June 28, 2013 (SSNA) — This article is in reply to the question posed by one of those who read my June 15th, 2013 opinion piece titled: On Abyei enough is enough. I wished to address the reader’s concern much earlier but my little bit busy schedule at the time I read his/her responsive concern couldn’t allow me to do so. Now that I have got some ample time I would like to answer his/her shilling concern no matter how unsatisfactory to him/her it shall sound. In the process of answering I beg the questioner to bear with me as I take him/her through somehow delicate historical trajectory that snakes around the story. The reader though appreciated me for the elaborate way I tackled the subject matter, s/he remained in the dark on what Abyei will be, a state or a county like Pibor, if it joins Republic of South Sudan by which ever means. S/he told me I fell short of telling him/her and the rest of what status Abyei shall be if it is incorporated into South Sudan. For him/her s/ he loathed Abyei becoming a state of its own. Should that happen, s/he said his/her home county of Pibor should as well be made a state. This fear is not found in this particular reader alone, several brothers and sisters in different parts of our beloved country share the same with him/her. The skepticism is traced to the distribution of power and resources that accompanies the creation of geo-political units not only in South Sudan but the world over as well.
In South Sudan different from other countries, sadly the process of creating such units is shrouded in serious flaws. Instead of bringing services closer to the people, the process is adversely used to reward the few while denying more deserving multitude. This is the case when all states and counties irrespective of land mass and population sizes are treated equally and not equitably in sharing out both national and states’ annual budgets among them. That is the main concern bothering our brother/sister in particular and the rest in general.
However, this narrative cannot proceed without the privilege of sharing with you the fact that I actually wrote this article in the dead of the night of Tuesday 25th June 2013 at Africa Regional Conference on an Inter-party dialogue and democratic consolidation in Naivasha Simba Lodge where the late hero Dr.John Garang heatedly negotiated Comprehensive Peace Agreement with Ali Osman Taha. And in a spacious suit not far away from the one that housed John Garang throughout the entire negotiations period, now turned into a mini-museum of sorts. This flash back, has undoubtedly given me the accurate view of the details behind Abyei’s protocol, being the subject currently under discussion.
To answer the concerned questioner and the rest of his/her colleagues in the interactive world of social media, during the negotiation of Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Naivasha eight years ago, the area became as it is still today the focus of dispute between the north and the south. Each side claims it as its own. To defuse the tension that almost brought the negotiations to a standstill; the mediators suggested the area should be administered right in the centre, the presidency until its fate is decided through peaceful referendum by native nine Ngok Dinka fiefdoms. The Presidency at the time was joint one under President Omar Hassan Albashir and First Vice President Salva Kiir Mayardit when our late hero Dr. John Garang unfortunately and suddenly passed on. Abyei Currently continues to enjoy the same special status but under separate presidencies of both Sudan and South Sudan until it goes in one way or another. That is to be an integral part of South Kordofan State if it goes north or Warap State if it turns out to become part of the new Republic of South Sudan.
Therefore, it is not the largeness of land mass and neither the population size as some people may think that makes Abyei a special case with distinct geo-political status. It is rather the conflict over its ownership as each rival side claims the disputed territory for itself being the reason behind such a status. For Abyei occupies an area of 4,000 square kilometers with an estimated population of far less than three hundred thousand souls. All the two features fit Abyei in the category of a county, especially in demographic term of population.
However, what cannot be ruled out is the likely hood of it being declared a state if it joins South Sudan as some people in the area band around such an idea. They can even be at liberty to exploit the absence of legal provision that could determine what geographical area and population size the state supposes to have.
The exploitation of this provisional vacuum exactly came to light during 2008 SPLM’s Second National Convention when Abyei was awarded roughly over thirty delegates several times above the number of each county’s delegates and slightly below that of state’s delegates. That alludes to the fear currently gripping those who suspect Abyei shall be rammed down the throat of South Sudanese as the 11th State of South Sudan despite its tiny geographical area and population size. With callous aim of getting robust resources it doesn’t deserve from the national pool.
But that should not be the issue people could get bogged down on with unnecessary waste of valuable time and energy debating about it. It is not a necessity at the moment whether it shall be a county or a state for it is fool hardy to quarrel over who should get what chunk of meat from the game that is still alive and kicking in the wild and yet to be killed. And it would do us more justice to avoid any divisive question about Abyei that aims to get us backward rather than forward as some people might need to pose it as an excuse to make the area look like the preserve of Ngok Dinka with sole responsibility to liberate it. This negative concept is coupled with the blame game as to how Abyei switched side to the north in 1905 in the first place and at times causes some people to say that is none of their business to liberate the land that is now threatening the return of two hostile neighbors to war. Without asking themselves, if people of Abyei like Pieng Deng, Deng Alor and only to mention a few from Abyei participated in liberation of South Sudan in which we are today, why shouldn’t the concerned individuals mind liberating Abyei? Their inverted thinking is not isolated anyway. It is the same thing which causes a relative unease between the ex-allies in original SPLM/A at presence. Divided into two separate entities by South Sudan independence in 2011, the SPLM north faults SPLM South for deliberately using it in pursuit of liberation of South Sudan the former had nothing to do with.
Additionally, skeptics ought to know that any piece of land that lies within the national borders doesn’t give its local inhabitants the prerogative to either annex it to another country or liberate it if invaded by a neighbor. It is the duty of national army to either defend or liberate it if invaded by a hostile neighbor. What may be needed from the natives of the area is the emotional urge that can serve as morale booster for the national armed forces in the course of liberating the area from the invaders. Conversely, resources in any integral part of South Sudan like it is the case in several unitary states globally are well defined within the national revenue bracket except the allocated percentage as may be determined by the country’s national constitution.
Hence, in a nutshell Abyei like any other disputed border areas such as Heglig, Kupranath, etc. with people and immense mineral wealth should be wrested from the control of anybody that claims them as his. Their resources no matter how minute they may be shouldn’t be traded off as small benefits that spoil what are considered to be bigger gains extracted from oil fields currently in operation. 1999 inaugural opening of Bentiu oil fields to the benefit of the rival north and to our advantage should not in any way repeat itself. Not to allow continuing under our nose and watch is the issue of Kapoeta gold presently being mined by foreigners in cohorts with local cartels and neither the same to be allowed to take roots in West and Central Equatoria States where timbers are illegally logged by outsiders next door. This is the responsibility of any leadership with constitutional obligation to dutifully safeguard public interests and not least that of future generation which shouldn’t be mortgaged for the comfort of the present few. Overlooking such matters of posterity is the reference point at which the governing party SPLM scores poorly for it desperately pursues short term interests that are more beneficial to it directly. One of these short term interests is the way it is being high on its toes to cut deal on oil flow with Sudan government that has snatched many parts of our land with people and resources. Desperate to refill bank accounts that have run drier due to oil shut down and subsequent biting austerity, SPLM’s big men are ever busy to ensure Tharjath and Polouch’s oil flows north again while leaving to their fate people and resources trapped in disputed border territories already over run by Sudan.
Deng Vanang is a Journalist and member of SPLM-DC’s National Executive Council. He can be reached at:[email protected]. NB: The views expressed above are solely mind and not attributed to SPLM-DC as the party.