By Adam B. Elhiraika, PhD
It is doubtless that, as the Government of Sudan and the Messeria people strongly insist, Abyei Boundaries Commission (ABC) out stepped its mandate according to Nivasha Agreement. The Agreement mandates the Commission to identify the Boundaries of Abyei, a triangle that was annexed to Kordofan in 1905. The Commission admitted its failure to identify the triangle, but carried on to prepare a baseless report that promised to give Dink Nkok (Dinka hereafter) more areas than they had claimed.
In fact, even if the ABC acted within its mandate, the fallacies and inconsistencies of its report/suggestions on the future of the area cast serious doubt on its credibility and usefulness in helping the two sides of the dispute to agree on any thing. The composition of the committee was a factor that worried the Messeria most during Nivasha talks, in which Messeria were never genuinely represented, although a group of Messeria accompanied the government of Sudan¡¦s delegation to give unbinding opinion. The group was selected by government and in no way represents the Messeria opinion. The Commission consisted of 5 Christians who undoubtedly saw the dispute as a religious conflict between Muslims and ¡§the oppressed¡¨ non-Muslims. Accordingly its suggestions were surprising even to many Dinka people, of course a pleasant surprise. But the suggestions exceeded the expectations of the most suspicious Messeria who never expected the Commission to admit facts and act impartially.
Abyei Num, a small town south of Bahr Al-Arab was the only permanent Dinka settlement in the disputed area prior to their agreement with Messeria on peaceful coexistence that allowed them to cross Bahr Al-Arab and settle along with some Messeia and families from other tribes in Abyei Town north of Bahr Al-Arab. During that time many Dinka people began to use easy to till (semi-goz) land northwest of Abyei to produce sorghum, which they exchanged with Messeria for Milk and other products.
Messeria Folktales never mention a land grabbed from Dinka and it is a historically and culturally accepted fact among Messeria folks that the only tribe that lived before their coming to what is today¡¦s Messeria land (North of Bar Al-Arab) was Shat, a small tribe that gradually moved to mountainous areas in Southern Kordofan as climate changed and competition for resources increased.
All historical records and documents, including maps, from colonial time provide evidence of the life of Messeria along Bahr Al-Arab and permanent or semi-permanent Messeria settlements in areas like Nama, Al-Meram and Al-Danbuloy besides their coexistence with Dinka in Abyei and other small towns and villages as well as in the rural areas.
Having admitted its failure to identify the boundaries of Abyei area that is under dispute in line with its terms of reference, the Commission should have stopped there to give the government, SPLM and the people of the area the opportunity to dialogue on how to proceed. Instead, the Commission gave itself the right to deliberate on the issue according to baseless criteria that were inconsistently applied. In fact the Commission did not fail to act within its mandate, but rather it did not wish to do so as the evidence was not in favour of the conclusion they wanted to reach, a conclusion which many people believe was given to the Commission by Dinka intellectuals such as Dr. Francis Deng long before its work started. So what remained for the Commission to do was to find a context that justifies these conclusions.
The starting point and hallmark of the Commission¡¦s report was the claim that what colonial maps referred to as Bahr Al-Arab was Alragaba Alzaraga, a smaller seasonal river north of Bahr Al-Arab. And that falsification was not enough for the Commission to grab Messeria land and present it to the ¡§oppressed Dinka people¡¨. So another criterion, permanent settlement, was introduced. Following are just a few examples that clearly demonstrate the fallacies, inconsistencies and subjectivity of the Commission:
ƒá The Commission claims to have used the permanent settlement criteria to draw borders between Dinka and Messeria. However, it deliberately failed to mention the fact that many permanent Messeria settlements in Nama, for example, were deserted after the 1965 civil war. Since then Messeria settlers moved northward and also some Dinka settlers moved southward, but only deserted Dinka settlements counted for the Commission.
ƒá The clumsy permanent settlement criterion being unhelpful to the Commission in the case of existing large Messeria settlements/towns such as Al-Meram (80 km south of Muglad and 40 Km north of Bahr Alarab) the Commission added another baseless and arbitrary criterion: Drawing a straight line (latitude) from claimed Dinka permanent settlements in the Northeast of the area in dispute to cut off all Messeria area behind that line including Al-Meram. The line passes a few kilometres south of Muglad and gives Dinka an area (especially southwest Muglad) that they never claimed. (The Commission was too generous to say, for example, to someone who claims Kosti to be part of the South you will be better off if we give you Khartoum as well).
ƒá The Commission obviously being motivated by geopolitics and the oil factor tried to cut all ¡¥Chevron¡¦ areas of exploration and append them to the South. To complete that ¡§holly¡¨ mission, the Commission even suggested that the straight line that passes south of Muglad also be used to change the boundaries between Darfur and the South, to include Abu Jabra and other oil areas in the South.
ƒá The mockery of ¡§shared-rights¡¨ areas in-between Messeria and Dinka main lands, as proposed by the Commission is an ingenious deception and will never exist once the South secedes.
Who bears the ultimate responsibility of this fiasco? Obviously the government of Sudan is to blame in the first place for acting without regard to the opinion of the people concerned (namely Messeria) while Dinka from Abyei area were sitting on the opposite side of the table with full authority and not just token representation of their people. Also discussions with some government officials who were involved in Nivasha talks showed that they naively believed that the Commission will be impartial and will base its report on historical facts and documents from colonial time. In this context government officials, including Mr. Ali Osman Taha, firmly argued that Messeria should not worry because existing evidence (which the Commission eventually chose to reject) points out to a fair settlement to the dispute. While those officials were vividly shocked and dismayed by the report, I find it difficult to understand that an intelligent and experienced politician like Mr. Ali Osman Taha could trust a commission of such biased composition and orientation.
The way forward: The fiasco report has definitely complicated the way to resolving the Abyei conflict. But the fact that the Commission admitted its inability to determine the triangle that was annexed to Kordofan in 1905 is clear evidence that its report cannot be mandatory. The way to peaceful resolution of the conflict has to be based on the following critical elements.
ƒá Rejection of the ABC report by Messeria should not mean war between Messeria and Dinka. The biased, subjective and inconsistent report was largely motivated by factors beyond the immediate interests of the two groups ¡V mainly the oil factor.
ƒá Like the reset of the country, peace in Abyei area is a process of which the report is just one attempt that clearly went off track. Messeria do not only strongly reject the report, but they denounce the Commission for being biased, opinionated and motivated by the oil factor to disregard facts.
ƒá Even if the commission were unbiased and acted within its mandate, both Messeria and Dinka are entitled by International Law to appeal against its report if credible facts are not taken into consideration, deliberately or unintentionally. Therefore, Messeria rejection of the report and the composition of the Commission should be seriously respected by the other side ¡V and all the parties concerned. Accordingly a due process should be established by the parties concerned including Dinka and Messreia who should be genuinely represented in order to facilitate further dialogue with application of objective criteria that admit existing evidence and resolve the conflict through a more objective, logical and fair framework.
ƒá Failure to reach an acceptable peaceful settlement to Abyei dispute will create a new ¡§Kashmire¡¨ in which both Messeria and Dinka will suffer for a long time, possibly longer than the longest civil war in Africa in which the two tribes suffered the most among all other tribes in Sudan.