Between Abyei and South Sudan: A covenant a great chief has sealed with his Life

BY: Taban Abel Aguek, RUMBEK, SEPT/17/2013, SSN;

With a few weeks to Abyei’s referendum, though there is that scepticism whether the plebiscite will take place as proposed by the AU or not, it is also important to recall to mind the death of a prominent Dinka Ngok chief, Kuol Deng Kuol and all the SPLA martyrs that lost their lives during the May 2011 invasion of Abyei by Sudan Armed Forces.

The death of paramount chief of Abyei is a great loss not only to the Ngok Dinka of Abyei only but to all people of South Sudan.

Chief Kuol was killed as he was moving around Abyei and its neighborhood in a dire quest for peace and harmony between his people and the Arab nomads that also claim the ownership of the oil rich area.

The circumstances of his death puts him along the important pages of history alongside those of Kon Anok of Aliab, Ariath Makuendit, Gbudwe Basingi, Ngun Deng and many other South Sudanese chiefs and kings who gave their lives in different struggles for freedom of South Sudan right from the colonial era to the present day.

One of the biggest ironies of the Sudan–South Sudan contentious issues is that Abyei is a contested area. Some areas along the wide unmarked border between the Sudan and South Sudan may, due to the turbulent nature and bad blood between two countries, be can be classified as disputed, but not Abyei.

Abyei – by its features, people and history – is genuinely a South Sudan’s territory. The original permanent inhabitants of Abyei are Dinka. The Ngok Dinka people are no different from other Dinka groups in Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile.

The Dinka customs, traditions and ways of life are all the same beginning from language to all other aspects of culture and society norms.

The Dinka trace their lineage to one end. However, they have mixed up all over the regions they currently settled as a result of free migration of the days before the British colonization.

In the area of Aliab, for instance, the clan of Biri from Magok Payam, Awerial County, is originally Ngok Dinka. The Apuk clan of Bunagok payam, Awerial County, migrated from Apuk of Gogrial in Warrap State.

By this, it is impertinent that many of the Dinka clans in other states may have direct clan brothers in Abyei today.

You can even leave all that, but look at the area and the name ‘Abyei’. ‘Abyei’ is a Dinka word for one of the most popular trees across all Dinka lands. When you know Abyei and think about what has been going on about this area for so many decades now only myriads of questions come to mind.

The sons and daughters of Abyei have stood firm in their demand to go where they truly and rightly believe their hearts belong – South Sudan.

During the SPLM/A war they fought alongside the South. The sons and daughters of Abyei never made anything secret about their destiny. They equally shed their blood and lost their lives in the struggle for South Sudanese.

The late Nyankol Mathiang’s music contribution and different other different contributions by sons and daughters of Abyei, Nuba and Funj to this country’s struggle shall always remain in our hearts and minds.

There is nothing more we can say about Southern kordofan and Blue Nile since they now belong to Sudan of President Omer al Beshir, but we shall always continue to talk about Abyei.

South Kordofan and Blue Nile’s case should have been held under the popular consultations. Failure by Beshir and NCP to conduct popular consultations in an inclusive and transparent manner resulted in the war in that region.

Again, how to control that war and any other issues in that territory lie in the hands of the government of Sudan.

Abyei’s case, even if it should never have, needed a referendum that was supposed to be held alongside the South Sudan referendum in 2011. It never happened and it is one of areas in records that have never been implemented in the CPA.

The government and public of South Sudan generally endorsed the Abyei referendum that was originally scheduled to take place in January 2011. But it never happened because the NCP and the Khartoum government blatantly foiled the area’s plebiscite.

And from there on, the same government of Sudan continues to drag South Sudan across dark roads over the issue of Abyei and creating problems one after another. It has become a game of chess with strings attached to other parallel issues and all kind of trickeries and propaganda.

The issue of Abyei was referred to the International Court in The Hague. The ruling was just as expected: Abyei awarded to the nine Dinka chiefdoms with Misserya Arabs granted only temporary grazing rights during the season it is dry in their homeland.

The Misserya have their homeland or any other ‘land’ we will never know. The Misseriya come to Abyei when it is dry season and when they don’t have water where they are supposed to be.

The Hague ruling that all parties in the former united Sudan had pledged to welcome was violated by none other than North Sudan. Instead of keeping their word, the NCP went into their fox-drawer and produced a new issue altogether.

Until this time it is wrapped around another baseless case: that the misserya have to be granted a voting right in Abyei – and to this day it is the last stalemate that has delayed the Abyei’s referendum, kept Abyei in the agenda of Africa’s issues that need to be resolved or may altogether set a scene not so serene but dotted with grudges, strained relationship or an all-out-war.

When you critically look at the NCP’s demand that the messeirya be allowed in the referendum you are only left with nothing else but pity. First of all, the right for messerya to vote in the Abyei referendum was not enshrined in the CPA.

Secondly, the NCP government in Khartoum agreed at the time the Abyei case was in the The Hague that it shall abide by the ruling. The ruling later was: Abyei for the Ngok Dinka. Now, from where does Khartoum get the clause that allows the messerya to vote in the Abyei referendum and from which legal ground does NCP feel their demand should be done?

It is clear what Sudan wants in Abyei is oil, but South Sudan wants its people. In real sense, Abyei land, oil and people belong to South Sudan. But khartoum simply plays wrangles because it needs oil.

The world is a strange place. It is why we discuss Abyei. If the world is never being governed by firm and rightful laws then let Abyei be left to be contested by the Dinka and the Messerya tribes. Tribe against tribe, in all aspects, the messerya cannot stand against the Dinka in what rightfully belongs to them.

But that Abyei be annexed to Sudan is impossible. If Abyei is annexed by force by Sudan then the world and Africa will have a problem to solve for so many years to come. There can be another war and a possible genocide worse than what happened in Darfur.

And the same way it has been difficult for successive Sudanese Arab regimes to manage the South Sudan in a united Sudan for so many decades, Abyei – though very much smaller – will not be any different.

Abyei is a South Sudanese land and it shall remain so. There are those who have persistently claimed that Abyei was given away to South Kordofan by chief Deng Majok. South Sudanese know very well that this is a making by some sections within the NCP who are on witch-hunt mission to get meaningless reasons to cling on to Abyei.

Now that false story of Deng Majok aside, another great chief (another Deng Majok’s son) has sealed an everlasting covenant between Abyei and South Sudan – this time – with his own blood.

What the AU should do is to sternly stick to its resolution for holding referendum in Abyei in October, 2013 by Abyei Dinka and the Messeriya people that permanently reside in Abyei.

If the world fails to control the issue of Abyei, Africa will not control it; if Africa fails to support the true justice about Abyei problems between Sudan and South Sudan shall just remain a sandwiched between the two old things: war and peace or war and hand shakes.

But in the end, the truth triumphs. By all means Abyei with its land and people will come to where its belongs, South Sudan.

Taban Abel Aguek is a Member of State Parliament in Rumbek, Lakes State. He can be reached at

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