By Luka Biong Deng
Published by New Nation Newspaper
Abyei, August 2012
The African Union Roadmap for normalizing relations between the South and Sudan is now approaching its final phase. The negotiation between the two countries will resume towards the end of next week on the pending issues. By 2nd September, the UN Secretary General will present the report about the status of negotiation on the pending issues to the UN Security Council. By 22nd September, the African Union Panel will present a comprehensive report on the status of negotiations, including detailed proposals on all outstanding issues, to be endorsed by African Union Peace and Security Council as final and binding solution to the post-secession relations.
Within two weeks following the submission of the report by the Panel, the AU Peace and Security Council will hold a meeting at ministerial level to endorse the report of the Panel and to transmit its communiqué, for consideration and endorsement, by the UN Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The two countries are expected to reach amicable solutions for all the pending issues before 22nd September. If the negotiations failed to reach amicable solutions on all or some of the pending issues, then the Panel will call for another summit between Salva and Bashir before 22nd September to resolve all the pending issues or to pen a comprehensive agreement on all pending issues if negotiations reached amicable solutions.
With oil and other payments deal being concluded, the Roadmap has unlocked one of the most difficult hurdles between the two countries. This deal will undoubtedly provide a solid basis for resolving the other pending issues. The oil deal has sent positive economic and political signals with great sense of optimism. The economies of two countries received well the news of the oil deal, particularly the economy of Sudan that was almost in the status of coma and blackout. The Sudanese pound gained strength after the announcement of the oil deal. A journalist from Khartoum told me that the people of Sudan have now come to realize the South that was projected as a liability is now seen as detrimental to the economic survival of Sudan.
The feeling in the South is rather mixed about the oil deal. Many people did not see rational for assisting the regime in Khartoum with $3 billion with no return as well as pumping their oil again through the hostile neighbor. Despite such concerns, the South is desperate for oil revenue to meet the high expectations of its people. With the oil shutdown in the South, the development activities have been stalled, provision of basic services has been constrained and hyperinflation is negatively affecting the living conditions of every citizen. In fact the oil and other payments deal is the cost of being a land-locked country with a bad neighbour. The only return to the South from this deal is to normalize relations with Sudan and to build confidence to resolve all the pending issues including the final status of Abyei.
As the negotiation of the two countries will resume soon in Addis Ababa, the people of the two countries and international community attach high hopes of reaching amicable resolutions of all the pending issues in the same spirit with which they concluded the oil deal. Resolving the final status of Abyei area will be one of critical issues to be discussed by the two countries. During the last round of talks on Abyei, Sudan delegation argued bitterly that its experience with the secession of the South brought only misery and any attempt to temper again with any part of the territory of Sudan will not be accepted and may cause further conflict. Their position on the final status of Abyei is that it either remains in Sudan or to be partitioned between the two countries as a win-win solution.
The delegation of Sudan argued in such a way as if the issue of Abyei is anew and to be negotiated afresh with no reference to Abyei Protocol, the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) and June 2011 Agreement on Abyei. It was clear that the delegation of Sudan intended to sell the idea of partitioning Abyei as such option was among the options initially entertained by the US and the Panel. It is worth mentioning that the referendum for the people of Abyei is one of the unfinished businesses of the CPA that was not only signed by Sudan and the SPLM but also witnessed by international community including African Union and United Nations. Also the ruling of PCA that defined the area of Ngok Dinka transferred in 1905 from the South to the North is an international binding award. In fact the June 2011 Agreement on Temporary Arrangements for the Administration and Security of Abyei Area confirms not only the validity of Abyei Protocol after expiry of the CPA Interim Period but it also reaffirms the borders of Abyei as per the ruling of PCA. Any aberration from these commitments will not only trigger the root causes of Abyei conflict that were addressed by the CPA but it will also show absolute dishonouring of international obligations towards peaceful resolution of Abyei conflict.
During my meeting in Addis with the US Special Envoy, Ambassador Lyman was very clear about the position of US against any attempt to partition Abyei and that such position was communicated to Sudan and the Panel. Also the European Union Special Envoy also reaffirmed during my meeting with her in Addis the commitment of the European Union to the conduct of Abyei referendum and rejects any suggestion to partition Abyei. The Deputy Prime Ministe of Ethiopia and Chair of IGAD reiterates, during my meeting with him, the unequivocal commitment of Ethiopia and IGAD to the conduct of Abyei referendum within a territory of the Ngok Dinka as defined by the ruling of the PCA. Also the UN Special Envoy stressed in my meeting with him in Addis the unambiguous position of the UN to the conduct of Abyei referendum and its adherence to the ruling of the PCA.
Generally, the international community seems to have a common position of how toresolve the final status of Abyei. The conduct of referendum for the people of Abyei in the area of Dinka Ngok as defined by PCA is the basis upon which the final status of Abyei area would be resolved. The issues that stalled the conduct of Abyei referendum on 9th January 2011 were lack of agreement on the definition of other residents who will be eligible to vote and the chairmanship of the referendum commission. If these two issues are resolved in the next round of talks, then the Parties would have resolved one of the biggest problems hindering the normalization of relations between the two countries. There is a general agreement among the international observers that the criteria for eligibility of other residents to vote in Abyei referendum should be in such a way not to overshadow the views of the indigenous people of the area, the Ngok Dinka.
In fact the ruling of PCA that reduced the area of Abyei from 18,559 km2 as per recommendation of Abyei Boundaries Commission to only 10,460 km2 was to ensure the majority of the Ngok Dinka who are the targets of the referendum to exercise such right without being diluted by others. In fact and as it is well argued by the South that any attempt to allow nomads to vote in Abyei referendum, then Dinka Malual, Dinka Twic, Dinka Awan, Dinka Panarou, Dinka Alor, Bul Nuer and Misseyia Ajaira Arabs who seasonally trespass Abyei area will all be eligible to vote in Abyei referendum. This idea of allowing nomads to vote in Abyei referendum will not only dilute the views of the target indigenous communities of Dinka Ngok and other residents but it will make the conduct of the referendum cumbersome. The valid argument would be that if some members of these nomads become residents of Abyei area then they will not only participate in the referendum as residents but they will also be treated equally and enjoy the same rights with the indigenous Ngok Dinka community.
The South has extended to the Sudan the hand of friendship and cooperation not only through injecting a life to the economy of Sudan by allowing its oil to flow through Sudan but also by availing more than $3 billion as unconditional assistance to Khartoum. As President Bashir committed himself in the last summit to take two steps for every step taken by President Salva towards normalization of relations between the two countries, President Kiir has taken more than one step in the oil and other payment deals. President Bashir should show his commitment in the next around and to walk the talks by accepting the conduct of Abyei referendum for the Ngok Dinka and other residents but not for nomads. The recent agreement between the Ngok Dinka and Misseriyia Ajaira on the core principles for peaceful co-existence sends a clear message to the two countries and international community the commitment of the Ngok Dinka, despite the devastation of their area by the regime in Khartoum and some elements of Misseriyia, to ensure to all nomads the right to pasture and water in their area as well as peaceful co-existence with them. President Bashir must show to the South his commitment to good relations by amicably resolving the final status of Abyei area otherwise he may run the risk of his demise and that of his regime.