In advance of the proposed Abyei referendum date for October 2013, the Enough Project has released an interactive timeline illustrating the history of the disputed region on the Sudan-South Sudan border. The timeline tracks developments in Abyei from the 2004 Abyei Protocol agreement until the present day, using embedded videos, reports, and primary source materials to highlight violent incidents, key developments, and statements by the United Nations, African Union, United States, and the Enough Project. By sorting the posts based on category, the viewer can easily visualize the story of unfulfilled agreements, deadlocked negotiations, and outbreaks of violence that have deferred the dreams of thousands who seek peace and political representation. If left unaddressed, this pattern of violence stemming from unresolved issues in Abyei will likely continue.
In his provocative poem, Langston Hughes ponders the explosive potential of a “dream deferred.” Enough Project’s timeline provides a visual representation of a place where unfulfilled promises have prompted a series of explosive incidents. Since 2004, five Abyei towns have been intentionally burned, a dozen U.N. peacekeepers have been killed, and hundreds of thousands of residents have been displaced due to these recurring bouts of violence. This year, in particular, tensions have escalated with the assassination of the Ngok Dinka Paramount Chief in May by Misseriya militia members. This incident sparked extensive protests by local residents, demanding an investigation into his death. In this atmosphere of mounting tension, a further delay of the long-awaited self-determination referendum could catalyze the tense situation and spark widespread violence.
The timeline begins with the 2004 signing of the Abyei Protocol, signed by both Sudan and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army. The agreement promises a special administrative status, a mechanism of local governance, as well as a referendum in 2011 to allow the people of Abyei to choose to be part of the North or South. Abyei is the traditional homeland of the Ngok Dinka, a group with strong ties to the Dinka of South Sudan. Twice each year, Misseriya herders, with close ties to the Sudanese government cross through the region with their cattle. Indecision over the eligibility of different groups to vote in the referendum has resulted in numerous failed negotiations and missed deadlines. Khartoum has repeatedly rejected a September 2012, proposal by the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel, or AUHIP, stipulating an October 2013 referendum date. The Ngok Dinka with the support of the South Sudanese government, have now asserted that they will proceed with the AUHIP proposal in October despite continued disagreements between Sudan and South Sudan about who can participate. Khartoum publically announced it will not abide by any “unilateral referendum” conducted in Abyei.
In the past four months, the United States has repeatedly underscored the importance of supporting self-determination procedures in Abyei, with both Secretary of State John Kerry and Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power confirming the need for urgent attention. This timeline can promote greater understanding of Abyei and its agreements, which remain unimplemented, its negotiations, which remain unfruitful, and its final status, which remains undetermined. Given Abyei’s history of volatility and upcoming controversial referendum, its people need sustained international attention and engagement to ensure Abyei does not return to violence and instead makes positive steps towards peace for its people.