Letter From Abyei: Neither North Nor South
While the crisis in Darfur simmers, the larger problem of Sudan's survival as a state is becoming increasingly urgent. Old tensions between the Arabs of the Nile River valley, who have held power for a century, and marginalized groups on the country's periphery are turning into a national crisis. Engagement with Khartoum may be the only way to avert another civil war in Sudan, and even that may not be enough.
Outlines Sudan's diplomacy to deal with the twin problems of (1) economic crisis due to harsh climate, difficult soil, and poor management (2) social, religious, linguistic and ethnic divisions. Charts (1) the problems which brought Nimeiri to his downfall in 1985 (2) the transition to democracy (3) the war with the southern, secular and anti-racial SPLM (4) relations with Ethiopia, Libya, Egypt and Iran affecting internal stability (5) the West's food and financial aid, and OPEC's oil aid. Concludes that no real progress has been made.
"We have been made promises time and time again" said Deng Arop, the chief administrator of Sudan's contested Abyei region, referring to the many unimplemented international agreements on the status of this area straddling what may soon be the border between North and South Sudan. "What options do the people of Abyei have left?" he asked me as he juggled incoming security updates on two cell phones.
In the past two weeks, clashes north of Abyei have left 33 people dead. Several buses full of southern Sudanese returning to vote in the south's self-determination referendum have been attacked on the road from Khartoum to Abyei, leading to road closures, which have generated food and fuel shortages in the town of Abyei. Moreover, an annual migration of people and cattle that regularly leads to tension between nomadic herdsmen and the area's year-round residents recently began. Exacerbating these immediate tensions is the looming question of whether Abyei will belong to the north or the south in the likely event that Sudan splits in two.
As southern Sudanese await the final referendum results, the people of Abyei find themselves in a precarious position. According to the 2005 peace agreement that ended the 22-year civil war between the Sudanese government in the predominantly Muslim north and rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) in the mainly Christian and animist south, the residents of Abyei should have had their own referendum to decide if they would be part of the north or south. But political deadlock between the SPLM and Sudan's ruling National Congress Party (NCP) over who qualified as a resident of Abyei for voting purposes stopped the Abyei referendum from proceeding...