NELSON INSTITUTE DIRECTOR’S COLUMN FOCUSES ON CONFLICT OVER ABYEI DISTRICT IN SUDAN

January 24, 2008

HARRISONBURG—In his weekly “Strategic Interests” column for the World Defense Review, Dr. J. Peter Pham, Director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University, focuses on “a lingering dispute over the Abyei district which has received relatively little coverage in the Western media threatens not only the North-South peace deal, but also bodes ill for the resolution of Sudan’s other conflicts, not the least of all the one in Darfur which continues unabated notwithstanding the recent stand-up of a hybrid African Union/United Nations peacekeeping mission (UNAMID).”

Under the terms of internationally-brokered peace accords which ended decades of civil war between the Arab-dominated Muslim north of the country and South Sudan, where the population is largely Christian or adherents of traditional African religions—a conflict that took the lives of over two million people, most South Sudanese—the demarcation of the limits of the contested district were subject to a “final and binding” ruling by an internationally-appointed Abyei Boundary Commission (ABC). The ABC ruled in 2005, but Sudanese president Umar al-Bashir has rejected its conclusions and failed to honor his treaty obligations. According to Dr. Pham,

The reason for Khartoum’s recalcitrance is all too obvious. The ABC’s ruling places some of Sudan’s most productive oilfields—including Heglig, Diffra, and Bamboo Complex, as well as part of Toma South, which collectively have at least 200 million barrels of recoverable reserves left—inside Abyei. According to a study last year by the International Crisis Group, the annual revenue from Abyei’s oilfields is roughly $500 million. Since the NCP regime has refused to accept the ABC decision, it goes without saying that neither has it implemented the Abyei Protocol’s requirement to share the districts oil revenue with the Government of South Sudan (GOSS), the two state governments, and the local populace, Ngok and Misseriya alike. The 42 percent share that is owed to the [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] authorities alone would have amounted, just for the period since the ABC’s final report was submitted, to more than $750 million—a sum that Juba-based government could use not only to rebuild the war-torn region, but also to create the professional military and security force it will need in the months and years ahead… Conversely, bereft of the income it derives from its monopolization of Abyei’s petroleum production, the NCP would not only have fewer resources with which to prosecute its current campaign of ethnic cleansing in Darfur, but less largesse with which to assure itself of the loyalty of the various component factions within its Arab-Islamist core constituency. And if the Ngok Dinka of Abyei opt to align the district with their southern kin and South Sudan votes for independence—both courses of action which most observers deem likely—then the parasitic ruling elites in Khartoum face financial catastrophe.

Consequently, the essay argues:

I f Khartoum is already more than two years behind schedule on adherence to its commitments on Abyei and giving no indication of being inclined to ever do so, how reasonable is it to anticipate that it will allow elections to take place in 2009 and the referendum on South Sudan to be held in 2011 as it supposed to under the CPA? Or whether, even if the polls take place, that it will honor the results? Consequently, should the GOSS feel itself legally or politically bound by the admittedly arbitrary timetables set by the CPA if it is clear that the northern Islamist regime has no intention of honoring the substance of the peace accord?

Alternatively, if the international guarantors who signed the CPA, including the Abyei Protocol—the U.S., which drove the negotiation of the accords, as well as Britain, Egypt, Italy, Kenya, the Netherlands, Norway, and Uganda, in addition to the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the IGAD Partners Forum, the African Union, the European Union, the Arab League, and the UN—have failed to hold Umar al-Bashir and his regime accountable for flouting the its treaty obligations, how can they credibly mediate the other conflicts they are currently trying to resolve in Darfur, East Sudan, and other regions of the fragile country, to say nothing of those in points beyond? And if these external partners are unable to act vigorously enough ensure the Bashir regime’s compliance with a clear international agreements which they themselves guaranteed, what moral right do they have to persist in their diplomatic resistance to the centrifugal indigenous forces seek to break free of Khartoum’s yoke?

To read the full text of Dr. Pham’s article, “What’s at Stake in Sudan’s Abyei,” click here.