chapter  8
6 Pages

A proposed plan for the development of Abyei as a model for national integration 1972

WithFRANCIS M. DENG

There is still an unresolved fear on the part of some Sudanese that autonomy is a degree of separation and may be a step in the direction of greater separation. I disagree with this theory. Quite the contrary, I believe that autonomy is a safety valve which guarantees harmonious interaction between citizens in their process toward national integration. But attaining this objective is a difficult task which requires maximum caution and skillful handling. I have reached this conclusion after studying the history of Islamization

and Arabization in the North and Christianization in the South, as well as by observing the current trends in both the North and the South. The history of the Sudan has convinced me that when Sudanese feel that they are not dominated by somebody else, but share in their local power, they open their eyes, hearts, and minds to the positives that someone, who may be considered an outsider, has to offer them, especially in terms of development and the maximization of human and material values. The outsider becomes a benefactor rather than a symbol of oppression to be opposed and perhaps violently resisted. Where the strains of power struggle and the threats of outside domination

are removed, and the freedom of social intercourse is guaranteed and promoted, symbols of identification may be accepted or rejected on the basis of their own appeal or strength and not on the basis of prejudice. The issue for the Sudan, it would seem to me, is finding out and formulating those symbols which would tend to unite rather than divide. With these symbols to guide development, with autonomy to ensure the security of those whose support is vital, with free interaction between the various parts of the country, and with calculated action at all levels to maximize the net outcomes, there is every reason to believe, indeed to expect, that there would emerge a genuine consciousness of the wider Sudan as a basis for a common national identification and integration.

In this envisaged development, Abyei is a microcosm of the Sudan not only in its components but, even more importantly, because the process of integration

is already underway in the area and because it is a smaller context which should make it easier to manage. Although the significance of Abyei is hardly known to most Sudanese, it has been long observed as symbolizing what the Sudan could be as a bridge of Arab North and negroid South factions of the African continent. Ngok Dinkas of the Abyei and Baggara Arabs of Muglad have been interacting and mixing racially and culturally for centuries and, despite the bitter history of the Sudan, have generally been friendly neighbors. A look at the Ngok Dinka and the Baggara Arabs will show that they have influenced each other a great deal. Unfortunately, later struggles over power, resulting from undiversified

fusion of administrative machineries and the exacerbating colonial attitude of some Sudanese administrators of the old system, led to fears of domination and mistrust on the side of the Dinka. With the intensification of the North-South hostilities, the situation in Abyei worsened until it became a miniature form of the entire North-South problem, though with some unique features of moderation. The uniqueness of its situation was largely due to the wisdom and administrative skill of the late Nazir DengMajok, his vision of the special integrative role of Abyei for the Sudan as a whole, and his ambitions to promote the advantages that his people could derive from this middle road position between the South and the North. With his death, a vacuum was created, which ambitious individuals tried to fill using divisive and sometimes terrorizing strategies that have had the effect of turning people against the representatives of the government and sometimes, as is currently the case, their own chief. Educated youths of Abyei began to see the problem with the gravity of the southern situation and some of them took up arms and joined the military wing of the southern movement. This created a complex set of circumstances in which factions began to fear one another. Many well-meaning individuals, private and official, were caught up in the turmoil of emotions and the struggle for survival and, in this panic, became embittered, resorting to extreme positions. That was the situation when local autonomy brought peace to the South

and eased the tensions in Abyei. A form of North-South problem prior to the granting of autonomy still

prevails in Abyei, though fortunately without the violence of the former. On the other hand, the worst that can come from Abyei is not so much violence from within, being so small and easily containable, but its failure to remain the symbol of national unity and integration. One should also not rule out the possibility of any eruption in Abyei reflecting itself in the South and perhaps igniting disturbance of a wider scale. After all, the 1965 fighting between the Baggara Arabs and the Ngok Dinkas, though generated by North-South conflict, became an aggravating factor in the conflict.