By Charles Deng
I had earlier expressed to our friend Mr. Bakri Abubakr that we should wait until all of us would have read the full text of the report of the Abyei Boundaries Demarcation Commission (ABC). The reasons for such an appeal are clear: First, the report is not yet in the public domain, i.e., it has not been released to the public. Only lucky few may have perhaps read or are about to read it. Even those who have written protesting against the report such as Mahmoud al-Digaim, Mohammed Fadl Ali of Edmonton, Canada, Dr Suleiman Mohammed Dibilu, lawyer Ibrahim Ali Ibrahim of Washington DC, and others do not tell us whether they have in fact read the report. Second, the formation of the commission must have been based on some legal provisions found in the protocols of Naivasha Peace Accord. Third, the decision constituting the commission must have spelt out the terms of reference for the commission, the legal basis of its mandate, the time frame in which it has to produce its findings, the representation of the disputing parties (Massiriya and Dinka Ngok), the NIF government and the SPLM/A etc. Finally, the role played by IGAD (the accepted mediator by the NIF and the SPLM/A) and the role of the supporting international community. All these would be clearly set out in the report, which will allow people to make informed judgment of the work of the commission, instead of these emotional assessments and platitudes offered by various writers so far.
Until we know all these things, it will be a matter of sheer speculation to make any sensible comment on the work of the commission or the evidence it has collected to support its findings. This has manifestly been exhibited by the writings of the gentlemen above mentioned. The people of the disputed area know much of the so-called facts put forward by these gentlemen, including the writer of these lines, who is from the area and grew up in the area since the fifties of the last century. I have therefore witnessed most of the conflicts between the Massiriya (the Baggara, as we used to know them as kids) and Dinka Ngok. I believe it will be counter productive to engage in any serious analysis of the history and geography of Abyei before reading the full report of the demarcation commission. My purpose here is, therefore, confined to some few general observations, the points raised by the gentlemen who have written thus far, and the behavior of the Massiriya, since the submission of the report to the Presidency. In making such oberservations, I will objectively attempt to stay within the bounds of the generally available information about Abyei, the Demarcation Commission and other facts. Any detailed analysis of the issues surrounding Abyei and the Commission, will have to wait until such time I shall have read the report in full, which will, hopefully, enable me to make comments relating to the work of the commission, the peace protocols, the history and geography of Abyei
To begin with, Mr. Mahmoud al-Digaim (please, excuse me if I have mispronounced your name) seems to suggest that the 1905 colonial decision annexing Abyei and some other parts of the South to the North did not involve the annexation of any land or lands whatsoever. In other words, the Dinka Ngok did not live on any land at all, but were given these areas by the Baggara, in spite of the fact that they have lived on the very land for centuries on end. If that is the case, how come the immigrants could have so much land, which they could donate to the indigenous or the original population of the ancient Sudan? Further, if the thesis of our friend al-Digaim is true, from where did the name “Abyei” come from? . Moreover, Abyei is not the name of the area, but it is the name of the only urban centre of the Dinka Ngok area. We will consider all the studies you seem to have heavily relied upon, when we all shall have read the findings of the Commission.
Mr. Mohammed Fadl Ali of Edmonton, Canada, and in his article in the electronic Sudanil of July 22, 2005, decries the findings of the Abyei Demarcation Commission in the most strongest terms, without telling us whether he has read the report or otherwise. I have read several articles by Mr. Ali of Edmonton, but I have not known him as an expert on the Abyei boundaries, history or geography. His specialty has been the constant attack on the SPLM/A, and its failure not to fight on until the NIF regime is removed or the last southerner dies in war. While he lives in Edmonton, Canada, enjoying the labor of other people who built their country with blood and sweat, he wants war to continue in the Sudan. If Mr. Fadl wanted the liberation of the Sudan from the NIF regime, he should have rather stayed in the Sudan or return from Canada and carry a gun to fight the NIF. The credibility of Mr. Fadl and his hatred of the NIF, and anybody who is making agreements with it, is in great doubt until he returns to the Sudan and picks up a gun to fight the NIF. We are tried of the Northern intelligentsia wanting freedom, but are afraid to give up life for freedom. I hope Mr. Fadl is Baggara, if he is not, I advise him to stay out of this issue, if he has no meaningful contribution to make.
Dr. Suleiman Mohammed Dibilu makes a nice attempt to educate us all about what took place in the last century, as far as Abyei is concerned. Dr Suleiman attempt is highly appreciated, although it suffers from unsupported conclusions, and delves into selective interpretation of several decisions taken by the British colonialists. An example of his unsupported conclusions is his claim that what happened in 1905 was not a decision to annex Abyei to the North, but a fraternity charter between Kuol Arop and Nimir Ali Julla, by which the later “allowed” or “permitted” the former and his Dinka people to live in Abyei.
I do not have any quarrel with Dr. Suleiman whether the annexation happened in 1904 or 1905. My quarrel with him is about his outrageous claims that the Ngok Dinka never lived north of Kiir River (the so-called Bahr-el-Arab). When we shall have the benefit of the Demarcation Commission report, we shall talk, with some detail, about the decisions of 1901, 1902, 1904 and 1905, and the circumstances leading to them.
The article of lawyer Ibrahim Ali Ibrahim of Washington DC is about his forewarnings about the divisive nature of Abyei issue, even before the signature of the Naivasha Peace Accord. I agree with him about the dilemma it presents to policy makers, but I disagree with him of another “Kashmir”. If the intentions of the parties to Naivasha are good, the so-called problem of Abyei should find a solution by clearly adjudicating its ownership to the true owners, Nogk Dinka, who have lived in that land for centuries; and also—with others—have been the indigenous population of the Sudan, since time immemorial. I still have to find a respectable historian who traced the origin of the Nilotics, including the Dinka, to any other place, except the Sudan. The Arabs had migrated to the Sudan in 15th century, through the Red Sea, and others—among them the Baggara—took the long route to North and West Africa.
Having said what I have said, I would like to venture some comments on the love-and-hate relationship between the Massiriya and Dinka Ngok. It is inexplicable that during the British colonial administration of the Sudan, there had not been a single reported conflict between the Baggara and Dinka Ngok It is an historical fact that the British kept even-handedness, not only between the Baggara and Dinka Ngok, but also among all the tribes and ethnicities of the Sudan. During those “good old” days, each of the two tribes knew its boundaries and customary agreements for water and grazing between the chiefs and their tribes were respected to the letter; and hence the lack of what could disturbed peace in the area.
There was a just and effective administration dispensed by the British colonialists. When the British began to withdraw from the Sudan, the administrators of the area advised Chief Deng Kuol Arop to chose between remaining in the North or rejoin his people in Bahr-el-Ghazal in the South. For that purpose, Chief Deng Majok was given an opportunity to tour Bahr-el-Ghazal, before he made up his mind as to where he and his tribe want to belong. During that tour, Dinka chiefs such as the great Chief Giir Thiik advised Chief Deng Majok to join them where he ethnically belonged. Chief Giir Thiik specifically told Deng Majok that the incoming administration would be definitely an Arab administration, which would probably lack any sense of neutrality or justice like the British. On the contrary the Arab administration, would have no sense of neutrality or justice between an Arab tribe and a Dinka tribe. Chief Deng heard all this magnificent piece of advice, but ultimately decided against rejoining the South. His decision was not motivated by any advantage he would have in the North, or by any lack of good sense of judgment, but by his belief in his established relationship with the family of Nimir Ali Julla, then headed by Chief Babo Nimir.
Chief Deng Majok, until his death in 1969, lived to regret his decision, not because he was wrong, but because of the way the Julla family, the Baggara and the national governments treated him and his people. During his life he witnessed a major conflict between Dinka Nogk and the Baggara in March and April of 1965. We were adolescents then, and I was among many who watched Chief Deng Majok visibly upset when he was informed that the Sudanese Army sent to Abyei to keep peace between the belligerents was not only watching the Baggara burning the houses of the Dinka and the bumper crop of that year, but was actively encouraging the Baggara to burn more.
Indeed, Chief Deng Majok unhappiness was not surprising since the governments of Khartoum had placed Abyei under the emergency laws as of August 18,1955. Although the events of Torit were remote to us as kids at that time, Abyei area was treated like all districts of the South, and our only elementary school was closed down at the same time like southern schools. And since that time Abyei had been under martial law, even during the period of relative peace in the South between 1972 and 1983—the Addis Ababa era. In fact the governments of Khartoum and the Kordofan provincial authorities treated Abyei as part of the South. The only thrashed roofed elementary school, through which all Abyei children went to, remain in that condition until 1963. It is a dichotomy to learn that most of Abyei educated sons went to Southern schools, and not the North to which we are supposed to belong.
As al-Sadig al-Mahdi ascended power in 1966, he began arming the Baggara with modern weaponry, using the pretext of protecting themselves and their property against the “out laws”, a euphemism for Anyanya guerrilla of the time. In fact, the Anyanya guerrilla was never in the area at that time, and the obvious person for which al-Sadig gave the guns to the Baggara to use against was the Dinka Ngok. Those who were given the weapons were mostly ex-soldiers of the Sudan Armed Forces, and after 1965, those weapons were mostly used against Ngok Dinka, as happened in some of the minor skirmishes between the Dinka and the Baggara in 1966, 1967 etc. This was the beginning of the deadly militia known in later years as the Murahillin—this is the name under which these militias are internationally know, but the correct Arabic word is “Marahil”.
The army that had been permanently stationed in Abyei since 1965 engaged in the same practices known in the South, cold blood killings. In 1970, the Sudanese Army, in cold blood, murdered the son of Deng Majok who replaced him after his death, together with many others. Those atrocities continued during the relative peace of Addis Ababa. Those of us who used to go home were subject to harassment, with intention of discouraging the presence of educated sons of Abyei. I remember once going to Abyei one summer in either in 1972 or 1974, and some of my colleagues who were in Abyei tried to meet Mr. A’mer al-Kobani, the local government inspector of Abyei at that time, Mr. Al-Kobani made it clear to us that we were not welcome in Abyei and that he would not discuss any issue with us. Period. Mr. Al-Kobani was a student activist during his university years, and belonged to the Socialist Democrats at Khartoum University, as such one had expected him to be a liberal and therefore conscientious in his administration of the area. However, he was a big flop and showed a clear bias against the Dinka like any other northerner.
In 1977, as I was working with the Sudan Attorney General, I had my first home leave, which took me to Abyei in April. While I was there a localized conflict broke out just a few kilometers from Abyei town. I remember a number of us went to see the security authorities in Abyei and urged it to take immediate measures to contain any fallout from the incident. However, the authorities did promise, but took them more than two days to reach the place of the incidents, and lives that could have been saved by prompt action were lost. In any case, the incident was resolved, with the help of Dinka and Baggara chiefs.
Usually, it has been the behavior of the Baggara not to engage in any extensive conflict with Dinka during the height of the dry season, but would wait until the beginning of the rainy season, when they are about to begin their journey back to their homes around Mujlad, Babenousa, Tiboun etc. 1977 was no different from the other years. In early June, the last Baggara camps to leave the Abyei area began attacking the Dinka living in northern part of the Dinka areas, killing people and burning homes. This was in revenge of the earlier incident mentioned above. However, the Dinka did not react to these attacks, and allowed the Baggara to complete its normal migration to their homes north.
However, what made 1977 a tragic year in the Dink-Baggara conflict, was the cowardly attack on lorries transporting Dinkas heading home from the north for the rainy season cultivation. It is a seasonal practice for the Dinka to return home from the North at the beginning of the rainy season for cultivation. Because of the rainy season, June is always a month of heavy traffic of lorries transporting Dinkas from Babenousa to Abyei, before the seasonal road between Babenousa and Abyei (150 miles) closes down. As customary, the Dinka had in that year gathered in Babenousa to catch the last lorries to Abyei in mid June. Abyei was aware of the tense security situation along the road and the fact that Baggara had made plans to avenge the incident that occurred in May the same year. The Abyei security committee, headed by Mr. Justin Deng Aguer, warned both the Abyei and Babenousa army garrisons to provide escorts for the lorries to protect the Dinka from any potential attack by the Baggara. The warning went unheeded, and the lorries were attacked halfway between Mugled and Abyei (125 miles). Hundreds of Dinkas were murdered in cold blood, including our late brother Mark Majak Abiem, a professor in Khartoum University, who was going home to collect data for his PhD research in the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.
This cowardly conduct of the Baggara was not surprising and was not the first time for the Baggara to commit these heinous acts. Earlier in 1965, 200 peaceful Dinkas leaving among the Baggara in Babenousa and Mugled were collected by the police for protection, but were burnt alive in both Babenousa and Mugled police stations and in front of the very police that was supposed to protect them.
As usual, the Southern Kordofan Province authorities did not make the necessary investigation required by the Penal Code and the Criminal Code of Procedure in any tribal clash, and Khartoum and Kadugli hurriedly arranged a reconciliation conference. The Dinka loss and wounds were still fresh, but no one would listen to them. The Baggara were and have been under the protection of the Khartoum governments and the Provincial authorities previously in El-Obeid, and then in Kadugli, since the British withdrew in 1956. It has been an inexplicable political phenomenon that the Massiriya has always been ardent supporters of the various Khartoum governments, particularly the totalitarian ones. Perhaps, the need of the Baggara for protection against the Dinka, and the need of Khartoum governments for a security buffer between the North and the rebel movements in the South, necessitated such cooperation. This, however, has resulted in the Khartoum governments arming the Bagggara with modern weaponry and a generous political support against the Dinka Ngok
The arming of the Baggara by the Khartoum government took a dangerous turn in the period of the third democracy (1985-1989) under the premiership of al-Sadig al-Mahdi and the present NIF theocratic regime (1989--). Al-Sadig officially turned the Muraillin into auxiliary forces to help the Sudan Armed Forces in fighting the SPLM/A. Al-Turabi/al-Bashir coup of 1989 officially legislated the Murahillin into a recognized militias. The composition of the Murahillin has been, since it inception in 1965, 100% a Massiriya organization. Their atrocities in the Dinka Northern Bahr-el-Ghazal area, including Abyei area, are well documented by relief agencies and human rights organizations throughout the last war (see past reports by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others). With the help of the army stationed in Abyei, the Murahillin succeeded in emptying Abyei area in general and Abyei town in particular. The Ngok Dinka of Abyei was subjected to horrendous atrocities, with specific intention of displacing them. In achieving that result, the Murahillin and the Sudanese army used rape, looting, and extra-judicial killings and slave taking as a means of scaring off the population. This practice has continued since 1965 until the present moment in order for the Baggara to see through their preposterous claim of the area.
I am therefore not surprise for the Massiriya to stage demonstrations in Khartoum and make such outrageous claims about the land of the great Ngok Dinka. The Massiriya has been used to the support of the biased successive Khartoum governments, and they know they cannot geographically and historically support their preposterous claims before any international unbiased body. The Massiriya thinks that by uprooting somebody by force from his land would entitle the aggressor the right to claim the title of the land of the aggressed or the victim. We will come back when we shall have read the report.