights are not
necessarily reciprocal in the Sudan due to the fact
that some peoples are more important than others.

14. In this respect, Abyei Area’s Protocol provides a
road map that ascertains the status thereof.

15. Article 2.1 provides: “Upon signing the Peace
Agreement, Abyei Area shall be accorded special
administrative status under the institution of the
Presidency.” Thus, Abyei Area has been denuded from
the Southern Kordofan state, at least during the
interim period; and the Baher el Ghazal Region has not
either repossessed Abyei Area, during the said period.
This provision should have persuaded the Presidency
the urgency of the situation, in terms of the
political representation of the citizens of the Area.
Alas, the Presidency has yet to implement this
Protocol, the consequence of which the area is
currently without legitimate administration and
concomitant tensions in the area continue to rise. In
this connection, Articl 2.2 details: “Abyei Area shall
be administered by a local Executive Council, elected
by the residents of Abyei. Pending the election of the
Executive Council, its initial members shall be
appointed by the Presidency.” In terms of the service
delivery in Abyei Area, Article 2.5 highlights the
following: “The Executive Council, in exercise of its
executive powers, shall:
– 2.5.1 Render necessary services;
– 2.5.2 Supervise and promote security and stability in
the area;
– 2.5.3 Propose development and urbanization projects
for the area to both the Abyei Area Council and to the
– 2.5.4 Present to the National Government proposals
regarding the provision of assistance to improve the
lives of he peoples of Abyei, including urbanization
and development. The creation of unnecessary
administrative vacuum persuaded the drafters of this
Protocol to prioritize the adoption of the Report of
the Boundary Commission’s Experts, which would
facilitate the establishment of the Abyei Area
Council. While the Experts produced their report as
anticipated by the drafters, the Presidency has
decided to freeze the Report. Hence, the people of
Abyei Area are currently without any legitimate
political representation and administration, a clear
violation of their citizenship’s rights under the
Interim Constitution of the Sudan.

16. The issues of the rule of law continue to raise
serious concerns with respect to the security
situation in the area. It is thus important to note
that the so-called Arab elements have by and large
been dominating the administrative apparatus of Abyei
Area, especially the law enforcement agencies (police,
security, army, judiciary). The Ngok people view these
elements as government’s supported occupiers, whose
main objective is to oppress and dehumanize them.
Their continued control of administrative affairs in
the area does not therefore augur for the stability,
security, and peaceful co-existence in the entire
region. In this connection, Abyei Area’s Protocol
exhorts the Presidency, in conjunction with the
judiciary, to establish courts in the area. Article
2.7 provides: “In view of the special status of Abyei
Area, the Presidency shall apply to the judiciary to
establish courts for Abyei Area as deemed
appropriate.” The IGAD members and partners, AU, and
the UN need to urgently exercise and apply pressure on
the Presidency, lest their efforts for peace to
prevail in the Sudan would unfortunately be in vain.

17. It was this attitude or mentality that prompted
the First Vice- President and the President of the
Government of Southern Sudan, Mr. Salva Kiir, to
declare that the stalwarts of the NCP were not
interested in the comprehensive and swift
implementation of the CPA. In this respect, Mr. Kiir
cited that the Commissions that had been established
were not operational and that other critical
Commissions were yet to be established, including the
National Civil Service Commission, which is saddled
with the responsibility to implement the part of power
sharing that deals with 28% of the SPLM personnel in
each national ministry and parastatals, the
Administration of the Abyei area, which is inhabited
by the nine tribes of Dinka Ngok. Indeed, according to
the First Vice-President, the GOSS had not been
getting its due share of the oil resources in the
South and that in every barrel of oil discovered the
borders of the South were moved southwards. The traits
of frustration and disappointment were quite feasible
on the face of Mr. Salva Kiir, during his press
conference. It became clear to many Sudanese that if
remedial steps were not immediately taken the CPA
would follow its preceding agreements to the dustbin
of the Sudan’s bloody history.

18. When the First Vice-President and President of
the Government of Southern Sudan decided to dispense
with his responsibility as a leader, the media
controlled by the NCP blamed him for having openly
criticized his partners in government through the
media instead of using established mechanisms to
tackle such challenges. What they did not tell their
readers was that other SPLM members had publicly
complained about the reluctance of the NCP to
comprehensively implement the CPA. The same media
tycoons of the NCP chastised them of being out of
control as members of the government and literally
called for their appropriate disciplining. Indeed, the
First Vice-President and the President of Southern
Sudan had been sharing such concerns with his
colleagues in the Presidency to no avail. The NCP’s
political and media pundits have yet to get used to
receiving complaints from those they assume to have
been absorbed into their political systems. In the
recent past, such elements would have been immediately
blackmailed and humiliatingly dismissed and ended in
some ghost houses. What the NCP’s political stalwarts
have failed to grasp with is that the SPLM/SPLA
entered into the prevailing agreement with the NCP as
honest partners in peace and stability of the Sudan, a
partnership that should ensure comprehensive and
immediate implementation in toto of the CPA.

19. In this connection, the saga of broken promises,
as articulated by the former vice president, advocate
Abel Alier, has already been staring us in our genuine
and honest faces. The notion of contradicting or
violating the Protocols of the CPA is adequately
exemplified by the reluctance of the National Congress
Party’s politically dominated Presidency to implement,
among other things, the Protocol that pertains to
Abyei Area. Indeed, the violation of this Protocol was
recently and clearly reinforced by the daring act of
the current deputy governor of the Southern Kordofan
state, who, in the company of mercenary-like elements
of militias and impersonating the profile of war-like
men, delivered an unexpected and unholy message in a
holy place (Abyei’s mosque): ” the Protocols on the
Abyei area have been cancelled.” It does not augur for
the implementation of the CPA, if leaders of the NCP
would take liberty to make such dangerous
pronouncements with impunity that could have
precipitated a violent response! Indeed, one would
have expected the deputy governor of the Southern
Kordofan state to abide by Abyei Area’s Protocol, by
calling for peaceful existence and reconciliation in
the area. Article 9 urges that “Upon signing the
Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the Presidency shall,
as a matter of urgency, start peace and reconciliation
process for Abyei that shall work for harmony and
peaceful co-existence in the area.” It remains,
though, to be investigated by the IGAD members and
partners and the AU and UN as to who on earth has
cancelled the said Protocol?

20. Apparently, the ploy was to provoke Abyei’s
citizens into reckless reactions to no avail: what the
prophets of doom should bear in mind is that Abyei’s
people have always been the vanguards against ethnic
cleansing, depravation, slavery, and blatant policies
of racism in the Sudan. The policies that currently
underline the struggles of the peoples of Darfur and
Eastern regions. Indeed, Abyei’s sons and daughters
joined in droves Anya Nya II forces, which they helped
creating in Bahr el Ghazal and later on occupied
prominent positions in the SPLA, as loyal and gallant
fighters. However, they are now convinced more than
ever that violence unnecessarily destroys innocent
lives and properties and retards socio-economic
development and hence their utilization of the
negotiations that ushered in the CPA and implied faith
in the international governance system. Nonetheless,
one thing is for sure, they would rather occupy the
bottom of their land than to allow any group in the
Sudan to occupy it or enslave them because they happen
to have a sufficient military power and support to do
that! Indeed, it would be self-destructive for Dinka
Ngok and Al Misseriya to continue to engage in
unnecessary military confrontations at the expense of
their stability and socio-economic development.

21. There is no question that the Misseriya people
equally suffer from the challenges of marginalization
and thus it is incumbent on them to trace the genesis
of their under-development elsewhere and not to the
Ngok people, who have seasonally been hosting them in
their area time immemorial. Indeed, Misseriya elements
invoked, during the CPA negotiations, the notion of
good neighborliness and the fact that Ngok Dinka and
Al Misseriya had been sharing the natural resources of
the Abyei area to justify the participation of Al
Misseriya in the Abyei area’s oil wealth.In this
connection, during the CPA negotiations, Abyei’s sons
and daughters, in conjunction with the sons and
daughters of Al Messiriyia, ensured that the Misseriya
would share in the Abyei area’s oil revenue, which the
Protocol on Wealth Sharing has set to be 2%. However,
other Al Misseriya’s elements, those have been accused
by the Ngok people of having played negative roles in
terms of ethnic cleansing and slavery during the war,
have developed over the years a system of exploitation
and taken advantage of the poverty status of their
peoples. These elements use their being defined by the
State as Arabs as a convenient way of occupying other
peoples’ land with impunity and discard the ethics of
good neighborliness. Indeed, the ethnic cleansing and
devastation of the Abyei area with impunity by its
neighbors unfortunately encouraged the like-minded
elements in the Darfur region, the so-called
Janjaweeds, to follow suit, hence the current conflict
in Darfur.

22. We, Sudanese, throughout our turbulent and
violent history, have been reluctant to candidly and
elaborately debate issues that have been responsible
for our political predicament, except through violent
confrontations, a fact that has cost us a lot, in
terms of human lives and socio-economic development.
The issues of identity, power sharing, wealth sharing,
marginalization, human rights and fundamental
freedoms, democracy and good governance had not found
cogent and potent political expressions, except
through the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA),
which, by all accounts, the most detailed peace
agreement that the Sudanese have ever concluded. While
it would be politically disingenuous to claim that the
CPA is comprehensive, the fact remains that it is the
most witnessed agreement by the regional and
international powers and thus enjoys acceptance by the
AU, Arab League, EU, and the UN. We, therefore, cannot
attain a comprehensive peace agreement in the Sudan
without necessarily and thoroughly implementing the
CPA. In this connection, we need to send a clear and
unequivocal message to those in Darfur and Eastern
Sudan that it is not business as usual and that, this
time around, we are determined to genuinely address
the root causes of our political instability and

* Senior Research Fellow Africa Institute of South
Africa Pretoria, South Africa.

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