It is time to settle the Abyei issue once and for all

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The long awaited referendum in Abyei is yet to take place. This is a sad state of affairs that has recently led the Ngok Dinka, who are inhabitants of the region to hold a referendum that was highly criticized by the African Union and the two Sudans. 

The long awaited referendum in Abyei is yet to take place. This is a sad state of affairs that has recently led the Ngok Dinka, who are inhabitants of the region to hold a referendum that was highly criticized by the African Union and the two Sudans. 

 

In the same breath, many others supported the referendum, saying that the Ngok Dinka had been driven to that action because of frustrations by the concerned parties.

It is a long time since the Comprehensive PEACE Agreement between the South Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the National Party (NP) of Sudan was formed. It is almost one decade since that document, which gave the roadmap for peace through a referendum, was signed.

To understand how the current state of affairs came about, it is important to look back at recent events in the area. A referendum on Abyei was due to take place at the same time as the South Sudanese vote for independence in 2011, but was postponed due to disagreements over who was eligible to participate.

While Juba maintains that only the Ngok Dinka, as permanent residents of the area, be allowed to participate, Khartoum insists that the Misseriya be allowed to take part in the referendum to decide whether the area will join Sudan or South Sudan. The two governments have failed to agree on the formation of a referendum commission, among many other disagreements.

It is unfortunate that the African Union, through the African Union High-Implementation Panel (AUIHP), has been unable to bring together the two concerned parties (Sudan and South Sudan) to the table to agree to hold a referendum once and fall. This should involve all the inhabitants of the disputed region, that is, the Ngok Dinka and the Misseriya.

Much as we sympathise with the Ngok Dinka in their action of holding a referendum unilaterally, that action alone will not guarantee peace and stability in that region. Even if they have declared that their action will not prevent the Misseriya nomads from accessing the area, that assurance alone is not enough.

It is noteworthy to see that the African Union Security Council, the United States government, whichwas one of the guarantors of the CPA, and the United Nations Security Council have all warned against unilateral action, saying the move could inflame tribal tensions in the already volatile area. This is true but they need to do more to see to it that the people of Abyei get the opportunity to decide their destiny.

It is fortunate that the Arab Misseriya have pledged not to hit back by holding similar referendum. Misseriya paramount chief Mukhtar Babo Nimir was quoted as saying that his tribe will not conduct a unilateral referendum in Abyei.

He stressed that the Dinka Ngok referendum results will not affect the area’s security situation irrespective of the outcome. He called on the Ngok Dinka to meet with the Messiriya and find a solution to the stalemate without involving any politicians either from Sudan or South Sudan.

One can only imagine what would have happened if the Misseriya retaliated. Perhaps it would have led to more bloodshed, a situation which is uncalled for.

All these actions and statements are significant. They ought to tell those who are concerned that time is running out for them and soon the people in the region may resort to finding their own solutions without involving the political class.

 For how long will the issue of Abyei remain in abeyance?