chapter  16
7 Pages

Abyei and the challenge of sustainable peace in the Sudan 2003

WithFRANCIS M. DENG, MARCH

Abyei Development Project was intended in large part as a culturally sensitive response to the challenges of development as part of a solution to a political problem that reflected Sudan’s crisis of national identity. Abyei, the area of southwestern Kordofan, which is inhabited by the Ngok Dinka, has become a contested territory between the North and the South in the war-torn country of the Sudan. As an integral part of their Dinka kindred in the neighboring southern states, the anomalous administrative position of the Ngok Dinka on the North-South borders has become a national challenge to the peace process. Since my family has had the leading role in shaping this strategic position and since I myself, in both personal and public capacities, tried to build on the legacy of my forefathers, I thought I should make my position clear on the Abyei problem. This note should, however, be read in conjunction with an earlier note, which I prepared in September 1999 for an informal resource group that was advising the IGAD mediators at that stage of the process. At this state of heightened polarization, assertions are being made against

the historic legacy of the Ngok Dinka on the North-South border to explain or justify the failure by both sides to resolve the crisis. Attempts to reconstruct history to support current political stances have predominated. Some allege that the Ngok Dinka had been part of the southern administration and were arbitrarily annexed to the North by the British at varying dates. Others acknowledge that the Ngok became affiliated in the administration of Kordofan because of the decision made by their leaders (specifically Chief Arob Biong, his son Chief Kwol Arob, and his son Chief Deng Majok, my greatgrandfather, grandfather, and father). These decisions are now being judged in hindsight to have been either wrong or justified under the prevailing circumstances and, in both cases, criticized for not having consulted the will of the people. Whatever the crucial moment of the decision to annex Abyei to the North, evidence from the British administrators involved at the time indicates that it was a controversial decision. The Ngok Paramount Chief, with the consent of subtribal chiefs, chose to be under the administration of Kordofan in the North. The critical questions are why they did so then and what the significance of that decision is now in the current dialogue on the status of Abyei.