In the history of nations and peoples, it is true that one can change facts of geography by violence, occupation and settlement but one cannot possibly change the facts of history. As demarcated recently by the ABC, the Messeriyya Arabs might have measurably succeeded in changing the geography of Abyei Area, through violence, occupation and settlement. That measurable success was a product of a combination of factors, which made it possible for the Messeriyya to uproot and displace the Ngok Dinka, the owners of the area, and rendered them internally displaced persons (IDPs). These factors are the complicity of the Kordofan provincial authorities and the Khartoum national governments, which have come and gone. The other is nature, in form of dramatic changes in world environment, which the Sudan witnessed in the mid sixties and onwards.
The complicity of the Khartoum governments that have come and gone since 1956, which allowed the Messeriyya to succeed in changing the facts of geography of the area is a fact of life that can be easily discerned from the ground. When the British colonial administration made the decision to annex Ngok Dinka to Kordofan Province in 1905, it was made for purely administrative expediency, as well as for combating the menace of slave raiders who continued to practice this despicable “profession” even after the defeat of the Mahdiyya in 1898.
Before and after these two periods, the Ngok Dinka and the Messeriyya Arabs maintained minimal contacts between them. Environmental factors afflicting the world, including the Sudan, were not yet in the horizon. Each community kept to places of its dominant rights. The Messeriyya had and still have Muglad as their home, while Ngok Dinka had and still have the area between Bahr-el-Arab/River Kiir and Ragaba ez-Zerga/Ngol as their home. The two communities had, therefore, no reasons for frequent contacts or frictions. There were enough sources of water and grazing for the human being and animal in each of these homesteads, allowing the two communities to stay apart and avoid unnecessary frictions or contacts.
The Unalterable Facts of History
In the early days of colonial rule, the British were a bit slow in establishing or extending their authority over these two communities, but initiated and maintained irregular contacts with them. When the British colonial authorities were able to establish their influence, they were fair and evenhanded in relation to the two communities. After the decision of 1905, which severed the Ngok Dinka from its natural habitat, among their kinsmen in Bahr-el-Ghazal, and became a tiny minority of not more than 30,000 people in the sea of Arab majority in the Western Kordofan District of Nahud, there were no causes for alarm, as long as they enjoyed autonomy in running their internal affairs and applying their own customs and traditions to their problems. As Watkiss Lloyd, the governor of Kodofan Province reported in 1908, the Ngok Dinka only paid poll tax. The taxes of both Messeriyya and Ngok Dinka were paid into separate lists. The Hamar and Messeriyya had separate independent budget, but the Ngok Dinka, the Nuba and the Daju still had to look to the District Commissioner for administrative, judicial and financial support.
Kuol Arop, the leader of the Ngok Dinka, maintained an informal court with jurisdiction over the Dinkas. He kept good relations with his neighbors, Rueng Dinka, Twic Dinka, as well as the Humr Baggara. In early 1930s, K. D. D. Henderson recommended to D. Newbold, the then Governor of Kordofan, that Koul Arop’s court be regularized; he told the governor that Kuol Arop sentenced offenders to fines of cattle according to Dinka custom and entered his cases in a book from 1930 onwards. Newbold in turn wrote to the Civil Secretary requesting the recognition of Koul Arop’s court. Newbold asked for the approval of Arop’s court under section 6 of the Natives Ordinance 1932, as a Sheikh’s court, for Ngok Dinka of Western Kordofan. Most of his (Kuol’s) cases were civil disputes involving personal law, Dinka law, not Shari ‘a. Ngok Dinka court was therefore approved in 1935/6, designating Ngok Dinka court separately as Court No. 12.
The autonomy of Ngok Dinka was well preserved until the late 1940s and the early 1950s, when the idea of a new rural council for the Dar Messeriyya was floated. In July 1947 and at a meeting of all tribal authorities in Muglad, it was agreed that the Ngok Dinka and Nuba confederations would be eventually included as administrative units of the Messeriyya Rural District Council. In his Hand-Over Notes on the Ngok Dinka in 1948”, P. P. Howell extensively discussed the issue whether the Ngok Dinka future would entirely be linked to the North, or were they to be amalgamated with Twic, Rueng or other Dinka? Linking Ngok Dinka to the North, presented to Mr. Howell some difficulty, as the Ngok Dinka in early 1947 had emphatically rejected the idea of being represented by the Messeriyya in the Legislative Assembly. Howell was further frightened with the idea of Ngok Dinka linkage with the North because of the Messeriyya’s attitude towards Ngok Dinka. With a slightly superior and conceited attitude of patronage, the Messeriyya regarded Ngok Dinka as “Our Dinka”.
Nevertheless, Powell thought that the Ngok Dinka would provide an excellent buffer between the North and the South, or what Dr. Francis Deng calls these days the “microcosm of the Sudan”. Powell also thought the best formula would be to allow Ngok Dinka remained in the North and be included them in Dar Messeriyya rural council provided: first, to give them the guarantee of autonomy over their own internal affairs; second, they would not be swamped by the Arab majority; third, they should have the right to withdraw from the Messeriyya Council after five years; and finally, Ngok Dinka should not be considered as members of the Messeriyya Arab tribe (and should continue to be considered as part of the larger Nilotic tribe) and do not come under the Nazirate Umum, and have their own court system, which appealed to the District Commissioner and not the Resident Magistrate.
Given these guarantees, the Ngok Dinka in 1951/2 decided to amalgamate with the Messeriyya district council and not with the Dinka Gogrial rural council. In January 1953 and in Lagawa, the Ngok Dinka (who until now had been outside the Messeriyya council), led by Chief Deng Majok, decided finally to join. As Powell had earlier argued, Michael Tibbs, the last colonial District Commissioner, reported that the Messeriyya did not want the Ngok Dinka to dilute their purely Arab council. They had to be persuaded to treat the Ngok Dinka as their equals. Some members of the Messeriyya delegation were critical and openly called upon the Ngok Dinka to “go home” where they belonged, meaning Gogrial Rural Council. Tibbs also reported that the issue was settled by the friendship between Chief Babo Nimir and Chief Deng Majok.
The Post Independence Period
When finally the British colonialists withdrew from the Sudan in 1956, the evenhandedness of the British was lost. The new Kordofan administration utterly and deliberately neglected the Abyei and the Ngok Dinka. No effort to develop or provide rudimentary social services like education or health was made. The only grass-thrashed elementary school, medical and veterinary dispensaries built during the colonial years remained in those conditions well into the late sixties. In the 1962/3 when the bickering Arabs could not agree among themselves as to who would become the president of the Rural Council and turned to Chief Deng Majok, as a compromise, the Kordofan Province authorities were not forthcoming to appoint him.
Dissatisfied Abyei youth pressured Chief Deng Majok into agreeing with the exercise of the right of withdrawal of Ngok Dinka from the Messeriyya district council. This right of withdrawal from the Messeriyya district council was one of the guarantees drawn up by departing British colonialist in 1953, with the agreement of Ngok Dinka. As P. P. Howell envisaged it, the Ngok Dinka retained the right of withdrawal from the Messeriyya Council after five years, if they so wished. When a delegation of Abyei youth went to the headquarters of the Council in al-Fulla and expressed the desire of Ngok Dinka to exercise the right of withdrawal from the Messeriyya council, they were arrested and detained.
The Kordofan maladministration of the Ngok Dinka was compounded by the setting in of environmental changes that began at the beginning of the 1960s.River beds were drying up earlier than usual, and therefore the grazing and watering areas for the Messeriyya moved farther south, bringing the two communities into frequently undesired contacts than was the case earlier. It also meant longer stay for the Messeriyya and their cattle in the Ngok Dinka areas longer than was also expected. Moreover, the Kordofan Province authorities left the regulation of grazing and watering issues to the local leadership of the two communities, and made no effort to supervise local arrangements for watering and grazing.
The 1965 Conflict
Until 1965, the friendship between Chief Deng Majok and Chief Babo Nimir was good enough to resolve some minor frictions between the two communities. The friendly relationship between the leaders of the two communities could not, however, prevent a major confrontation between the two communities in late February 1965. During that month hostilities broke out between the Messeriyya and Ngok Dinka along the Ragaba ez-Zarga/Ngol River in late February 1965. There were two main reasons for the outbreak of the hostilities: first, Ngok Dinka complained about the reckless and provocative behavior of the Messeriyya in allowing their cattle to destroy the Ngok Dinka crop during the preceding years; and second, the Messeriyya falsely accused or suspected the Ngok Dinka of harboring the Anyanya guerrillas.
Historically, it is to be noted that the August 1955 Torit revolt in Southern Sudan was mishandled by the Khartoum government, and the escapees of the revolt had regrouped and formed a guerilla movement, that called itself the Anyanya. The government of General Ibrahim Abboud exasperated the situation further by adopting the violent policy of Islamization and Arabization. It was resisted in the South, especially by the students who organized a widespread strike action across the South, resulting into a large number of these students swelling the ranks of Anyanya. The new recruits gave the Anyanya the needed vitality and impetus to conduct guerilla warfare.
As the South was the only place Abyei sons and daughters could access education—contrary to General Mahdi Babo’s recent testimony before the ABC that the Messeriyya had helped Ngok Dinka children to obtain education—a handful few Ngok Dinka children, like their southern colleagues, joined the Anyanya. Although there was no grain of truth in the Messeriyya accusation that Ngok Dinka harbored Anyanya insurgents, this became the basis of Kordofan authorities treatment of Ngok Dinka since 1961. Indeed, there were no Anyanya guerrilla members to be found around Abyei or near Abyei area. I was in Abyei when the hostilities broke out and I can testify solemnly that there were no guerrilla members in the area whatsoever.
In March 1965, a battalion of Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) was urgently dispatched from Oddaya to Abyei, supposedly, to separate the two warring communities. The first few army trucks that arrived at the northern tip of the Abyei area began torching Ngok Dinka villages and behind them came the previously fleeing Messeriyya Arabs. When the ordinary Dinka heard of what was happening to the villages of their kinsmen and neighbors, a general exodus took place from along the Ragaba ez-Zerga/Ngol River. The pleading of the Ngok Dinka leaders could not turn the tide of fleeing and panicking population. They had seen what the SAF was doing, and heard the stories of SAF atrocities in the South. The Messeriyya Arabs and SAF fully exploited that exodus. An area of about 300 sq. miles was burnt to the ground, as well as the bumper crop of that year.
In late March the same year, two Khartoum ministers, al-Rasheed al-Tahir Bakr and Mohammed Gubara al-Awad, came down to Abyei. The two ministers made an attempt at reconciling the warring parties; and a number of decisions were taken: first, the exchange of properties looted from both communities; second; the return of Ngok Dinka to their villages; and third, an agreement on future comprehensive reconciliation conference to be arranged and convened by the Kordofan provincial authorities, provided that the necessary criminal investigation of the events were completed. The exchange of properties was immediately implemented, as the Arab cattle and a number of their captured women and children by the Ngok Dinka were handed over to Chief Deng Majok before that meeting. As to the decision of return of Ngok Dinka to their villages, indeed, there was nothing for the Ngok Dinka to return to. The villages that they were supposed to return to were burnt down by SAF and the Messeriyya, and were in ashes, as well as the bumper crops.
The Ngol River event of that year had unforeseen consequences as far as the Ngok Dinka was concerned. For the Dinka, the end of the skirmishes along River Ngol should have been the end of the story. However, the Messeriyya had other thoughts. There happened to be Dinka from all the Dinka tribes of the South, including Abyei, living in Muglad and Babanousa, and working with the Sudan Railways (a national entity) or doing some petty trade. The Messeriyya took revenge on these innocent guests of theirs. The killings began with the few who were in Muglad. When the bulk of the Dinka living in Babanousa heard of the news from Muglad, they gathered at Babanousa police station, seeking protection. It was not to be. As the angry Messeriyya Arabs were not satisfied with the massacre of the few Dinka in Muglad, they attacked the police station in Babanousa, burning alive some four hundred Dinka children, women, old men etc. The police did not attempt to stop the killing of innocent people, but some of them were reported to have taken part in this mass murder.
The 1965 events marked the beginning of the depopulation of the Abyei and the Ngok Dinka area. SAF contingency sent to Abyei during the events of 1965 was permanently deployed, and took the only grass-roofed elementary school in Abyei Town as its home and headquarters. The stories of SAF atrocious behavior in the South were confirmed beyond doubt, when members of SAF would wait in the outskirts of the town and subjected the Dinka coming into or leaving the town to interrogation and beating. Abyei educated individuals were targeted either for physical abuse or for giving them the message that they were undesired elements and should not stay in Abyei.
The elections of 1965 at the national level brought in the Umma Party, as a senior partner, in coalition government with the National Unionist Party (NUP), as a junior partner. The young ambitious al-Saddig al-Mahdi became of age in 1966, and took office as the prime minister. This development spelt doom for Abyei and Ngok Dinka. The Messeriyya Arab have always considered themselves as part of the Ansar sect, despite the fact that some of them who resisted the Mahdi had taken refuge with Arop Biong during the Mahdiyya—a fact they reversed during the Lagawa conference and at the public hearings of the ABC. The Messeriyya therefore appealed to al-Saddig for arms allegedly to defend themselves against the Anyanya guerrillas. Al-Saddig persuaded the SAF leadership to issue arms to the retired Messeriyya ex-army soldiers to guard the Messeriyya cattle camps during their southwards movement. This was the beginning of the notorious Murahileen militia.
In 1966, a reconciliation conference was convened in Lagawa. Chief Moneim Mansour of the Hamar presided over the reconciliation proceedings. During the conference Chief Babo Nimir, Nazir Umum al-Messeriyya, surprised the conference by shamelessly claiming, for the first time, the ownership of Messeriyya of the whole area of Ngok Dinka. Chief Babo justified his ridiculous claim by saying that it was his father, Nimir Ali Julla (appointed in 1905), who permitted Ngok Dinka—at the request of Arop Biong—to reside where they were residing now. He further claimed that Ngok Dinka were a troublesome lot and were successively raided by Nuer and Twic Dinka of Gogrial. As such, Ngok Dinka came to where they were now as destitute refugees and had never owned any land whatsoever (see Abdalbasit Saeed, “The State and Socioeconomic Transformation: The Case of Social Conflict in Southwest Kurdufan”, PhD dissertation, University of Connecticut, 1982; see also the Minutes of the Lagawa Conference, 1966).
Chief Babo was chastised by the conference for his outrageous claim. Chief Moneim Mansour of the Hamar, a man known for his integrity and impeccable knowledge of Kordofan history pointedly told Babo Nimir “Why are you after a soil as dark as the Dinka? What do you want from the dark soil of the Dinka? You are a people who simply go after grazing areas in the three months of the dry season. How can a person of three months’ residence dispute the land with the settlers of all seasons?”(Quoted in Francis M. Deng, War of Visions: Conflict of Identities in the Sudan, Washington, D. C., The Brookings Institution, 1995; and Dinka Cosmology, London: Ithaca Press, 1980.). According to Omda Pagwot Deng, interviewed by Dr. Francis Deng, “Babo lost the case. It was written down on paper”. However, the decision to allow Ngok Dinka to return their homes along Ragaba ez-Zerga/Ngol River was reconfirmed in Lagawa, but the Ngok Dinka were scared from both the SAF and the Messeriyya.
Chief Deng Majok died in 1969, and was succeeded by his son Abdalla (Monyaak) Deng. Now, SAF was entrenched in Abyei and continued with its atrocities earlier referred to. In 1970, Chief Abdalla Deng, among others, was murdered by SAF in cold blood. Now, Abyei had squarely come under undeclared martial law applicable to Southern Sudan. This situation could not be alleviated by the Addis Ababa peace agreement of 1972. Provisions in the Addis Ababa peace that called for a referendum in Abyei and some other areas that were annexed to the North after 1956 were ignored by the dictator Ga’afar Nimeiri, with the complicity of the Juba politicians. Abyei was, however, given some measure of autonomy within Kordofan. Mr. Justin Deng Aguer was appointed as assistant commissioner of Abyei, without real meaningful powers. The Southern Kordofan Province authorities—Kordofan was now divided into Northern and Southern Kordofan Provinces—still held the real authority. The security situation did not change a bit with that appointment. The Messeriyya Arabs had continued to acquire arms, and SAF went on with the harassment of the Ngok Dinka population.
The 1977 Atrocities
In 1977, despite the failure of Addis Ababa to ameliorate the security situation in Abyei area, Ngok Dinka remained in their villages south of Ragaba-ez-Zerga/Ngol River, fearing SAF and Messeriyya reprisals if they were to return there. In that year, I was spending my first vacation as a Sudan government official in Abyei, when a minor incidence took place some few kilometers east of Abyei town between the camping Messeriyya Arabs and local Ngok Dinka individuals. There were few casualties on both sides, but the Ngok Dinka chiefs intervened and the fight was resolved in its early stage.
Further, it has always been the Messeriyya behavior that whenever an incidence occurred in the height of the dry season, they would not work for its escalation, but rather wait until the end of the dry season when their camps would be moving northwards back to their homes. In early June 1977, when they made sure that they were out of the Ngok Dinka area—some seventy miles north of Abyei—the Messeriyya began attacking Ngok Dinka villages on their way to Muglad. As a result, the Messeriyya incurred some casualties despite the fact that the Messeriyya now had modern weapons and the Ngok Dinka were using only the traditional spears. The Dinka fought in self-defense and refused to pursue the fleeing Messeriyya, as long as they were on their way to thir “dar” in Muglad.
In the middle of June 1977, an incident similar to that of Babanousa in 1965 occurred, with slightly difference in details. It has been a custom of Dinka youth who usually spend the summer of any year in places like El-Obeid, Nahud, Babenousa, and even as far as Khartoum, to gather in Babanousa to catch the last lorries going to Abyei, as the seasonal road between Muglad and Abyei closes down because of heavy rains towards the end of June of each year. This time around, the Messeriyya avoided repeating of the Babanousa experience of 1965 more than a decade ago, and the possibility of government intervening. Moreover, Babanousa, after more than a decade, has become more cosmopolitan than in 1965. So, the plan of the Messeriyya was to attack these lorries some where beyond Tabaldiya—about forty miles south of Muglad on the road to Abyei.
Earlier, the Abyei Assistant Commissioner, Justin Deng Aguer, had become suspicious of the Messeriyya treacherous behavior and warned Babanousa not to allow the lorries to travel the road without security escort. In addition, the Commissioner attempted to persuade the SAF garrison in Abyei to deploy along the road between Abyei and Muglad, but his advice was disregarded. The fears of the Commissioner were proven right. The Messeriyya cowardly ambushed several lorries traveling on the road between Muglad and Abyei and massacred more than hundred Dinka people, including Mark Majak Abiem, a Khartoum University professor who had wanted to go to Abyei to collect data for his PhD research dissertation in the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.
It was one of the worst incidence that ever happened between the Messeriyya and the Ngok Dinka. The relatives of those treacherously massacred in cold blood were devastated and anger spread in Abyei and wherever Ngok Dinka sons lived across the country. To add insult to injury, the Southern Kordofan authorities, supported by Khartoum, called for a reconciliation conference in Kadugli in August 1977, just two months after these terrible massacres. Southern Kordofan authorities and Khartoum were so insensitive to the wounds of the people of Abyei that it ignored conducting any investigation according to the Sudan Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Under the then prevailing laws of the Sudan, tribal fights had to be investigated to determine the potential individual suspects of criminal offences and to quantify the property loss before any reconciliation conference could be envisaged. Kadugli and Khartoum were so insensible to the feelings of Ngok Dinka that the issue of water and grazing for the Messeriyya were more important than hundreds of Dinka lives. I was among those who attended, as an observer, during the conference, Ngok Dinka chiefs would helplessly point out the Messeriyya criminals who participated in the June massacres attending the conference, but could do nothing. There were no concrete facts to support their accusation of those individuals because no investigations were made.
The Oil, SPLM/A, Baggara Murahileen and Al-Turabi Coup
In 1976, Chevron Oil Corporation, an American corporate entity, had begun intensive oil exploration in Western Upper Nile and in the Ngok Dinka area. By 1980, Chevron declared the presence of oil in commercial quantities in those areas. Dictator Ja’afar Nimeiri annexed Western Upper Nile to the North and created what he called the Unity Province. Abyei area did not require such a decision, as it has been part of the North since 1905. However, despite the cowardly acquiescence of the southern leadership in the decision creating Unity Province, it was resisted by the masses of the South, as a clear violation of Addis Ababa Accord of 1972. By 1983, dictator Nimeiri had altogether abrogated the Addis Ababa Accord and introduced the September laws (Shari’ a law).
This precipitated the 22-year long war led by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), under the leadership of the visionary fallen hero Dr. John Garang. Abyei citizens had joined the SPLM/A in large numbers in 1983 (the inception of the SPLM/A), and many had become important commanders in the ranks of SPLM/A. The reaction of Khartoum government and the Messeriyya had been a total declaration of war on the people of Abyei. Al-Saddig al-Mahdi who had become the Prime Minster of Sudan for the second time in 1986, supported and armed the Messeriyya Murahileen Militia, referred to earlier. Al-Saddig further worked to reorganize the Murahileen and some other militias in South Sudan, including the Nuer militias and the notorious Fertit Jish al-Salaam in Wau. The enemy now was not only Dinka Ngok, but also the larger Dinka, perceived by the North as the main backbone of the SPLM/A war. These militias, in the opinion of al-Saddig, had to be used to “break the back” of the Dinka tribes in Bahr-el-Ghazal.
Al-Saddig next step was an attempt to promulgate a legislation legalizing these militias through the Constituent Assembly. The Assembly and the leadership of the SAF resisted his policy. SAF leadership argued that what the army needed most to fight the SPLM/A was military hardware and not militias. Al-Saddig’s plans were, however, interrupted on June 30, 1989, by al-Turabi/al-Bashir National Islamic Front (NIF) coup. There was no disagreement between al-Saddig and al-Turabi on policy, in fact both of them are related through marriages and both believe in fundamentalist Islam. Nevertheless, al-Turabi believed that al-Saddig was too soft on war issues, and wanted either to Islamize the South or eradicate Southerners from existence. Al-Turabi saw his NIF mission as a mission to Islamize Africa, and Southerners were the obstacle in his way into the heart of Africa, and must therefore be removed.
To achieve his ends, al-Turabi declared Jihad war on the South. Massive killings of civilians, bombing of refugee camps, use of food as weapon of war, forced depopulation of vast areas such as the Ngok Dinka area, Western Upper Nile and the Nuba Mountains, separation of families and forced conversion of children to Islam, forced labor, sexual abuse and slavery. The result was millions of southerners were forced to flee to the North and into refuge. In this genocidal policy, al-Turabi effectively used the killer Murahileen and Fertit Jish al-Salaam to depopulate Abyei, Western Upper Nile, Northern Bahr-el-Ghazal and Nuba Mountains. Between 1989-1999, depopulation of Abyei and Northern Bahr-el-Ghazal was complete. General Mahdi Babo (the son of Chief Babo Nimir) and who had been the chief of staff of the SAF at the time of al-Turabi coup, aided by the notorious defunct Ibrahim Shams el-Din, directed the Murahileen operations from Abyei Town.
The Naivasha Peace Accord and the ABC
When the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was negotiated and signed between the SPLM/A and the theocratic government of Khartoum on January 9, 2005, al-Turabi was outside the corridors of power in Khartoum, otherwise such peace could not have been possible with his presence in power. Indeed, the NIF had split in 1999 due to power struggle between al-Turabi and al-Bashir. Fortunately enough, the SPLM/A leader and the fallen hero Dr. John Garang had successfully negotiated the Abyei Protocol, which, among its other provisions, provided for the appointment of the ABC to demarcate the boundaries of the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms that were transferred to Kordofan in 1905. The Protocol made the decision of the ABC final and binding on the parties to the CPA.
Because of the important and urgent nature of the issues to be decided by the ABC, the ABC was expeditiously constituted, as early as March 2005 in accordance with the said Protocol. Five international experts in history and geography, plus representatives of the Government of Sudan (GOS) and the SPLM/A, were given the task to resolve the issues between Ngok Dinka and the Messeriyya Arabs. The ABC began its work and conducted extensive public hearings in Abyei town, Agok, Muglad, Khartoum and the UK.
The Oral Evidence of the Parties
During those hearings the ABC heard the evidence of 68 Ngok Dinka witnesses in Abyei town between April 14 and 21, 2005. The Ngok Dinka gave consistent coherent cogent evidence, giving names of places they had been displaced from since 1965 to 2005. They gave evidence that before, during and after 1905, their permanent settlements were situated both north and south, between Bahr-el-Arab/River Kiir and Regaba ez-Zerga/Nogl River.
The evidence showed that violence, occupation and settlement of the Messeriyya Arabs accompanied the displacement and depopulation of the entire Ngok Dinka area, and the active support the GOS gave them; that it began in 1965 and was completed between the years of 1965-2005. The Ngok Dinka showed in evidence how the oil findings in the area has further compounded the problem, making the NIF government to organize the killer Murahileen Baggara militia, as a policy instrument. The Messeriyya embraced this policy, without a second thought as to the possibility of them being used as an instrument of oppression by the NIF theocratic regime in Khartoum.
On the other hand, the Messeriyya Arabs, of whom 57 witnesses testified in Muglad before the ABC, including General Mahdi Babo Nimir, adopted a strategy of lies, thinking it would impress the ABC. Their evidence claim that they had been in Abyei area since the mid of 18th century, and that the Turks, Mahdiyya and the British colonialists found them in their so-called “dar”. They claimed that the Ngok Dinka came from the Zeraf Island in the 19th century. The Messeriyya further testified that the Ngok Dinka were trouble makers and constantly fought with Nuer and Twic Dinka, and that it was Chief Nimir Ali Julla, the father of Chief Babo, who allowed Ngok Dinka to cross the Bahr-el-Arab/River Kiir, in 1939, upon the request of Sultan Arop Biong. The Messeriyya further added that they assisted Ngok children to obtain education, particularly those of Chief Deng Majok’s family. They had had no boundaries with Ngok Dinka, and that their boundaries were only with Nuer, Twic Dinka and Nuba. Some even asserted that they never heard of Ngok Dinka at all.
Reasonable mind would immediately recognize the lies and contradictions in the Messeriyya testimony. They alleged that Ngok came to the area in the 19th century, when the British authorities, they had so much relied on, emphatically stated that Ngok Dinka where in the area between the Ragaba ez-Zerga and Bahr-el-Arab since 1710, and that they the Messeriyya came from the west through the land of Sultan Wadai and settled around Muglad, Babanousa and Mumu in the decade of 1765-1775 (Howell, Henderson, Cunnison and Tibbs). They also claimed that that the Ngok Dinka was troublemakers and fought with Nuer and Twich. Contemporary records of history and ample oral evidsence contradicted their claim. Indeed, the Nilotic Ngok Dinka is a tiny minority of the larger Dinka tribe; hence, there is no possibility of taking on the second largest tribe in Southern Sudan, the Nuer. History does not report any tribal clashes between Ngok Dinka and the Twich Dinka whatsoever. The Twic Dinka testimony before the ABC, taken at Agok, disproved that claim beyond any doubt.
The Messeriyya other claim was that they have no borders with the Ngok Dinka, but only with the Nuer, Twich Dinka and Rek Dinka, was immediately contradicted by the Twic Dinka and Rek Dinka testimony that they never had borders with the Messeriyya, and their dealings with the Messeriyya had always been through the intermediation of Ngok Dinka.
As to the other claim that the Messeriyya Arabs helped in the education of Ngok Dinka children, the records of southern Sudan educational system, including those of the missionary schools and the living beings such as myself, absolutely contradict those claims. There was no possibility of the Messeriyya having helped the Ngok Dinka to obtain education, when education among the Messeriyya itself, is among the lowest in the Sudan.
The Messeriyya toped those lies and contradictions, with further untenable lie that they had never heard of Ngok Dinka at all. They said this; while oblivious of the fact that they had testified before the same ABC that the Ngok Dinka came to the area in the 19th century and that it was Nazir Nimir Ali Julla who permitted Ngok Dinka to cross River Kiir in 1939. However, though that piece of testimony was historically incorrect, how did they know that the Ngok Dinka came to area in 19th century and that it was Nazir Nmir Ali Julla who allowed Ngok to cross Kiir River in 1939, when they (the Messeriyya) emphatically testified that they never heard of people called Ngok Dinka at all? It can therefore be noted that there is apparent contradiction of the claims of “never hearing of Ngok Dinka at all” and the admission, incorrect though, that of Ngok Dinka having arrived in the area in the “19th century”).
The last misguided claim was by Izz el-Din Hereika, that he was the one who recognized the ninth Ngok chiefdom, when he was serving in the area as an administrator. This is definitely a lie. I do not remember Hereika serving in the Ngok Dinka whatsoever, nor was the Alei, the ninth chiefdom of Ngok Dinka he alleged to have recognized, a non-existent chiefdom. Indeed, Alei had existed since time immemorial, and was said to have lived in Muglad, before the coming of the Messeriyya to Muglad, from their roundabout west Africa migration from Saudi Arabia.
The GOS Presentation
The biased position of GOS and its espousing of the Messeriyya lies, disqualified it as the government of the whole Sudan. If the Messeriyya Arabs were sure of their facts which supported their claim of the ownership, it would have been advisable for them to be seen acting independently of the NIF government. In any case, the Messeriyya Arabs have been known in the history of the independent Sudan as the tools of all oppressive governments that have come and gone, and their blind support for the NIF regime was not an exception. So, they needed somebody to support their lies, and who else other than the NIF government suitable for that job?
Ambassador Dirdiry who presented the case of the Messeriyya looked ridiculous when he insisted on the validity of two maps that had been discredited by the writings of the colonial administrators (P. P. Howell, K.D. D. Henderson, Ian Cunnison, and Michael Tibbs). Mr. Al-Dirdiry had all the means to access their writings. Major Wilkinson travel in the area in 1902 and Major Percival exploration of the Nile western tributaries in 1904 were proven deadly wrong about the places they had visited during those itineraries. Despite their palpable incorrectness, Ambassador Dirdiry willingly chose to stick to the maps drawn by the two Majors. His Excellency the Ambassador was more than harmful to the case of the Messeriyya. But as long as that help came from the NIF, which the Ambassador represented, the Messeriyya refused to recognize the inaccuracies of the maps.
The SPLM/A Presentation
The SPLM/A presentation highlighted the Ngok Dinka oral evidence, producing variety of documents that supported the case of the Ngok Dinka, while at the same time admitting whenever any piece of evidence tended to support the claims of Messeriyya, if any. Cdr Deng Alor recognized that both Messeriyya and Ngok Dinka had made use of the same territory in recent times. What he denied was whether such use by the Messeriyya constituted “ownership” of the area (see the comments of Chief Moneim Mansour of the Hamar in 1966). He emphasized that the Ngok Dinka—supported by testimony from Twic, Rek and Rueng Dinka—occupied the area between Bahr-el-Arab/River Kiir and Regaba ez-Zerga/Ngol River before the Messeriyya arrived in Muglad area; that before, during and after 1905 their permanent settlements were situated both north and south of Bahr-el-Arab/River Kiir; and that there had been no major changes to their areas of permanent settlements or grazing from 1905 to 1965. Cdr Deng Alor added that the Ngok Dinka has established historical claims to an area extending from the existing Kordofan/Bahr-el-Ghazal boundary to north of the Regaba ez-Zerga/Ngol River, and that the boundary should in a straight line along lat. 10°35´N.
The Findings of the ABC
The findings of the ABC were characterized by the following difficulties:
• That the British colonialist divided the Sudan, like in any of their colonies around the world, into provinces, with sometimes inaccurate boundaries; and
• In so doing, there were no clear drawing of boundaries between tribes, but it was known in the records of administration the areas each tribe occupied.
However, the records of the colonial administration pointed with some clarity which part of the territory each belonged to the Messeriyya and the Ngok Dinka, respectively. It is only after the withdrawal of the colonialists that those records became rare, because of inaccuracies, frequent loss of records, or the incompetence of the Sudanese officials and/or the sheer negligence of the Sudanese administrators. No consistent record could be found in Dar Messeriyya Rural Council in al-Fulla. If Ngok Dinka were to decide not to remain in the North in 1953, or the Kordofan authorities had acceded to the desire of the Ngok Dinka to withdraw from the Messeriyya Rural Council in early sixties, the boundaries between the Ngok Dinka and Messeriyya would have been easier to draw, and many tragic conflicts would have been avoided. Many elders, from both sides, were then alive, and their knowledge of the history of the territory would have effectively aided such separation.
Because of the difficulties referred to above, the ABC had to resort to the examination of historical records, as the initial presentations of the GOS and SPLM/A, along with the oral testimony of the two communities, for obvious reasons, contradicted each other, and did not conclusively prove either side’s position. The ABC therefore set out to obtain as much evidence as it could from the archives and other sources in Sudan, United Kingdom, South Africa and Ethiopia. The ABC confined its examination to contemporary records generated during the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium rule (1898-1956). The ABC therefore framed nine prepositions or issues between the parties or communities. The Ngok Dinka won eight of these issues losing only on one, and that being the Ngok Dinka claim that at one time their northern boundary reached El-Oddaya.
The Ngok Dinka won on the most important and crucial issues, which were 7, 8 and 9:
• Whether the area transferred to Kordofan in 1905 was an area south of Bahr-el-Arab/River Kiir; and that the Ngok Dinka settled north of the river only after 1905, as alleged by GOS and the Messeriyya (Preposition 7).
The GOS and the Messeriyya had maintained throughout the hearings before the ABC that the only area transferred to Kordofan Province in 1905 was the area south of the river, and that the recognized borders between Bahr-el-Ghazal and Kordofan was the river. Taken at face value, the ABC seemed to have been impressed with the evidence of the GOS and the Messeriyya. The GOS and the Messeriyya supported their position with a 1904 Sudan Intelligence Department map and Major Wilkinson’s itinerary in 1902 from El-Obeid to “Dar Jange”. According to Major Wilkinson account he came across no Ngok Dinka village until he was fifteen miles south of Bahr-el-Arab/River Kiir. Wilkinson plotted his journey on a paper those fifteen miles from Fula Hamadai, he reached Fauel/Pawol, and fourteen miles to the southeast of Fauel/Pawol he reached what he considered Bahr-el-Arab/River Kiir. The ABC found Major Wilkinson to be deadly wrong. The river Wilkinson called Bahr-el-Arab/River Kiir was in fact Ragaba Ez-Zerga/Ngol River.
Another Major who also proved wrong was Major Percival of Bahr-el-Ghazal, who claimed that traveling from Wau to Arop Biong’s village in 1904, described River Kiir as 50 miles South of Bahr-el-Arab. Subsequent reports made it clear that the colonial administrative officials mistook the Regaba ez-Zerga/River Ngol for Bahr-el-Arab/River Kiir. It was a general confusion that prevailed through the first two decades of the British colonial era. The 1905-06 surveys correctly identified Bahr-el-Arab/Kiir River and the Regaba ez-Zerga/Ngol River for what they actually were, and from 1908 the Kordofan authorities began consistently to describe the Regaba ez-Zerga as the Bahr-el-Humr in their official reports. Hence, the ABC decided that the maps submitted by the GOS were incorrect. Contemporary records showed the Ngok Dinka occupied an area that extended from the Bahr-el-Arab/River Kiir north to the Regaba ez-Zerga/River Ngol.
• Whether there was continuity in the territory occupied and used by the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms, which was unchanged between 1905 and 1965, when armed conflict between and Messeriyya began (Preposition 8).
Despite the fact that the colonial officials never used to visit Abyei during the rainy season, and therefore did not observe the Ngok Dinka rainy season use of some of the northern-most territories, the British colonialist policy had been the encouragement of full use of tribal territories by their original inhabitants. Over the years of colonial administration, the British accepted the full use of the Ngok tribal territory, and the successive administrators accepted the continuity of settlement and use, even if they did not observed it personally.
The administrative records of the colonial years, along with the testimony of persons familiar with the area at the end of the colonial administration confirms the continuity of the Ngok Dinka settlements in the areas of Bahr-el-Arab/River Kiir, the Umm Bieiro/Nymoura, the Ragaba Lau, and the Ragaba ez-Zerga/Ngol. In 1909 Kordofan official C. A Willis, wrote that the Ngok Dinka settlements were found along the Jurf (Bahr-el-Arab) and that “Dinka influence extended a considerable distance further North at one time”. Michael Tibbs, the last administrators in the area, categorically stated that there was continuity of Ngok Dinka settlements up to the end of the British colonial administration. Ian Cunnison was equally emphatic. In the Lagawa reconciliation conference, after the events of 1965, it was agreed that Ngok Dinka could return to their homesteads at the “Ragagba ez-Zerga and other places where they used to live” and that the Arabs would have unrestricted access to all ragabas that hey had been frequenting before the outbreak of hostilities.
• Whether Abyei Area is defined as the territory of Kordofan encompassed by lat. 10°35´N in the north to long. 29°32´E in the east, and Upper Nile, Bahr-el-Ghazal and Darfur provincial boundaries as they were at the time of independence in 1956 (Preposition 9).
The ABC having examined the evidence in its various forms ruled as follows:
1. The area south of lat. 10°10´N represents the northern-most limit of the claim of dominant rights for the Ngok Dinka that he SPLM/A is willing to put forward;
2. The area between the lats. 10°10´N and 10°35´ therefore represents the area of secondary rights shared between Ngok Dinka and the Messeriyya;
3. This area closely coincide with the band of Goz, which a number of sources identify as the border zone between the Ngok Dinka and the Messeriyya;
4. Neither Ngok Dinka nor the SPLM/A has presented any claims to the territory east of long. 29°32´15"E, it is reasonable this is the eastern boundary.
Conclusion—The ABC’s Report in the Doldrums
From all what I have attempted to highlight, one fact stands out very clearly: the awesome effort the ABC has put into this work. Only a very highly competent court of law—of course, excluding the Sudan’ courts—could have done what the ABC did. For reasons mentioned elsewhere, it achieved the justice at least the Ngok Dinka expected from such an international body. In fact, the Ngok Dinka deserves justice after a phenomenally long period of oppression under both Kordofan and Khartoum authorities.
Any outcome other than what the ABC decided could have dealt the Ngok Dinka untold injustice. The Ngok Dinka has therefore has the right to rejoice and welcome the outcome of the drawing of the boundaries, as ordered by the ABC. Indeed, they have recovered the land of their ancestors, and have not taken somebody else’s property, as the Messeriyya attempted to demonstrate but failed. The Ngok Dinka in that demarcation has not taken an inch from the Messeriyya Arab land. It is a restoration of rights that were taken away by violence, occupation and settlement. It is a universal principle of law in private land disputes that nobody can acquire title to land if the possession of such land is a product of violence, occupation and settlement—no matter how long that possession is peaceful uninterrupted and continuous. The application of this principle of law becomes even more urgent, when the land in dispute is a land that belongs a community.
This landmark just demarcation of the boundaries has not find an acceptance from the Sudan Government and the Messeriyya Arabs. The ABC’s report was filed since early July of this year for implementation in accordance with provisions of CPA, Abyei Protocol. The GOS has not rejected or accepted the findings of the ABC. The Messeriyya have expressed their total rejection of the findings; they have organized demonstrations in Khartoum several months ago, expressing their total rejection of the report. The GOS has falsely promised them that it will alter the findings of the ABC in their favor, without telling the people of the Sudan and the international community how it is going to effect that change. On the other hand, the SPLM/A and Ngok Dinka have accepted and celebrated the findings, and are calling on the GOS to immediately implement the findings in accordance with the terms of the CPA, Abyei Protocol.
The Ngok Dinka are still ready to welcome the Messeriyya to have the normal secondary rights over the same land—as before—for the necessary periods of watering and grazing, provided the Messeriyya should change their old behavior and attitude. As the old saying goes, “old habits die hard”. This time around the Messeriyya must not only try to respect Ngok Dinka when they come to Ngok Dinka territory, but must first and foremost accept and respect the ruling of the ABC. This is a very important and essential step towards a lasting reconciliation between the two communities. The Messeriyya should realize that the Ngok Dinka is not carrying that land to another country, if that were ever possible, but that land is an integral part of Sudan, and will remain so. The Sudan is still one geographical entity, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.
The CPA has given the Messeriyya 2% of the oil revenue produced in the Ngok Dinka area, as well as another 2% to Ngok Dinka. It is time to settle down in order for any sort of development to take place. The two communities are far behind most of the areas in the North. It is time for stability and normalcy for the two communities to pursue other peaceful goals, including development, which they desperately need.
I would like also to remind the Messeriyya that the Khartoum government had used them in the past as “weapons of mass destruction” to the Nilotic Dinka communities around them, and would use them again to destroy the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Reports from Abyei consistently point to the fact the Baggara Murahileen is still armed and roaming the Abyei area and some parts of Northern Bahr-el-Ghazal. The Murahileen and other government militias, such as the Nuers and Jish al-Salaam, are just possibly waiting for the orders of the Khartoum government to restart the war. Those destructive intentions will not promote the case of Messeriyya, because initially they never had a case.
Since 1956, the Khartoum governments have played a biased role against the Ngok Dinka. Since the British colonialists withdrew from the Sudan, the Kordofan provincial authorities have been oppressive of the people o Abyei. One would have thought that the decision the Ngok Dinka made in the early 1950s to remain in the North among an overwhelming Arab majority should have made the authorities in Kordofan and Khartoum to pay more attention to this tiny no-Arab population. On the contrary, both Khartoum and Kordofan shamelessly neglected Abyei area, which made the sons of Abyei to effectively participate in the entire Southern uprisings since independence. Abyei was therefore made a grazing and watering area for the Messeriyya Arabs.
Because of the climatic changes, conflicts became more unavoidable between the Messeriyya Arabs and the Ngok Dinka. Kordofan and Khartoum authorities unjustifiably politicized these conflicts. The grazing and watering needs of Messeriyya Arabs were overemphasized at the expense of the poor Ngok Dinka. Al-Saddig al-Mahdi governments began arming the Messeriyya under the pretext of fighting the Southern insurgency. Those guns were not only directed against the so-called insurgency, but were primarily used against the Ngok Dinka, resulting in their displacement. But when al-Turabi/al-Bashir government took power in Khartoum, the whole policy was transformed into mass depopulation of the Ngok Dinka territory in favor of the Messeriyya. Indeed, it was a policy of ethnic cleansing. The Messeriyya were allowed to resettle the whole territory of Ngok Dinka, thinking that the Ngok Dinka territory will be theirs forever by the right of conquest.