PART SIX: THE SECOND MARGINALIZATION OF ABYEI
How Abyei got left out of the peace dividends
So, all that you have said relates to the first part of history repeating itself, and that is your role in the peace process, which parallels your role in the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement. When and how did the part relating to Abyei come in?
Francis Mading Deng
The way history repeated itself on Abyei relates to the failure to honor the agreement. The Abyei Protocol of the CPA gave the people of Abyei the same right granted them by the Addis Ababa Agreement to decide by a referendum whether to remain in the North or join the South. The Abyei referendum was to be held simultaneously with the self-determination of South Sudan after a six-month interim period. Only the Ngok Dinka of the Nine Chiefdoms were to vote in the referendum. The Abyei Protocol provided that ‘other residents’ of Abyei, which meant the non-Ngok who normally resided in Abyei, would also participate in the referendum. During the interim period, the people of Abyei were to be dual citizens of Sudan and South Sudan.
The territory of the Nine Ngok Dinka Chiefdoms was to be demarcated by the Abyei Boundaries Commission created under the Protocol and whose finding was to be final and binding. Khartoum however rejected the determination of the ABC on the ground that they had exceeded their mandate. The issue was then taken to the International Court of Arbitration, which revised the ABC map and reduced Ngok Dinka territory as defined by the ABC by one third.
So far, from what you have said, the case of Abyei seems to have been taken good care of. What went wrong?
Francis Mading Deng
In a way, the path that led to Abyei being left out of a fully consolidated agreement had been charted from the time South Sudan was defined by the Addis Ababa Agreement as comprising the three Southern provinces, with Abyei being a special case for separate consideration. The pattern was continued by the 1994 Chukudum deal with the Umma Party and the 2002 Machakos Agreement with the Sudan government. Although the Abyei Protocol of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was an improvement, Sudan blocked the Abyei referendum by imposing unacceptable conditions, foremost of which was that the Missiriya must share in the interim administration of Abyei and vote in the referendum.
History then repeated itself in the sense that the experience of Abyei under the Addis Ababa Agreement was being replicated. Sudan blocked the implementation of the Agreement over Abyei and South Sudan did not want to confront Sudan over the case of Abyei. Meanwhile, peace prevailed between Sudan and South Sudan and their bilateral relations became increasingly cordial, but Abyei continued to suffer from repeated attacks by the Missiriya militants backed by the security forces of Sudan Government.
This is the context in which I made the proposal for the interim stabilization of Abyei. The core of the proposal is that while the issue of the final status of Abyei is being discussed, the area of Abyei urgently needs peace, security and stability. The elements of this interim arrangement comprises ensuring the security of the area through complementary partnership between the UN Protection Force and local capabilities; allowing the people to govern themselves without the involvement of the Missiriya; providing them with essential services and development opportunities; supporting the return of their internally displaced pupation and refugees; and promoting peaceful coexistence with their neighbors to the North and South. This arrangement was to be agreed upon by the two governments with international guarantees.
The search for a common ground
Your critics argue that you have been developing ideas individually without consulting the Community. They claim that even the recent support for the proposal is only by small groups projected in the social media as the overwhelming majority of the Ngok Dinka. What do you say to that?
Francis Mading Deng
Unfortunately, much of that is denial of the facts on the ground and the conviction on the part of a few but vocal individuals that only their view should count. We give them credit for having struggled and sacrificed a great deal. Many of their comrades in arms lost their lives. We owe them eternal gratitude. But as President Salva Kiir said when he honored some of us who did not participate in the armed liberation movement, and as I have hopefully elucidated in my recollections, the struggle took many forms.
Besides, a basic principle of conflict management and resolution is to try to fit yourself in the shoes of your opponent and see his point of view in order to explore a common ground. Rights and wrongs are never one sided, although they are not necessarily equally shared. To assume that you are fully in the right and your opponents totally in the wrong is a zero-sum perception of conflict that cannot facilitate agreement
It is true that I initially developed the proposal while I was at the UN. No idea emerges from a group without an individual initiating it. And the initiator must first prepare the ground for strategic support before broadening the search for wider endorsement. After first presenting the proposal to our people in varying groups, it was widely accepted by the Ngok Dinka on the ground, but opposed by some members of the SPLM in Juba. From the time I initiated the proposal in 2014, some of the critics have been arguing that our people are close to achieving their objective of joining South Sudan and that the proposal is a hindrance to our progress. The achievement of our objective has eluded us since then. Over the years, the proposal continued to be debated.
In October 2021, while I was in the United States, I was invited by the Abyei Community United and Abyei Women’s Revolution worldwide to explain the proposal. The outcome was an overwhelming support for the proposal. Recently, the Ngok Community formed Abyei Voice for Security and Stability to promote the adoption and implementation of the proposal. Together with a wider group called Keep It Confidential, they organized a month-long workshop which deliberated over the proposal, made some amendments, and reformulated it under five clusters: Security, self-rule, development, return, and peaceful coexistence with all the neighbors.
The proposal was overwhelmingly adopted to be owned by the Ngok Dinka people and no longer identified with me personally. It was then taken to Abyei. Although rejected by some vocal members of the Ngok Community in the SPLM in Juba and the Chief Administrator in Abyei, it was popularly discussed and overwhelmingly adopted by eight out of the Nine Chiefdoms whose Chiefs and the Paramount Chief signed the document of endorsement. Even the Ninth Chief who sided with the Administrator in Abyei and the rejectionists in Juba, did not have the support of his people who favored the proposal. He eventually joined his peers, the Chiefs of the Eight Chiefdoms and the Paramount Chief.
Your critics say that you have divided the Ngok Community and that the division of the people of Abyei may be used as an excuse for inaction. How do you respond to that criticism?
Francis Mading Deng
Division and damage come from those who fail to see the facts on the ground and acknowledge that there is another point of view. They think that their view is the only valid point of view. They see no need for building bridges toward a common ground. It is this kind of uncompromising stance that is dividing our people and causing damage. They say that we need the support of South Sudan for us to achieve our goal. Of course, we agree, which is why I have kept the leadership of the Government of South Sudan fully informed and have sought their support throughout the process.
They say that our proposal will never be accepted by the Sudan. But why do they think that their position, which is more uncompromising, would be more acceptable to Khartoum than our proposal, which is premised on the search for a common ground? They say that Khartoum can be pressured into giving in. The fact is that short of a persuasive argument, no government or organization is going to come in and impose a solution on a sovereign state.
Such forceful intervention, which in the end could generate violent confrontation and sacrificing the lives of citizens, is only possible under three conditions. The first is where the targeted country has collapsed so that there would be no resistance. The second is when the government concerned is too weak to resist. The third is where the interests of the intervening power are so vital that it justifies the risk of sacrificing the lives of their citizens. None of these conditions exists in our case.
That is why the post Addis Ababa government of Abel Alier avoided confrontation with Khartoum. And that is why the Government of South Sudan is also refraining from confrontation with Khartoum. These are valid security considerations of a sovereign state that must prioritize the overall peace and security of the country. The most practical is a negotiated win-win solution, which is the aim of the proposal.
So, can you briefly restate where you disagree with your critics?
Francis Mading Deng
Actually we appear more divided than we really are. The policy position of the government of South Sudan offers three options, all of which we share. The first is that the 2013 community referendum, which the government of South Sudan facilitated and in which our people voted overwhelmingly to join South Sudan, be honored. Here I must say that although the UN was opposed to any unilateral conduct of the referendum, once our people organized it successfully, I became a strong advocate for having the aspiration and choice of the people recognized and honored. So, I would have no hesitation whatsoever in supporting it.
The second option is to organize another referendum in line with the proposal of the African Union High Implementation Panel of former President Mbeki, which Khartoum has blocked. That too is absolutely acceptable to us. The issue is its feasibility. Mbeki himself acknowledges that his proposal is not moving forward and is inviting ideas that would unlock the deadlock and end the suffering of the people. Some of our leaders argue that the proposal is no longer Mbeki’s, but that of the African Union to promote. That is true. Mbeki himself is not claiming that the proposal remains his to manage alone. He is saying that it is being blocked and we need a way forward. Besides, as Mbeki has argued, there is no reason to expect that the outcome of any other referendum would be different from that of the 2013. Organizing another referendum would only take more time and resources. Besides, it would in most likely be obstructed by Sudan’s demand that the Missiriya vote in the referendum
The third option, which calls for a negotiated resolution between the two governments, is probably the more desirable and practical option. In any case, neither of all the three options is achievable and sustainable without the cooperation of the two governments. Our leaders argue that pressure must be brought to bear on Khartoum to accept the outcome of the 2013 referendum or another referendum based on Mbeki’s proposal and move forward with its implementation. But will the required pressure be exerted to succeed and bear fruit soon enough to end the suffering of our people? I suspect that the answer is doubtful.
Our position is that while the African Union and the United Nations work on persuading the parties to resolve the deadlock, there is an urgent need to immediately bring relief, peace, security and stability to our suffering people. This line of argument resonates with most of our interlocutors at home and abroad. But our critics believe that it risks delaying the decision on the final status. They also argue that any solution that Khartoum will accept means taking Abyei back to the Sudan or sharing the administration of Abyei with the Missiriya. Some compromise is always necessary in reaching an agreement but predicting the unacceptable blocks the prospects of an agreement.
I have repeatedly stated my position against sharing Abyei governance with the Missiriya. As I have often said, there is nowhere in the Sudan, Africa or the world, as far as I know, where a community governs itself and then demands sharing the administration of another community. I have made this point to the leaders in the Sudan and the Missiriya and they fully understand my argument, even though they still hold to the 20 June 2011 agreement on temporary arrangements that provided for sharing the institutions of Abyei administration. I keep wondering why our representatives signed an agreement that provided for the Missiriya sharing in the administration of Abyei. Although it failed, it has unfortunately provided the ground for the ongoing demand of the Sudan that the Missiriya share in the governance institutions of Abyei. And unfortunately, because it is part of an agreement, it has the support of the international community.
There is widespread belief that your proposal is opposed by the government of South Sudan because it aims at taking Abyei to the Sudan. What can you say about that?
Francis Mading Deng
That is constructing a straw man to shoot down. It is simply false. First, I must emphasize that throughout its various stages of evolution, I have kept President Salva Kiir Mayardit fully in the picture and consistently got his approval and encouragement. I have also kept key members of his government informed. In addition, I have engaged successive leaders in the Sudan, beginning with the former President Omer al-Bashir, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Mohammad Hamadan Dagalo (Hemmeiti), other members of the Sovereignty Council, former Prime Minister. Dr.Abdalla Hamdouk, and other national leaders, as well as Missiriya leaders. From them all, I have received supportive and encouraging responses.
I should add that the proposal has also been widely shared and discussed with regional and international interlocutors and has generally been well received. When I first presented the proposal to the Security Council in 2014, one member of the Big Five in the Council told me that he could not see how anyone would object to the proposal, since it provides a win-win solution. Another member of the Big Five in the Council said that what he found quite appealing in the proposal was that it not only catered for the interests of the Ngok Dinka, but also for those of their neighbors. What need is a strategic move to bring the pieces together for a final act to forge a consensus and the way forward..
And indeed, what must be underscored is that the proposal is based on the search for a common ground, a win-win framework in which all the parties are the beneficiaries. Only if the two governments and the neighboring communities are in agreement with international support can any arrangements for the peace, security and Stability of the area be sustainably achieved. It should also be clearly understood that the proposed arrangement in no way contradicts present agreements or any other arrangements that might be agreed upon by the parties for the future status of the area. Quite the contrary, if well understood, it can only facilitate the operationalization of any agreements for stabilizing and building the area in the interest of the people of Abyei, their neighbors and the two countries.
Thank you, Dr. Francis for this elaborate explanation of a very complex situation. Is there anything you want to add to conclude our conversation?
Francis Mading Deng
I would like to end where I began. I have never entertained the thought that as the sons and daughters of the Paramount Chief we are entitled to rule or lead, but I do feel strongly that we have inherited the responsibility to be of public service to our people. The most fundamental aspect of this responsibility is to promote peace, security, stability and general welfare of our people. I have devoted much of my adult life to this mission, with varying degrees of success and failure, but I have never despaired. Our people have continued to suffer a great deal, but I have never given up hope that we can do something to alleviate their suffering.
I do not believe that there is any son or daughter of Abyei who is not concerned with the suffering of our people. We all want the implementation of the Abyei Protocol. The only difference relates to the means of achieving our shared goal. Our critics accuse us of wanting to take Abyei back to the Sudan. This is at best a gross misunderstanding, who struggles to be free from oppression, as we have all done through our various means, and then aspire to go back to the control of the oppressor? We are searching for a common ground that can be accepted by all the stakeholders as a win-win framework. The pivotal stakeholders are the two governments of Sudan and South Sudan, our neighboring communities, and regional and international actors concerned with our crisis and the humanitarian suffering of our people. I repeat that no sustainable solution is possible without the acceptance and commitment of these pivotal interest groups.
Our critics on the other hand appear to believe that pressure can be brought to bear on the Sudan government to honor the agreements they have signed or the resolutions of the African Union and the United Nations. History tells us that too many agreements have been dishonored with impunity by successive governments of Sudan, to paraphrase the subtitle of Abel Alier’s famous book on Southern Sudan. And resolutions abound around the world which have been perennially adopted and repeatedly reaffirmed without result. Palestine, Western Sahara, and Cyprus are a few examples.
Former President Omer Hassan al-Bashir was indicted by the International Criminal Court, but remained in power and continued to be re-elected. And when he cooperated by endorsing and supporting the independence of South Sudan, he was so applauded by the international community that I jokingly remarked to my colleagues in the UN Secretary General’s Senior Management Team that a President indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity might well receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Despite our differences on the means to attain our shared objectives, with the crucial difference being between persuasion, which I am pursuing, and pressure, which is the stated means of my critics, I still believe that whichever of these approaches succeeds in saving our people from the existential threats they are facing should be most welcomed by all our people with loud applause and gratitude.
I would like to conclude by saying that I have always been inspired and guided by the firm belief that pessimism leads to a dead end and should be avoided, while optimism, if well grounded, is a challenge for exploring alternative action plans, and must be embraced. It is also my firm belief that in crises there are opportunities that can be explored and built upon to pave a better way forward. Our most urgent objective must be to seek the fastest way out of the current quagmire to ensure peace, security and stability for our border area. These are the foundation stones for delivering services, development and prosperity to our beleaguered community of the Ngok Dinka of Abyei and all their neighbors in the region.
Click the link to read PART ONE The Contributions of Dr. Francis Mading Deng to South Sudan and Abyei – One Citizen Daily
Click the link to read PART TWO The Contributions of Dr. Francis Mading Deng to South Sudan and Abyei – One Citizen Daily
Click the link to read PART THREE The Contributions of Dr. Francis Mading Deng to South Sudan and Abyei – One Citizen Daily
Click the link to read PART FOUR The Contributions of Dr. Francis Mading Deng to South Sudan and Abyei – One Citizen Daily
Click the link to read PART FIVE The Contributions of Dr. Francis Mading Deng to South Sudan and Abyei – One Citizen Daily
Click the link to read PART SIX The Contributions of Dr. Francis Mading Deng to South Sudan and Abyei – One Citizen Daily