Mr. Hussein Gibriel al-Goni wrote a lengthy article in the Arabic electronic daily Sudanil. It was the first attempt by a Messeriyya Baggara intellectual to venture an opinion about Abyei. The article is devoted to the recent decision by the Abyei Boundaries Commission (ABC), constituted in accordance with the Protocol and Annex thereto, between the Government of the Sudan (GOS) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) on the Resolution of the Abyei Conflict (the Protocol), and contained in ABC Report (the Report). Mr. al-Goni approaches the Report from its legal, social, economic and security aspects. However, much of it is about the political aspect, with some discussion about legal provisions.
In his opening statement, al-Goni claims that Abyei has suddenly occupied the headlines for the first time in its long peaceful history of co-existence between the Messeriyya Baggara and the Ngok Dinka. It is not true that Abyei has occupied the headlines for the first time after the ABC ruled in the manner it did. At least in the last forty years, Abyei has twice hit the headlines in both 1965, just nine years after independence of the Sudan, and in 1977 tragic incidences, in which hundreds of lives and property were lost. Abyei, therefore, by one of history’s little ironies, became a bone of contention between the Ngok Dinka—the original inhabitants and owners of the area—and the Messeriyya Baggara—permitted seasonal beneficiaries of the area. Ever since late Chief Babo Nimir made his preposterous claim in a reconciliation conference in Lagawa in March 1966 that it was his father, Nimir Ali Julla, who permitted the Ngok Dinka in 1939 to move further north along River Ngol/Ragaba ez-Zarga, the Messeriyya Baggara have began to believe in the veracity of this obviously concocted story. Hence, Mr. al-Goni, too, is laboring under this misconception and outright lie.
As pointed out, Mr. al-Goni discusses the Report from the aspects referred to above. His first criticism of the Report is from the legal point of view. Mr. al-Goni claims that the experts understood their mandate from an explanation offered to them by the American Embassy in Nairobi on April 27, 2005, which indicated that the area to be demarcated (although he mistakenly refers to it as 1956) was the area of the conflict in 1965. Mr. al-Goni’s statement is entirely wrong on three counts: First, in its 256 pages, nowhere have the experts mentioned the fact of having consulted the American Embassy in Nairobi in any form or in any manner, let alone the Embassy defining for them their mandate under the Protocol. Second, on page 14 of the Report, under the Terms of Reference (TOR), and at the beginning of each oral testimony both in Abyei and Muglad, the experts repeatedly and clearly defined their mandate, referring to Article 1.1.2 of the Protocol, which defines that mandate as “The area of the nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms transferred to Kordofan in 1905”. Third, Mr. al-Goni understands the area transferred in 1905, as if it had already been defined and demarcated. If such were the case, there would have been no need, in the first place, for the ABC. It is they (the Messeriyya Baggara) who have their own imaginary claim that the area transferred to Kordofan in 1905 must have been south of the Kiir River/Bahr-el-Arab.
Here again, we see the most cherished slogan of any Arab intellectual: conspiracy theory. This theory works its magic in the Arab intellectual world. Even if there are glaring facts that can justify the causes of any event, the Arab intellectual would invariably ignore those facts and would go on a limb to find imaginary causes for the event. Mr. al-Goni drags in the American Embassy in Nairobi to support his imaginary conspiracy theory in an affair that does not concern it. Why would the experts seek the aid of the American Embassy in Nairobi when there were Americans among the friends of IGAD?
This obvious misinterpretation of the experts’ mandate is a result of many Baggara intellectuals relying on hearsay. Mr. al-Goni does insists on the fact that the so-called American Embassy in Nairobi interpretation of the experts’ mandate could not help them because they understood the area transferred in 1905 to be the area of conflict in 1965. This is al-Goni’s own interpretation and not that of either the American Embassy in Nairobi (if it has ever given any interpretation at all), nor that of the experts. The difficulty the experts mentioned in the Report is the difficulty of determining the area transferred in 1905. It comes out of the fact that at the time of transfer, the British colonialists were yet to establish their full authority over the region, meaning there were no reliable maps available to the experts from that period or time. I do not therefore believe that Mr. al-Goni has read the actual text of the Report; otherwise he would not be making this silly mistake. Or he might have read the Report and wants to understand it in his own way. In this case, there is nothing much anyone could do about it.
Further, Mr. al-Goni says that all the reports from the two provinces, Kordofan and Bahr- el-Ghazal, for 1902, 1903 and 1904 mentioned the boundary between the two provinces was River Kiir/Bahr-el-Arab. Again, Mr. al-Goni misinterpretation of the mandate of the experts is also glaringly clear. Simply, the Ngok Dinka was in the place it is in now, in 1905 and in 1965, and which has been determined by history and the ABC as their land. So there is no misinterpretation of mandate by the ABC or by anyone else. In short, the Ngok Dinka has regained the land they had inhabited since 1710 and from which they were forcefully evicted in 1965 and violently depopulated from the rest of it by the notorious Baggara Murahileen and the Sudanese army in the years between 1965-2005.
In his article, Mr. al-Goni claims that the ABC has ignored 57 documents presented by the GOS, which all support the fact that boundary was south of River Kiir/Bahr-el-Arab. Mr. al-Goni does not enumerate those documents or when they were made. Indeed, those who read the Report have found multitude of reports and documentation written by the British colonialists, and have been all sourced to Britain, Egypt and Sudan, sometimes to Ethiopia. The Experts found all these documentations supporting the claim of the Ngok Dinka. So, what is al-Goni’s point?
During any negotiations, agreements are reached through adding, deleting, or rephrasing of the understandings of the parties. Even in simple private contracts, agreements are reached through this process. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in Nairobi on January 9, 2005, including the Abyei Protocol and its Annex. The Protocol was adopted on May 26, 2004 and the Annex on December 17, 2004. The Annex clearly modifies the provisions of the Protocol by giving the power to constitute the ABC and determine its timeframe to the parties to the Agreement (GOS and SPLM/A), and not to the presidency as provided by Article 5.2. Simply said the Annex supersedes the Protocol whenever there are contradictions between the Annex and the Protocol. I therefore wonder where Mr. al-Goni finds his contradictions between the Annex and the Protocol? Or where he finds the ABC to have overstepped its mandate?
After trying to find imaginary loopholes in the work of the ABC, Mr. al-Goni turns to the very recent history of Abyei. In this regard, Mr. al-Goni’s performance is even more deplorable. This, however, might be due to the fact Mr. al-Goni has lost touch with area, which he is trying to assign to his people, the Baggara Arabs. He confuses the date or dates of the first major conflict that had ever taken place between the Ngok Dinka and the Messeriyya Baggara. According to history, Anyanya never attacked the Messeriyya Baggara cattle camps along the River Ngol/Ragaba ez-Zarga in 1964. I was in the area from December 1964 until early July 1965. All I know was a tribal clash between the Ngok Dinka and the Messeriyya in late February and early March 1965, in which the Baggara sustained heavy losses. The Ngok Dinka used traditional weapons like spear, while some of the Baggara used modern weapons.
The Sudanese army contingent that was dispatched from El-Odayya to keep the parties from fighting intervened on the behalf of the Baggara. As soon as the Sudan army contingent arrived the area, together with the Baggara, it began burning down the Ngok Dinka villages and crops along the River Ngol/Ragaba ez Zarga. Consequently, the unarmed Ngok Dinka had to hurriedly evacuate an area of almost 300 sq kilometers. There was no Anyanya attack on the Messeriyya whatsoever. Al-Saddig al-Mahdi government in 1966 used this imaginary Anyanya attack, and began arming the Messeriyyya with modern weaponry, turning a simple traditional tribal conflict into an ethnic and racial confrontation. Some of the Anyanya commanders are still living and if Mr. al-Goni wants to know the facts, he can ask the Baggara friends General Paolino Matip, a former Anyanya soldier, or General Tom al-Nur, who was living in Muglad at that time, whether there was such an attack in 1964. These two generals are no friends of Ngok Dinka but were allies of the Baggara Murahileen militia.
Having scored no points in history, Mr. al-Goni hurriedly returns to the issue of the Protocol and accuses the ABC of having not acted in accordance with its mandate and its procedure. By this time, al-Goni begins to call the Protocol and the Annex as “regulations”. For a reader who has read Mr. al-Goni’s article and reading this one, I would like to refer him to the paragraphs above where he would find a response to the point he is trying to make here. To support his view that the ABC has violated its mandate, he cites Major Wilkinson’s itinerary of 1902. During his itinerary Major Wilkinson recorded that “at mile 261 ½ from the starting point, he arrived at Kuek, where he encountered Arab dry season settlements and many cattle. Ten miles later, he reached Fula Hamadai and about fifteen miles farther on he came to Fauwel (Pawol). Then, about fourteen miles to the southeast of Fauwel, Wilkinson reached what he said was Bahr-el-Arab. He was wrong” (see the Report page 17).
Indeed, Major Wilkinson was not the only one laboring under this confusion alone. In 1904, Major Percival of Bahr-el-Ghazal described Kir as being 50 miles south of Bahr-el-Arab. Other British administrators made it clear that the two Majors mistook River Ngol/Ragaba ez Zarga for River Kiir/Bahr-el-Arab, “and thought the Kir was a different river” (see page 18 of the Report). The geographical confusion of the White Nile western tributaries region continued for the first two decades of the Condominium rule. According to the ABC “this was a part of a broad range of geographical inaccuracies regarding most of the Sudan in that time”. R. C. Bayldon’s report on River Kiir/Bahr-el-Arab in 1905, Huntley Walsh reports on River Kiir/Bahr-el-Arab Reconnaissance and H. G. Lyons (Director-General of the Survey Department, Egyptian Government) proved beyond any doubt the mistaken belief of Major Wilkinson and Major Percival (see Pp 196-200 of the Report). So whatever Ambassador al-Dirdiery of the GOS presented to the experts was discredited some hundred years ago.
Al-Goni makes a reference to Mr. Jan Pronk, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the UN in the Sudan (SRSG), as having said that an anonymous group wrote the Report and that the experts learned about it after it had been submitted to the presidency. I have never heard about Mr. Jan Pronk’s statement, although my gut feeling is that it is a concoction of Mr. al-Goni and his Messeriyya group in a desperate attempt to discredit the Report. Mr. al-Goni does not stop at attributing to SRSG a statement he might have never said, but further accused the ABC of procedural mistakes that would lead to conflicting interpretation of the Protocol, and may bring the ruling National Islamic Front (NIF) into conflict with the SPLM/A. Off course, the NIF is the advocate of the Messeriyya Baggara case, and Mr. al-Goni and the Baggara want the maximum support thy could obtain from it. However, the Ngok Dinka people have experienced since 1989, the NIF arming of the Baggara and its active support of the Baggara to violently change the demographic composition of the Abyei area through human rights abuses such as civilian mass murder, rape, NIF-induced starvation, slavery and forced depopulation. The call on the Umma Party and the NIF, acting together against the Ngok Dinka people of Abyei, will not therefore further intimidate them. The Umma started this shameful policy since 1966 and 1986 and the NIF pick up the same policy from where the Umma Party left it since 1989.
Mr al-Goni keeps repeating the points he is making throughout the article that trying to follow him will be a waste of time and energy to go over them all. For example, points 10, 11, 12 and 13 have been earlier dealt with. Nevertheless, Mr. al-Goni makes a clear statement that there are contradictions between the Protocol and the Annex, one can excuse Mr. al-Goni for not being a lawyer and may perhaps not understand that a subsequent agreement can supersede an earlier one. Mr. al-Goni desperate attempt to drag in the states of Southern Kordofan and Southern Blue in what does not concern them is misleading notion. It is not also true that the Report of the ABC is not final and binding. The Annex to the Protocol clearly provides in Article 5: “The ABC shall present its final report to the Presidency before the end of the Pre-Interim Period. The report of the experts, arrived at as prescribed in the ABC rules of procedure, shall be final and binding on the Parties.” What clarity else do you want to see, Mr. al-Goni? There is absolutely no point in the report being presented to the presidency by one member or by all the members of the ABC.
In point 15, Mr. al-Goni comes out clearly as to what has been the real policy behind violence and depopulation of the Abyei area from its people over the last 50 years. It is for the Northern governments, particularly Umma Party governments, the NIF, the Messeriyya Baggara and Mr. al-Goni, to have the land of the people of Abyei without them. Precisely, Mr. al-Goni says that Abyei has already been depopulated and the few remaining can either be got rid of in the usual manner or should not be allowed to decide the future of their land. Mr. al-Goni asks a question as to who should be allowed to vote in the future referendum determining whether Abyei area should go south or remain in the north. Mr. al-Goni, I will give you a straight answer: All those from the nine chiefdoms of Ngok Dinka who were forcefully removed by the Messeriyya Baggara and the governments of the North, plus those who were born outside of the Area because of the same violence, will be eligible to vote. Period. Moreover, if your ancestors did not belong to any of the nine chiefdoms of the Ngok Dinka Area, as demarcated, you do not have the right to vote in the future referendum or otherwise.
The second aspect of the consequences of ABC boundary demarcation should have been the economic effect of the distribution of oil discovered in the Abyei Area. The area after being neglected by the Northern governments over the last fifty, the relative peace that has returned should have made economists such as al-Goni begin to think of how the area could be developed. Instead, Mr. al-Goni is bellowing the trumpets of war. This time around, he has decided to claim the Area of Ngok Dinka and called it a Messeriyya Baggara area. Why does Mr. al-Goni think that a localized conflict between the Dinka and the Baggara will bring war to the whole county?
I thought Mr. al-Goni has promised us to discuss economic and social aspects of the demarcation process. Unfortunately, this part has been entirely devoted to the beating of drums of war. Al-Goni writes about how his Baggara as being known for their gallant spirit and cavalry. According to my limited civilian knowledge of war, I know the Baggara have never entered any battle, let alone fight a war, against the Ngok Dinka or anyone else, without the central government on their side. Some of the raids the Baggara use to undertake against the unarmed Dinka both in Abyei Area and Northern Bahr-el-Ghazal were possible because of the Sudanese army’s backing. How many raids by the bloodthirsty Murahilleen led by General Mahdi Babo Nimir and the defunct Ibrahim Shams el-Din in which they needed the logistical support of the Sudan army general headquarters in Khartoum?
Mr. al-Goni threats to the Ngok Dinka people that the implementation of the ABC will result into terrorist operations in the Osama bin Ladin’s style, and his admission that there are thousands of former members of the Baggara Popular Defense Force (PDF), former army retirees and former (if at all former) Baggara Murahileen militia is an admission that the war efforts in the area are being made. So the process of bloody intimidation of the people of Abyei has been declared put in motion by al-Goni.
After issuing the declaration of war on the people of Abyei, General (sorry) Mr. al-Goni makes the following remarks:
• That Abyei Protocol gives the people of Abyei a privilege position, either to join the South or remain in the North. This, in al-Goni’s view, is extremely a generous privilege to be given to a particular group of people, which may lead others to equally demand those privileges to be accorded to them. Well, the Ngok Dinka people have not prevented any person from asking for any privilege of their own.
• That the Protocol has given the people of Abyei privileges not given to any other people elsewhere in the Sudan. Whether these privileges—if they are at all privileges—were accorded for specific particularity of the people of Abyei, does not matter to al-Goni.
• Al-Goni wonders whether if the people of Bahr-el-Ghazal rejects to accept the people of Abyei, will Messeriyya Baggara accept them to share the same administration? Mr. al-Goni do not worry; as long as General Tom al-Nur is your authority, anything is possible; the Abyei people may decide to be part of the Northern state, or may decide to belong to Uganda.
• That the problem of Abyei is a creation of the educated sons of Abyei to justify their positions in the SPLM/A. Well, Mr. al-Goni, the positions held by sons of Abyei in the ranks of the SPLM/A have been earned by them for their sacrifices and in gallant combat. In addition, the sons of Abyei feel their people in the same way you feel about your Baggara people. Why should you have the right to defend the cause of your people and me not to have that same right?
• Al-Goni also asks why Abyei has been given a special status contrary to what is provided under the Machakos Framework Protocol. The answer is simple: Abyei is still and will remain part of the North until when the people of Abyei shall decide their destiny.
• The remaining concluding remarks are just long-windedness that do not add any substance to the article.
Mr. al-Goni concludes by making the following recommendation:
1. That the Protocol is full of contradictions, which opens the door for controversial interpretations. However, as far as I know, Mr. al-Goni is not a lawyer (unless he had studied law after we all left Khartoum University), and it is puzzling for a man who is not a lawyer to arrogate to himself the right to issue categorical legal opinions about agreements negotiated over long years.
2. He recommends the rejection of the Report as presented, but does not say what should be done to the other beneficiary of the Report. Perhaps, his other suggestion of tribal conference to resolve the issue of Abyei seems to him as satisfactory. He does not realize the issue has gone beyond tribal conferences. We Abyei people do not have militias like the Baggara Murahileen, or thousands of members of PDF, or even Sudan army retirees, but let al-Goni be reminded that whatever solution, outside the ABC Report, will not be acceptable to the people of Abyei. Let Mr. al-Goni also know that those nice words or phrases like “melting pot”, “microcosm”, a “bridge between the North and the South” and the likes, given the tumultuous years of 1965-2005 and the clear intention of the Messeriyya, the Sudan government and the Umma Party in grabbing our land, will never suffice, particularly if the intention is to evict the few remaining Dinka in our land.
I was expecting intellectual arguments, but Mr. al-Goni has absolutely disappointed me. I apologize to those who will read this piece that Mr. al-Goni has dragged me into some sharp responses, which I did not intend. Mr. al-Goni provocative remarks is an example of what sort of intellectuals among the Baggara people.