With just a few months left before the Abyei referendum, the ruling National Congress Party has audaciously floated a solution to the Abyei deadlock that abrogates the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, underscoring the ruling party’s lack of intent to follow the agreement that ended two decades of war, in the final hours of the implementation period.
The nine-page NCP proposal, obtained by Enough, recommends making Abyei an integrated area that belongs to both the North and the South (should secession occur), where Abyei citizens have dual nationality and freedom of movement. The proposal divides oil revenue evenly between the North and the South (40 percent to the two governments and 20 to the Abyei area) and local government posts equally between the Misseriya and the Ngok Dinka. Abyei would become a demilitarized zone free of weapons and military presence—civilian police would provide security—and the boundaries would follow the Permanent Court of Arbitration decision.
These ideas are congruent with many of the recommendations made by experts on the ground for reducing tensions and restoring trust between the communities concerned with the status of Abyei—soft borders, freedom of movement, political recognition, and demilitiarization. But underneath the enticing language sits a proposal that ultimately takes away the opportunity for the people of Abyei to demonstrate their will, instead deciding that the Misseriya and the Ngok Dinka communities have equal claim to the area. Notably, the solution proposes to determine who the citizens of Abyei are through a “statistical survey” and lists the Ngok Dinka and “resident/moving Misseriya” as those who could be included. Equal division of government posts between the Misseriya and the Ngok Dinka also reveal the proposal’s attempt at shifting the narrative. Instead of recognizing—as the Abyei Protocol establishes—that the area is home to the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms, Abyei is newly defined as the land of the Ngok Dinka and the Misseriya—migrating or not. Many Abyei residents, who have for months been demonstrating their anxiety, anger, and sense of abandonment over the lack of progress on their vote, would undoubtedly be incensed if this proposal actually came true.
But the intent of this NCP proposal may be less about implementing the proposed measures, and more about shifting the narrative around how to address the deadlock over Abyei. In its opening paragraphs, the NCP justifies its new proposal by suggesting that the solutions in the CPA do not solve Abyei’s problems and are “erroneous.” The intended audience is not the NCP’s negotiating partner, the SPLM (whose leadership categorically rejected the plan), but the international community, one that will be tempted to seize on a creative solution to break the highly-emotional and complicated impasse. What is unsaid is that the NCP appears to be erecting some of the major obstacles hindering progress on Abyei. The SPLM claims that the two parties struck an informal agreement to give the SPLM the decision to choose the Abyei referendum commission chair. Nevertheless, the two parties have not agreed on an appointment, preventing any preparation for the vote from moving forward. In short, it’s not that the CPA is does not offer solutions to Abyei, as the NCP suggests; it is that the political will is not there to implement them.
So far, no international actor or guarantor of the CPA has spoken out against this proposal (or in favor, for that matter). As part of their diplomatic surge, U.S. officials must make clear that full implementation of the CPA is not debatable and apply the necessary motivations to both parties to move the process forward.
Photo: Destruction in Abyei town after 2008 violence