The UN Security Council (UNSC) has eventually issued the much-awaited resolution 2445 on the temporary administration and the final status of Abyei Area. This resolution came as a result of consultation and consensual rather than an imposed agreement between the governments of South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia and members of the UNSC. So it is a compromise Resolution. Although we may have our own interpretation of this Resolution, we should sincerely congratulate the delegation (including the members of Abyei) of government of South Sudan to the meetings of UNSC on Abyei and the letter of our chiefs to UNSC that resulted in the progress seen in the Resolution towards a resolution of the final status of Abyei. The Ngok Dinka have received this UN resolution with jubilation, but with limited or shared knowledge of the content of the Resolution. The real question is whether the resolution is consistent with UN Secretary-General (UNSG)’s Recommendations in his letter dated 20th August 2018 to the President of the Security Council, and if not, then what is a measured interpretation of the Resolution and its implications.
Prior to the declaration of the Resolution, some individuals in social media started circulating the rumours that I had asked for the extension of the much-awaited SC Resolution for six months to allow the proposal of Dr Francis and Gen Mahdi Babo to see light. Unfortunately, this tactic is disingenuous and absurd. Before answering the question of what the resolution means to the people of Abyei, I would like to clarify the engineered rumours about me in the social media.
First, I met Minister Dirdeiry of Sudan and Gen. Mohamed El Ata, Sudanese ambassador to US, on 6th November 2018 in Washington upon his request after I had sent an email message congratulating him for his efforts in concluding the peace agreement for South Sudan, despite my glaring concerns about the mediation process, and more importantly for his support of the initiative of Dr. Francis and Gen Mahdi Babo. Our meeting was cordial and we discussed many issues, foremost among them the issue of Abyei. Minister Dirdeiry confirmed to me the support of his government to the initiative of Dr Francis and Gen. Mahdi to help the communities recover from the impacts of war and to build more cooperative relations in developing the area.
I shared with him my opinion that the initiative of Dr Francis and Gen. Mahdi was not different from the UNSG’s recommendations, which favoured Sudan more than South Sudan, particularly in the management of oilfields in Abyei without South Sudan. Apparently, he was not conversant with the details of the SG’s recommendations. He, however, insisted that the two countries be given six months to resolve the issue of Abyei in the new spirit between the two countries and the initiative of Dr Francis and Gen. Mahdi. I never suggested the idea of extension of six months to him; it was entirely his own and position of his government.
I went to New York on 7th November to attend a meeting at US Social Science Research Council jointly organized by the London School of Economics and Tufts Peace Foundation on the “Political Marketplace Framework”. While in NY, I contacted a friend at US Mission to UN to check on the expected SC resolution on UNISFA and I was asked to meet with the Mission staff on 9th Nov to discuss the issue of Abyei and other issues related to South Sudan, Sudan and Africa. I shared with them information about my meeting with Minister Dirdeiry and his opinion that Sudan would need six months in the new spirit between the two countries to resolve the issue of Abyei.
My point of view, which I shared with the US Mission to the UN was that if Sudan insisted on the six months period extension, the UN should first endorse the UNSG’s recommendations as the basis for the two countries to negotiate during the six months in the spirit of the initiative of Dr Francis and Gen. Mahdi. I informed our Representative in the South Sudan Mission to UN about my meeting with US Mission and my opinion that the request of Sudan for six months extension be based on the adoption of UNSG’s recommendations. It is surprising that such request has been misrepresented and attributed to me by some individuals in social media. I consoled myself with the wisdom of my daughter Anyiel not to allow oneself to be framed by others but by one’s conscience and Almighty God.
So what is in UNSC Resolution 2445? The real question is whether this Resolution meets the UNSG’s recommendations, which the people of Abyei unanimously supported? My nephew Daniel Deng always reminds me of Eagle Wisdom and not to meddle oneself in the muddy micro survival game of Tom and Jerry. In that spirit, I will focus this analysis on the bigger picture even though some critics in the social media would pull this discussion into the mud. To be sure, the main recommendation of the UNSG is that “The Mission (i.e. UNISFA) cannot continue to be held hostage by this situation (i.e. lack of implementation of the 20th June 2011 Agreement) and operate in an administrative vacuum, in particular, because both communities (i.e. Dinka Ngok and Misseriyia) do have administrative arrangements, albeit separate, in place. We (i.e. UNSG), therefore suggest that until progress is made towards implementation of the final status is in place, UNISFA should be able to engage with Juba-appointed administration based in Abyei and the Misseriyia administration in Muglad, in addition to continuing its work with current community-based structures, so as to sustain stability and their inter-communal reconciliation”. The UNSG clearly suggested to move beyond the 20th June 2011 Agreement of joint administration to a new reality until the final status of Abyei is resolved and the engagement of Misseriyia administration in the stability and inter-communal reconciliation and not in the return of internally displaced persons and delivery of services in the area.
Has the Resolution upheld the UNSG’s Recommendations? The answer is apparently, ‘No’. I say ‘apparently’ because it may depend on how we interpret or contextualize the Resolution. The Resolution has again revived the deadened 20th June 2011 Agreement by calling on both governments (South Sudan and Sudan) to implement their commitments in the 20th June 2011 Agreement as clearly reflected in paragraph 5 which requests the Civilian Deputy Head of Mission for UNISFA to support steps to implement the 20th June 2011 Agreement, its paragraph 8 urging continued progress toward the establishment of the Abyei Area Interim Administration in accordance with the 20th June 2011 Agreement taking note in absence of an Abyei Police Service, UNISFA (not Juba-appointed administration) to be the only entity to provide policing services, and its paragraph 9 encouraging the African Union High-Implementation Panel (AUHIP), UN Secretary General Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa to continue conducting efforts to facilitate full implementation of the 20th June 2011 Agreement and its resolution 33 requesting UNSG to report on the implementation of the 20th June 2011 Agreement.
Contrary to the UNSG’s recommendation, paragraph 16 of the Resolution that is much-celebrated by the people of Abyei invites UNISFA to coordinate with the Misseriya administration in Muglad not only to maintain stability, foster intercommunal reconciliation (as provided for in UNSG recommendations) but also to facilitate the return of displaced persons to their village and the delivery of services. Paradoxically our people are made to celebrate paragraph 16 that put at par the Juba-appointed administration with the Misseriyia administration in Muglad as well as the institutions of the 20th June 2011 Agreement to maintain stability, foster inter-communal reconciliation, facilitating the return of internally displaced persons to their areas of origin and delivery of services in Abyei area.
Given the widely held view that shared administration and other institutions envisaged by the 20th June 2011 Agreement have been superseded by developments, as acknowledged by the Secretary-General in his letter, this provision has to be interpreted more constructively to be relevant and useful to the search for solutions. The initiative of Dr Francis and Gen Mahdi, which both Parties have endorsed, and UNSG’s recommendations do not call for the joint administration provided for in the 20th June 2011 Agreement, but ask for the two administrations of Ngok Dinka and Misseriyia in their homelands to work together for confidence building, peaceful coexistence and cooperation.
The resolution, therefore, cannot be interpreted to mean that the administrations of the Misseriya in Muglad and the national government of Sudan through the 20th June 2011 Agreement will be part of the administration of Abyei area as stipulated in the June 20th, 2011 Agreement. So if we choose to celebrate this resolution, we should at least make this point abundantly clear. What all this means is that the Resolution, as is usually the case, reiterates the provisions of previous resolutions, even as it adds new provisions. The critical factor in these provisions is the political will of the Parties and their consensual agreement on a solution.
Seeing the Resolution as a whole, in parts referring to previous resolutions and adding new provisions that may be contradictory, the conclusion that can be drawn is that the Resolution is trying to create a new context and a common ground for the parties, the governments of South Sudan and Sudan, to negotiate more constructively the way forward toward establishing a transitional administrative arrangement, implementing stabilization programs and finding a final resolution of Abyei issue and for the two communities of Ngok Dinka and Misseriyia to work together to foster stability through inter-communal reconciliation and peaceful co-existence.
Despite these qualifications, there are indeed positive aspects in the Resolution. One of the wisdoms of Dr Francis is to look for opportunities in the midst of crisis. The Resolution in paragraph 7.1 stresses the resolution of the final status of Abyei including steps towards considering the 2012 Proposal made by AUHIP, and various resolutions of the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) on 24th October 2013, 26th October 2013 and 6th February 2018 which are positive resolutions. Apparently, the UNSC requests the parties (South Sudan and Sudan) to update the AUHIP and the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for the Horn of Africa on the steps taken towards the resolution of the final status. Also, the resolution affirms the joint sovereignty of South Sudan and Sudan over Abyei as articulated in paragraph 22. Importantly, paragraph 20 and the request in paragraph 7.3 on the steps taken by the AU Commission to submit to the AUPSC the findings and recommendations of the Abyei Area Joint Investigation and Inquiry Committee as requested by the AUPSC are positive resolutions. Also, the resolution positively emphasizes the stabilization programs in the area. It is to be noted that paragraph which calls for the implementation of the 20th June 2011 Agreement, also requests the same Deputy Head of Mission to ‘achieve a political resolution to the status of Abyei, unless the Parties make progress towards a political solution’. The appointment of the Deputy Head of Mission becomes a priority for our diplomatic advocacy.
While we celebrate, I suggest we also be mindful of some of the challenges in the Resolution; particularly the revival of the 20th June 2011 Agreement. Even if what will, in the end, determine the outcome and end the impasse over Abyei is the cooperative will of the parties as often argued by Dr. Francis, it is also equally true that a joint administration will not be forced upon the area as such an attempt led to its collapse when it was last tried. What is required of the Parties is a more creative and constructive interpretation of the Resolution to avoid such outcomes while building on its positive aspects. The challenge for the people of Abyei is to unite and have one voice in transforming UN Resolution 2445 into an opportunity by thoroughly and strategically analyzing it so as to turn challenges into opportunities and capitalize on the positive aspects of the resolution. This will require the government of South Sudan and the people of Abyei through their representatives in various parliaments, local administration, civil society organizations and traditional authority to develop a common approach and roadmap towards UN Resolution 2445.
Above all, the pivotal factor will be the constructive engagement of the two Governments in their search for a mutually agreeable resolution of the Abyei issue that respects the rights and will of the people of Abyei and upholds the Mbeki’s Proposal on the Final Status of Abyei as endorsed by the African Union. The initiative of Dr Francis and Gen. Mahdi should now transition to the initiative of the two governments of South Sudan and Sudan and it may provide a pathway to move beyond the 20th June 2011 Agreement by recognizing two separate administrations, one of Ngok Dinka in Abyei and one of Missiriya in Muglad, and on that basis, building cooperation between them, just as two separate governments but have a mutual interest in inter-communal reconciliation and peaceful co-existence.
The author is a Global Fellow, Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO)