By Majok Nikodemo Arou Nyieth
May 6, 2012 (SSNA) — The position adopted by the International community over the recent standoff in Panthou/Heglig between the armies of South Sudan and Sudan has evoked the local fable of a lion who had claimed to be a natural mother of a bull amid the bewilderment of other animals who could not understand how would a male lion give birth to the bull.
When the lion realised that the animals kept silent about his assertion out of fear, he asked a fox about his opinion. Keeping some distance, the fox said: “I’m in hurry because my father is in labour.” The lion frowned and asked him whether his father could deliver a baby! The fox wondered, “but sir you just said to be the mother of the bull.”
The International Community without even verifying who owns Panthou/Heglig, jumped to the misleading conclusion that Panthou belongs to North Sudan. It is apparent that the North Sudanese governments had since mid 1960s planned carefully to annex big swathes of Southern Sudan lands, using their high profile foreign relations, military force and media apparatus. But the Khartoum efforts did not go smoothly without challenge anyway.
During the discovery of oil in Bentiu area, North-West of Southern Sudan region in mid 1970s, the Sudanese government then led by the late President Ja’fer Mohammed Numeri, started to refer to the areas in which the oil was discovered as the areas South of Khartoum, a well calculated attempt not to refer to Bentiu or Southern Sudan, to the chagrin of Southern Sudanese.
Numeri then started to create instability in Southern Sudan by removing and reshuffling the governments in Southern Sudan from 1978- 1983, to stifle the Addis Ababa Agreement on one hand, and weaken Southern Sudan in order to rob the oil on the other hand.
In December 1980, President Numeri decided to annex the Northern areas of Southern Sudan: Renk, Bentiu and Raja to the North. The decision was outright rejected by the regional government of Southern Sudan and people of Southern Sudan. The students took to the streets across Southern Sudan to resist the decision. Numeri bowed before the storm and recalled his decision. But he later issued a decree making Bentiu area as al-Wahda Province in 1981, and declared himself as a Commissioner of the new Province. He also renamed Panthou to become Heglig, a prelude to annex it later to the North.
Numeri did not forget the defiance exhibited by the High Executive Council (Southern Sudan government) led by Abel Alier and Southern Sudanese at large. So he dissolved the government in retaliation to Juba stance for the second time in October 1981. The first dissolution of the High Executive Council led by General Joseph Lago was in 1979.
In early 1980s, Southern Sudanese were united over the borders and oil issues. So they pressed President Numeri very hard that he formed the committee chaired by the then Chief Justice Khalfallah Rasheed. The Southern Sudanese were represented. The committee recommended the retention of boundaries fixed on 1st January 1956 as stipulated by the Addis Ababa Agreement (1972). The committee recommended that all oilfields, including Heglig, were part of Southern Sudan and Ja’far Numeri accepted the recommendations of the committee. The resolution was on the paper only because Khartoum has ulterior motives as it revealed later.
As he drew closer to the Northern Sudanese parties in 1977, Numeri became bullish and started to encourage the local political rivalries in Southern Sudan, and eventually abrogated the Addis Ababa Agreement in 1983. He was once quoted as saying “Addis Ababa Agreement is not Quran or Bible”. All those tactics were employed by Khartoum to weaken and divide Southern Sudan to steal the natural resources.
Nonetheless, the Chickens have come home to roost when President Numeri repeated the Torit Blunder of 1955 by ordering the transfer of the absorbed Anya Nya 1 soldiers to the North. It was the straw that broke the camel back when the Southern Sudanese soldiers defied the transfer orders to the North. The turmoil, which was building rapidly across Southern Sudan culminated with the mutinies spreading in many towns in Southern Sudan, notably, Bor, Ayod and Pibor. Those rebellions formed the basis of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement led by the late Dr John Garang De Mabior from 1983- 2005.
During 1990s Khartoum’s fugitive President Omer el-Bashir continued his attempts to annex Panthou. During the inauguration of Panthou/Heglig Oilfields in 1997, the governors of Unity Michael Mayil and Abdulrahman Mukhtar of Western Kordofan were both there to receive President el-Beshir. Mayil was taken aback when he learnt that Mukhtar was in accordance with the programme to deliver the welcoming speech because Panthou was allegedly part of Western Kordofan! The two governors were indulged in the heated argument. But el-Beshir interfered and ordered the two governors to deliver their speeches.
After couples of years, the issue of Panthou/Heglig surfaced again. The new governor of al-Wahda Dr Joseph Monytuil Wejang and that of Western Kordofan presented different reports about Panthou/Heglig. The el-Beshir Cabinet (Before the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed) was divided following the intense argument over Panthou. The Southern Sudanese supported Wejang, while the Northern Sudanese supported the governor of Western Kordofan.
During the peace talks in Nairobi, Khartoum quickly manipulated all the evidence that show Panthou belongs to Southern Sudan. It started a media campaign that Panthou, which is more or less 56km inside Southern Sudan belongs to them. Just before the Population Census in 2008, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) forced the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) to withdraw from Kharsana, North of Panthou and (known locally by Panrou Dinka section as Majak Yeth). The SPLA/M Chairman, then President of the Government of South Sudan General Salva Kiir Mayardit, was worried that any confrontation with the SAF could derail the Referendum. So he adopted the low profile stance regarding the confrontation with the SAF despite the aggressions, and over the issue of Population Census results that sharply underestimated the population of Southern Sudanese for political ends, especially in Khartoum.
The recent crisis over Panthou/Heglig demonstrated that South Sudanese had placed a blind confidence on the international community regarding Panthou. They understand now that the international community is not a social club nor a charity organisation, but it is guided by lobbying and interests. In the light of high profile propaganda, Khartoum, which had misconstrued the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA) ruling over Abyie, managed to hoodwink many countries to believe it was the legitimate mother of Panthou/Heglig (like the lion in the fable).
Yet the recent confrontation over Panthou/Heglig has one more rekindled hopes of South Sudan to regain back Panthou amid the intense shuttle diplomacy though a bit late, but extremely important to let the world understand the reality.
The fox of South Sudan will now tell the world that Khartoum wasn’t the rightful mother of Panthou/Heglig after all as the people of South Sudan in general and people of al-Wahda State in particular are now more than ready to claim not only Panthou/Heglig, but also Majak Yeth (Kharsana), North of Panthou at an international arbitrary court or other legitimate means.
The author is a South Sudanese journalist based in Abu Dhabi and reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org