In the midst of conflicting positions on the fate of Abyei it is wise I suppose to maintain reserve and distinguish between negotiation offers and negotiation frustrations, an imperative in the Sudanese version of trade politics. The inconclusive outcome of the last Addis Ababa round fuelled a surge of apparently principled no go statements from both NCP and SPLM. Both sides accused each other, as is the rule in NCP-SPLM rows, of backtracking on the Abyei protocol and its finishing line, the 9 January referendum minor. Added to that Missieriya and Dinka Ngok leaders have spared no efforts, war threats included, to exercise leverage on their mightier patrons. Expectedly local leaders called on the popular rage of their respective communities to make a point. Last week reportedly 2000 Misseriya took to the streets in Muglad to demonstrate against their possible exclusion from the decisive vote.
On the drawing board however things look quite different. Implicitly, or explicitly as the NCP senior negotiator al-Dirdiri Mohamed Osman claimed Sunday in an interview, the two sides have effectively shelved the protocol and are looking for alternative exits from the conundrum that is threatening to derail the whole peace process, notably with American support and supervision. According to press statements made by NCP al-Dirdiri Mohamed Osman and SPLM Luka Biong the Americans, i.e. Gration and Co, made three proposals. The first, to transfer Abyei by presidential decree, and without a referendum, to Bahr el-Ghazal while granting the Misseriya full citizenship in the South and the NCP a compensatory financial package greased with American goodies, one of them a grant for pasture development in Northern Abyei. The proposal was deemed unsatisfactory by NCP and Misseriya, although not altogether as became clear later. A leading Misseriya politician, Abd el-Rasoul el-Nour, speaking in Khartoum said the proposal can be considered however for the price of Sudan’s unity. The second proposal involved the partition of Abyei into a Northern region and a Southern region to be transferred to respective geographies. This was refused by the SPLM delegation, though more vehemently by the Dinka Ngok in the person of the Abyei chief administrator who complained the potential loss of all good grazing land and water. Gration duly withdrew the second proposal before further discussions. The third, or probably the first, reserved the referendum and attempted a calculus of voting rights, which is the central point of dispute. Gration initially suggested that all Misseriya who dwell in Abyei 8 months or longer should be granted the right to vote in the referendum, a cut off that was reduced to 6 months, and then to 200 days, again to the dismay of SPLM negotiators.
SPLM/NCP press fuss aside the two parties agreed at the closure of the last Addis Ababa round to examine the status of Abyei within a wider package, implying in CPAese the readiness to shelve the referendum in favour of a more appetising deal. NCP al-Dirdiri seemed sure that the Abyei referendum would not take place as envisaged on 9 January, and SPLM Pagan Amum after the relay of last week’s political heat admitted to the possibility of postponement. Again if Dinka Ngok and Misseriya are fearing a sell-out they have all the right to. Nevertheless it is justified to ask, would a referendum save Abyei?