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Commentary: Sudan needs crucial decision on Abyei now

A lack of political will to avert Abyei’s explosive situation from escalating could spell tragic consequences. Adam Abkar Ali examines the roots of the crisis and the peaceful intentions required to pull Abyei back from the brink.

Self-determination for the people of Abyei, while guaranteed on paper, is yet to be realised.
© Trevor Snapp/AFP/Getty Images

The Sudanese parliament has called on the northern National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) to adopt a balanced policy on Abyei’s future and to take crucial steps toward satisfying both parties before the south’s official independence takes effect on 9 July.

The statement issued by Hajou Gisma Al Sayeed, deputy speaker of the Sudan National Assembly, stressed that any decision taken unilaterally on Abyei is unacceptable to both local and international communities.

Many observers had expected Abyei to erupt. At this critical stage, the signs that presaged violence in the region are impossible to ignore.

Illustration by Khalid Albaih
By calling for the disputed region to exercise self-determination regarding its future status, the provisions of the Abyei Protocol, part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), inspired great hope.

But instead of facilitating its implementation, political forces chose to present obstacles to prevent it. The protocol became a tool of exploitation for parties to advance their own interests according to their own agendas.

When the resulting complications reached new heights, the NCP and SPLM sought external, expert opinions, which they later rejected. Then came the 2009 decision of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which redefined Abyei’s borders. Both parties claimed to accept this ruling.

But the actual border demarcation has not been sufficiently addressed. Everything was in place, but neither party provided the positive conditions necessary to resolve this complex issue.

Listen to Marvis Birungi's radio piece: "Examining the role of the UN in Abyei"

All the resolutions signed about Abyei boil down to mere ink on paper—meaningless without full implementation. In what many consider the most serious instance, the referendum on Abyei stipulated by the peace deal, which was supposed to take place in conjunction with the south’s January vote on secession, was never held.

Other accords, such as the agreement of Kadugli, pointed a way out of the impasse with the deployment of Joint Integrated Units (JIUs) to Abyei from both north and south. But once again, the same competitive dynamics between the SPLM and the NCP came into play, thus defeating any attempts at implementation. With each side playing by its own rules, there was rarely a point of encounter for both sides to start honest negotiations.

Looting in Abyei after the recent clashes - UN Photo / Stuart Price

Recent statements by both parties inflamed the situation even more. While the SPLM demands the annexation of Abyei to the south, the NCP warns this would come at a high price: if the future nation of South Sudan incorporates Abyei in its constitution, Khartoum says it will not recognise the south’s independence.

The parliament's call for a balanced policy has come too late. Moreover, it is clearly aware of what stands in the way of a peaceful, sustainable solution for Abyei. The parliament is equally cognizant that the delay in implementation of all these agreements has led both parties back to square one. And here it must be said: the political interests of the NCP account for some of the main reasons the people of Abyei are not living in peace and stability.

The peaceful intentions inherent to a fair decision on Abyei must be stronger than conflicting political agendas. But the latest outbreak of violence takes Abyei–indeed, the whole of Sudan—to an ominous juncture. Where are those peaceful intentions?

If political leadership does not steer Abyei away from the abyss, the current crisis threatens to escalate into war.

The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or opinions of the publishers of

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