Well now it’s official. The Americans acknowledged on Tuesday that Abyei will not witness a referendum next January, if at all. The idea of a referendum to decide on the future of Abyei was a solution by fatigue tabled by Danforth and Co during the Naivasha talks since the two partners, SPLM and NCP, had no better ideas. The Abyei protocol was signed in haste lest the dispute over the region unravel the entire peace deal. What remains now of the protocol is just the recognition that Abyei is a real problem.
Despite the inflamed rhetoric of the CPA partners I doubt if they are ready to go to war for Abyei, most probably not. What they are doing rather is talking about a whole range of other issues with the vocabulary of Abyei. Pagan Amum repeatedly stated that the NCP is using Abyei as a bargaining chip, that is true, but the corrective is that the SPLM is doing exactly the same. Both sides invest in the public debate on Abyei considerable ‘bluff” or klaam sakit (non-speaking talk) in a bid to impress and satisfy their constituencies. On the bargaining table, though, they are on a level other than the media intensive confrontation.
While the NCP insists that the Misseriya must vote in the referendum, and the SPLM insists that only the Dinka Ngok enjoy the right to vote, both sides are in effect arguing over a set of options that do not involve a referendum at all.
During the past week Dinka Ngok leaders announced their intent to conduct their own referendum and the Misseriya declared an alternative government replete with security chief and army commander. I doubt whether these steps will actually materialise into actions on the ground, probably not. However they do signal a higher degree of polarisation between the two communities, a situation that the NCP and the SPLM are effectively promoting by their klaam sakit. Judging by history the Misseriya and Dinka Ngok are less likely to stumble into a war, rather the NCP and SPLM may push them into one. The two parties have to switch from the current media Abyei scare they are stuck in right now and go public about the trade offs they are actually discussing behind closed doors. First of all, there is no referendum!