Examining the Abiey Issue from a neutral perspective

BY Atem Mabior 

January 16, 2008 (Sudanese Online)

Many southern Sudanese are worried that the current impasse between the SPLM and NCP may eventually slide into open war. Their worries are justified as the standoff escalates everyday. But looking back at the start of the events we will discover that the following triggered the crisis:

The SPLM says it wants peace but it does exactly the opposite when it comes to settling its differences with its partner. Senior SPLM cadres continue to utter inflammatory statements that tend to escalate the crisis. Recently Yasser Arman a SPLM member on the bipartisan six-man committee told News reporters that they have reached agreement on all issues except Abiey. What this means is that it is only Abiey that remained to be resolved. Nevertheless despite this big progress there is no softening of positions and no resumption of work by SPLM ministers.

We are certain that a big section of the Sudanese population do not know much about the Abiey problem. No one neither from the SPLM or the NCP would want to educate the Sudanese people about it. The sons and daughters of Abiey do not volunteer information to the Sudanese people on Abiey either because they know little about it or because they risk being challenged. All the players on Abiey have barricaded themselves in their cocoons but defense of own position blinds each side and does not grant each side any verdict of right.

These behaviours express the usual pitfalls in any process of reconciliation and peace. No party makes any attempt to understand the position of the other side. Each side automatically assumes that the opposing side is wrong. Honesty and truth telling have become to be regarded as a sign of weakness and sometimes attracts punishment or reprimand. Now since we are dealing with national issues we must rise above ethnic/tribal and racial interests and say the truth. In saying this truth we are not condemning anybody and we are not assign any judgement on anybody. Wether we are saying this truth against the interests of the Dinka Ngok or the Messiriyya tribe, all will still live as neighbours in the end. What concerns us now is saying the truth.

According to anthropologists the majority of the Sudanese are all immigrants. They migrated and occupied their present so-called homelands either from within Sudan or from abroad. So there is no real landlord in the strictest sense. Historically, we have established according to our research, the present Abiey belonged to the Dajo tribe which is now dispersed into Southern Kordofan, Southern Darfur, and Eastern Upper Nile. The cause of this dispersion might have been caused by Dinka Ngok incursion into Abiey. Area Claims by Ngok Dinka and the Messiriyya to the area are all false and unsubstantiated. We know that the Messiriyya and the Dinka were in Abiey by the 17th and 18th Centuries. Can they tell us that this area was unoccupied when they invaded it?

Anyway to come back to the point, in 1905 for administrative reasons or otherwise, it was decided that Abiey be annexed to South Kordofan from Bahr Al Ghazal. The most important point we want to put through is that this decision was not unilaterally made but was made through the free will of the then leadership of the Ngok Dinka under the paramount chief Late Deng Majok. So far we know that Abiey was not the original homeland of both the Ngok Dinka and the Messiriyya and that the British colonial administration annexed it to Southern Kordofan< in 1905 with the consent of the Ngok Dinka.

After the CPA, the Ngok Dinka intellectuals have rediscovered their roots and want to join their kith and kin in Bhar Al Ghazal. The CPA gives them this right but after a referendum. Meanwhile the parties to the CPA agreed to commission the Abiey Border Commission (ABC) to demarcate the border of Abiey and Southern Kordofan before the referendum. The terms of reference included taking the border of Bahr Al Ghazal and Southern Kordofan of 1905. The parties to the CPA, SPLM and NCP, agreed to respect the outcome of the ABC. However, things did not go as agreed upon, the ABC after failing to find the coordinates of the 1905 border between Bahr Al Ghazal and Southern Kordofan , resorted to using 1965 as the border reference. When the ABC presented their report it was rejected by the NCP while the SPLM accepted it. The question is: should the report be accepted even when it violated the terms of reference? If you were in the NCP shoes could you accept the ABC report? If the SPLM were in the NCP shoes could it accept the ABC report?

These are some of the questions that have to be answered if the two partners are willing to reach a compromise. I the two partners have the political will to maintain the CPA it should not be difficult for them to discuss and reach an agreement. But as we said earlier the defence of own position blinds each side to seeing the issue from the other’s position. Usually we fail to make any attempt to understand the position of the other side. We always take a defensive stance and operate through fear of what the other side will or could do, often tipping the balance towards mistakes leading to more conflict.

We hope the leaders of the SPLM and the NCP will rise above party interests and resolve the Abiey issue to the satisfaction of the Dinka Ngok and the Messiriyya.


Atem Mabior

SPLM Veterans for Truth in Diaspora, London , UK

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