Appeasing local leaders on Abyei or the ‘Mile 14 Area’ will come at a cost

By: Justin Ambago Ramba

November 3, 2012 (SSNA) — No wonder that the implementation of the Comprehensive Cooperation Agreement(CCA) signed on 27 September 2012 between the two Sudans which includes,  oil exportation and security arrangement as well as trade border is back in limbo following Khartoum’s rejection of the African Union Peace and Security Council’s (AUPSC) unanimous position on Abyei.

The AUPSC in its bid to sort out things chose to give both Sudan and South Sudan a period of six weeks in which it’s hoped that the two sides may be able to reach a negotiated settlement on the border demarcation but especially so on how to hold the referendum in Abyei come October  2013. However what followed is typical of the Sudanese north versus south politics. South Sudan approved of the AUPSC decision, while Khartoum chose to reject it.

The nomadic Messeiriya Arabs have already expressed their disagreement to Khartoum’s proposal of dividing Abyei into two parts between Sudan and South Sudan. Surprising though it is Russia, an old ally to Khartoum,  who supports the view to divide the territory, even when the Arab nomads oppose it. Probably it is time that Khartoum realizes that it is the Messeiriya Arabs and not the Russians who will be affected by any decision taken on Abyei.

If at all the Messeiriya Arab nomads are genuine in their demands for water and pasture, then an undivided Abyei will offer that for them on the condition that they do not lay any claims to the land. The current territory of Abyei has already been granted to the nine Dinka Ngok chieftains by the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague.

It beats logic to hear that Khartoum and their proxies in the Messeiriya are still eyeing to have the post PCA Abyei. Khartoum may want to have a part of this Oil rich territory because of its mineral resources and that’s why it suggests the territory be divided. However that might not be their sole aim, as the National Congress Party (NCP) of Al Bashir could as well  just be putting hurdles in the way of finding any peaceful settlement to the Abyei Problem,  for this is a regime that cannot exist without crisis. And as such  they must create some.

As for the Messeiriya Arab nomads, dividing Abyei between the Sudan and South Sudan will only leave them with the northern part of the territory which is already witnessing desertification at the most unprecedented pace. They are aware that such a hasty policy will later on backfire when the real future of grazing lies deep in the South Sudan hinterland. Again, they also understand too well that the Ngok Dinka are no longer ready to surrender more land to them.

In fact when it comes to the politics of Southern Kordofan and Southern Darfur, it can be seen that Khartoum is literally walking on a tight but thin rope. The Baggara tribes of the Rezeigat and their cousins (though often fighting one another) the Messeiriya are a group of people that can easily change loyalties whenever their local interests are threatened. 

It’s actually an open secret that there are many Rezeigat and Messeiriya recruits in the ranks and files of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the Sudan Liberation Movement (Minni Minnawi and Abdel Wahid el Nur factions) as well as the Sudan People Liberation Movement / North (SPLA-N) rebel groups which are battling the NCP led government in Khartoum.

It seems that as Khartoum is afraid of the UN Security Council’s (UNSC) Chapter Seven on its head it is also worried about the fluid position of the Baggara tribes of Southern Darfur and Southern Kordofan. This is clearly demonstrated by the way that the NCP is easily forced to sign agreements with either the government of the neighboring Republic of South Sudan on issues of borders and Abyei on one hand or reach settlements with the SPLM-N as it happened in Addis Ababa (Malik Agar / Nafie Ali Nafie Agreement), but only to return home and renege on it in order to please it’s Baggara constituency.

The SPLM led government in Juba is no better either. For when the SPLM delegation to the Abyei PCA in The Hague failed to defend the South Sudan’s territorial right over Panthou/Heglig, the delegation and in fact the whole government came under intense fire from the grassroots. The people of Pariang didn’t especially take it well as they saw in it what they interpreted as an attempt by the government in Juba to trade Panthou in return for Abyei. These are sentiments of course, but they are real and deserve addressing.

Again there was the Abyei war, and then followed by the Panthou/Heglig war. How these wars begun and how they both ended remain an issue of huge controversial arguments amongst the South Sudanese people. This is even more so amongst the communities in the areas in question.

What is common between the two unfriendly neighbors (South Sudan & Sudan) in spite of the recently signed so-called comprehensive nine protocol cooperation agreement (better known as the September Agreement to remind people of the infamous September Laws of Neimeri), is that both countries are run by two totalitarian regimes.

This has been eloquently described by none but the outspoken opposition politician Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement /Democratic Change (SPLM-DC) I one of his writings , when he said: “during the CPA interim period the Sudan was a one country with two systems, however following the 9th July 2011 independence of South Sudan from Sudan, we now have two countries with one system”.

Both the Khartoum’s NCP and Juba’s SPLM are notoriously known for presenting their views in the international fora or even reaching  internationally binding agreements without consulting with their grassroots. And as such each and every agreement they sign in the name of their people are often rejected at home.

While the Agar/Nafie Addis Ababa Agreement represents an example of how things can go wrong in the Sudan, the recent inclusion of the “Mile 14 Area” in the demilitarized zone between the two countries and the loss of Panthou/Heglig during  the Abyei PCA settlement are  the South Sudan’s equivalents.

Nonetheless both ruling parties (SPLM & NCP) continue to struggle with how to appease their supporters in the disputed areas coupled with the buying of loyalties whenever a controversial deal is struck. As for Khartoum it is well known for not only dragging its feet when it comes to the implementation of agreements, but it even renege the whole truce all together.

However sooner than later some of these irresponsible behaviors are likely to do away with whatever little credibility is left for these political organisations. They can as well create a new tension in the already strained relation with the international community.

It only suffices here to say that any attempt by Khartoum to appease the Messeiriya warlords by blocking the Abyei Referendum, in the face of what is an unanimous decision by the AUPSC  will definitely expose the regime  to the wrath of the international community.  On the other hand Juba may face a similar fate should it attempt to stroll an extra mile trying to appease General Paul Malong Awan, Governor of Northern Bahr Ghazal State as he and his people stand opposed to the inclusion of Mile 14 Area in the demilitarized zone.

The bottom line is that  there will definitely be an inevitable  cost should any of the two governments subscribe to satisfy the local leaders in either the’Mile 14 Area’ or  Abyei at the expense of the AUPSC brokered truce. And this must be clear!

Author: Dr. Justin Ambago Ramba. Secretary General United South Sudan Party (USSP). He can be reached at: [email protected],uk or [email protected]

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