Abyei: Abandoned In Unilateral Referendum

BY: Martin Garang Aher, AUSTRALIA, OCT/25/2013, SSN;

Another summit has lately gone by without agreement between the two presidents: Bashir and Kiir, over the future of Abyei. Abyei’s question had tumbled down to a two-man dialogue from both its international and national projection as a deciding region of statehood for South Sudan and possibly Sudan. It is now an issue of table manners for the two heads of states. Since none of the presidents is ready to correct his manners, deadlock continues to rule. What is wrong in the future of Abyei?

Some people in the Republic of Sudan call it the Kashmir of the Sudans by perhaps, inaccurately, contrasting its geographical location, ethnic composition, strategic national security and resources implications and religious affiliation to the region at the foothills of the Himalayas which is controversially administered by three nations: China, India and Pakistan. A very unfortunate comparison indeed!

However, judging by the look of insanity involved in the two regions, Abyei could easily and sadly qualify had the decisive dissimilarity not been that of her history. By settlement, Abyei cannot and has never been synonymous in character with Kashmir. The notoriety of claims by Sudan through Messeriya trans-humance is the problem of the area.

Abyei is a region claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan. It sits perilously on the borders of the two deceptive enemies (South Sudan, to Sudan is the number two enemy state after the state of Israel). It has long been seen along with several other areas as a conflict flashpoint on the North-South borders of the Sudans. Its inhabitants are, according to 2005 Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement, nine Ngok Dinka and others.

Ngok is a Nilotic section of Dinka broadly famous among other Dinka sub-tribes as Ngong Deng Kuol/Majok or Ngong Abyei. Historically, the family of Arop Biong through Kuol Arop and Deng Kuol or Deng Majok and other descendants in the line maintained the chieftaincy of Abyei in what was the volatile part of the last quarter of 19th Century and first quarter of 20thC. This period, according to historians with authority on Sudan such as Douglas Johnson, was when the area experienced intense slave raids.

Pragmatically, Sudanese Arabs saw venturing south through Abyei as a mission of advancing Islamization to the rest of Africa by whatever means necessary. Most of the time, it was through aggression: slave raids, trade, accessing resources or cultural conquest. Oral histories along the borders of Sudan and South Sudan bear no wickedness in stating that the coming of Arabs to Sudan has led to embittered relationships of all times.

Along the borders, the Jieng, the Naath and the Collo continue to tell vigilante stories due to unforeseen attacks. Security at the borders has always continued to be a blister needing caution even from the depth of sleep. Records reveal that an administrative transfer of Abyei to Kordufan in 1905 was a means to curtail or lessen aggressiveness towards Ngok. Aggression towards Ngok has mostly been engendered by the Messeriya section of Humr; now claimants of nativity by transhumance through Abyei.

Other inhabitants of Abyei are non-Ngok Dinka but those who have lived there for generations. These are the ‘others’ acknowledged in the Machakos protocol on Abyei. Note that ‘others’ is an ogre of malevolence and a significant term of substance in Abyei’s case.

The owners of the land, the Ngok Dinka, on own discretion cannot shed off the term even if asked to do so. From ‘others,’ we get the presence of Messeriya Arabs in Abyei who are either historically a welcome group of individual settlers among the population or those who weaved into Ngok communities through intermarriages. If you ask the Ngok Dinka what others in Abyei are, they will precisely point out that so and so over there are the ‘others’ in their region.

Ask anyone in Khartoum and the list may include the planes that fly above the region – a deliberate misunderstanding of facts. So, who are the real Messeriya in Abyei?

From the snapshot above, it should be easy to place Abyei in its rightful place. As the month of October 2013 concludes, sureness and inviolability of life for the natives in Abyei will depend, for better or for worst, on the decision that will be taken by the majority.

Indeed, emotions from failures of the AUHIP and UN Security Council have driven the citizens of Abyei and sympathizers in general to feelings of dissatisfaction, uncertainty as well as a bolstered enragement. Why would they not harbor these feelings when daily life in the region is a terrifying ordeal: full of uncertainty, deprived of natural bequest in terms of oil resources, constantly threaten by Messeriya Arabs and for unknown session, held between the two mystical states that would never ever agree on anything without coercion?

Successive deliberations and negotiations processes have stalled indefinitely leaving Ngok community as in-betweens of Khartoum and Juba. It is on these uncertainties that the citizens of Abyei have decided, stealthily perhaps, to hold independent referendum to determine their national status.

Of course there is a worry. The plebiscite is eclipsed by anecdotal evidence that the Messeriya, armed by the Sudan government and given assurance that they too belong in Abyei, may likely cause bloodbath. Also, Satellite images from Satellite Sentinel Project (SSP) of the Hollywood actor George Clooney and John Prendergast of Enough Project have reported extraordinary Sudanese military activities from their bases closer to Abyei.

Sudan has a potted history of taking advantage of precarious situations. The invasion of Abyei in 2010 in which thousands of civilians were displaced serves as evidence. The killing of paramount chief of Abyei, Kuol Deng Kuol, while accompanied by United Nations Interim Security Force in Abyei (UNISFA) has further exacerbated the resolve to go ahead with the vote.

What is the position of South Sudan in this mess? The vocal push by South Sudanese politicians and notable figures had fuelled the desire for the citizens of Abyei to go forward with voting decision regardless of formal agreement on the matter. One is surprised by South Sudan government reversion in tone and support for the people of Abyei.

Whatever eventuality that the people of Abyei may encounter, South Sudan should know that it is part of it. Denial of reality is simply unprincipled and dangerous.

It would have made rational sense if the Sudans resolved Abyei’s self-determination exercise in a manner that reckons responsibility and value of human life. Leaving the inhabitants of Abyei to decide their own fate is indistinguishable from entrenching inter-state animosity between the Sudans and between Abyei and her Messeriya neighbours for eternity. It is too late now.

In answer to the question of the real Messeriya, consider that every year millions of passengers go through Heathrow Airport in the UK on their way to greener pastures anywhere in the world. If by strange happening UK votes to determine her fate, whether to go to Mars or remains on earth, it will be only the Whites indigenous and Chinese or Indian or African ‘others’ permanently based in The UK that will determine UK’s future.

Not millions of Chinese, Indians and Africans that go through Heathrow.

Messeriya on maroon cows passing through Abyei are comparable to passengers on an Airbus A380 passing through the UK. It is the transit fee that is needed to be paid.

Martin Garang Aher is a South Sudanese living in Australia. He can be reached at garangaher@hotmail.com


  1. Tyson says:

    Dear Aher,
    Kiir has failed the people of Abyei. He is busy amassing the money from the oil while the people of Abyei are suffering beyond human imagination.
    The people of Abyei should go ahead with the referendum and shut down the oil flow so that the two monsters have no oil to bath in. This is the only way the international community will wake up.

  2. Deng Amos Achol says:

    Those who abandoned Abyei God must deal with them. We must pray hard to see Abyei back to south Sudan. No any place in Arab world called Abyei.

  3. Malith Alier says:

    It is bizarre to form Abyei Administration again that includes Mesirya when people of the area have voted overwhelmingly in favour of joining the RSS. I fully supported the unilateral action taken by Abyei sons and daughters in the face of abandonment. It is an act of courage and determination.

  4. Dear Tyson, Deng Achol and Malith Alier:

    Your comments have touched my grieving heart. In fact, I’m not from Abyei but I have lost 3 handsome and brave brothers in the battle of Abyei when the Sudanese army seized Abyei in May 2011. I hope you are aware of the fact that president Kiir assured the people of Abyei and the entire South Sudanese Community, when the Sudanese Army seized Abyei in May 2011, that he would not fight Bashir’s troops until he raised the independent Flag of South Sudan on July 9th,2011. The South Sudan flag was proudly and highly raised and nothing was done about the presence of the Sudanese Army in Abyei. Also when the Paramount Chief of the Ngok Dinka (Kuol(Adol) Deng Kuol) was assassinated by the Sudanese Army in cold Blood in Abyei, president Kiir told the people of Abyei that he would not retaliate or do anything to jeopardize the Abyei Referendum in October, 2013. What a lie?

    Now the referendum is here and the people of Abyei are being abandoned once again by president Kiir and his thugs in Juba. I wonder, what president Kiir would tell the people of Abyei and the entire Community of South Sudan this time. Would he tell the people of Abyei that Deng Alor has wired South Sudanese money to Kenya without his permission and that he would no longer support the Ngok Dinka people? Or Would he tell the people of Abyei that he would support their case when he finishes transporting the South Sudan Oil through the Sudanese territory? I don’t know if something is wrong with president Kiir or the people who advise him? Is he really thinking logically Or Is he being a chicken, confused and wrongly driven by his illiterate and incompetent advisers?

    In June 2004, president Kiir promised the people of Abyei when he and late Dr.John Garang visited Abyei to sell the CPA to the Ngok Dinka that he and the people of the greater Bhar El Ghazal Region would go to War if the Abyei is right for self determination is denied and the rest of the South Sudanese do not want to continue fighting for the liberation of Abyei.

    Mr. President, What happens to your promise of going to war for the cause of Abyei?

    Folks, I’m thoroughly confused about the unfolding situation in Abyei now. Who is refusing to fight for the liberation of Abyei now? Is it president Kiir or the people of South Sudan? Mr. President, Why did you send my brothers to go and perish in the battle in Abyei if you knew you would not follow through with your pledge? The case of Abyei and its’ abandonment would make you lose your leadership soon if not your life. Shame,Shame, Shame on you, Shame on your leadership and shame on your hometown presidential advisers. The soul of my brothers and that of the Ngok Dinka paramount Chief Kuol (Adol) Deng Kuol would curse you should you trade the land of the Ngok Dinka to Omer Al Bashir for the Oil.

    “The truth hurts but it is worth telling it”
    Lukudu Gatkuoth Garang!


  5. To My Dear Compatriot Malith Alier:

    Abyei people are going to get nothing! Even though they have unilateral taken action! Their MOVE IS STUPID!!! The outcome of the referendum,is going be nill and void! The Abyei issue is on the CROSSROAD! Juba,and Khartoum,they will do nothing at this point!

    Well,I do not see any good reasons why Ngok Dinka,do not like Arab Messiriyya?? SPLM/SPLA under the leadership of late Dr.John Garang De Mabior.He said in his speeches in chapter one that he was fighting the whole Sudan? Fighting the whole Sudan why?????!! What is the problem???????!!!!!!

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