|Abdalla Deng Nhial, PCP presidential candidate|
In a recent newspaper interview Luka Biong, the prominent SPLM figure, responded to a question regarding the right of the Misseriya to vote in the Abyei referendum with the flash statement “do you know what the word Misseriya means? It means people on the move with no established residence in one place”. Biong was arguing that according to the CPA and the Abyei protocol the Misseriya, being pastoralists, have the right of passage through Abyei, however do not qualify as voters since they are not ‘residents’ of Abyei, a category open to all other citizens, Dinka Ngok and whoever happens to live in Abyei apart from pastoralist travellers. Biong, born in Abyei, a descendant of the Dingka Ngok chief Deng Majok, and a PhD strong scholar, knows for sure that his own people, the Dinka Ngok, are no less pastoralist than the Misseriya whom he ardently disqualified from the vote. Biong is not a freak in his prejudice against the ever resistant pastoralists. Even el-Tayeb Mustafa, the self-assigned arch-Northener, has expressed his desire to see the Misseriya camped in model ranches and ‘saved’ from the treachery of their archaic mode of livelihood.
Knowing that a vote in Abyei seems to be off the table anyway it is in the realm of the politically correct to engage this prejudice without regard to the SPLM-NCP row over the region. On another level other pastoralists, not ‘residents’ of Abyei and not Misseriya, have raised their voice amidst the Khartoum-Juba screams and counter-screams. The Saleem, another pastoralist population that straddles the North-South border, forwarded a written statement to President Kiir on 12 December expressing fears of a possible shut out come independent South Sudan. Moreover, a group of lawyers representing citizens resident in Southern Sudan, who inadequately happen to be of ‘Northern’ extraction, Saleem, Sabha and Ta’aisha from al-Renk, filed an appeal against the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission on 12 December at the Constitutional Court in Khartoum on the grounds that their clients have been denied registration for the referendum. According to the lawyers, officials responsible for the registration process based their decision on the notion that the mentioned groups are not ‘indigenous’ to Southern Sudan. The Ta’aisha, Sabha and Saleem, however, claim that they have been resident in the South since the 1830s, i.e. before Sudan’s independence in 1956, the cut-off established by the CPA and the referendum act.
Judging by the secession confidence in Southern Sudan it is unlikely that the votes of groups who do not fit easily into the categories North and South will tilt the outcome of the referendum. Nevertheless they do challenge the functional claim of indigeneity inherent in the practice of the CPA and its associated acts. Disregard for Abyei’s Misseriya and for al-Renk’s suspended Southerners rests ultimately on an indigeneity scale that disqualifies both, in addition to borderline individuals of mixed heritage or those who are culturally too Northernised to be ‘real’ Southerners. Abdalla Deng Nhial, the presidential candidate of Turabi’s Popular Congress Party, a devout Islamist and ethnic Dinka, said it best. In response to a question regarding his personal fate after partition Abdalla responded “I will be where I will be, anywhere on the land of the million square miles”. In any case, it is known where oil revenues will be, surely not anywhere. Back to Biong, I wonder if Deng Majok would have qualified to register for the referendum.