A renewed wave of violence engulfed Abyei over the past few days pitting armed Misseriya against the local Southern Sudanese police force. The Misseriya claimed that armed Dinka Ngok supported by the Southern Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) had established checkpoints blocking their route of annual migration southwards, while an SPLM official in Abyei accused Khartoum of attempting to terrorise the Dinka Ngok out of Abyei through its Misseriya proxies. Judging by the reported death toll, 7 Dinka Ngok and 16 Misseriya, it seems both communities are suffering the terror of Abyei.
Noticeably, this wave of violence did not attract the high politics of Khartoum and Juba, consumed by grander issues it seems. My suspicion is that Abyei, for the time being at least, will be surrendered to a perverse version of state-sanctioned violence at the hands of its embittered inhabitants without allowing it to infect the loftier concerns of partition. To their constituencies in the area and beyond the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) have always promised the maximum as a matter of political convenience. The NCP pledged to keep Abyei Northern at all costs, while the SPLM vowed never to forsake the ‘hostage’ Dinka Ngok. Such propositions have largely secured the loyalty of the Misseriya and the Dinka Ngok respectively and also nourished obstinacy within the two communities. On the negotiation table however Abyei features as an element of a bargaining calculus that overrides the immediate quest for its own peace. In that sense, the Abyei impasse is a political creation and not necessarily a consequence of the unique intractability of the conflict. Of course, both parties claim exactly the opposite.
The explanation is that both employ the issue as a bargaining chip at will. To their wider constituencies the fate of Abyei is phrased in the language of national pride, and to the international spectators it is pictured as a highly inflammable flashpoint of cultural and racial collision. This approach has evidently raised the price of peace in Abyei sufficiently as to make it the jewel of the post-referendum negotiations, if not a lasting playground of relationships between the two Sudans. The backdrop of this overt inflation is the chronic cycle of violence in which the Dinka Ngok and the Misseriya are currently trapped. If anything Abyei has to be saved from the deadly embrace of the NCP and the SPLM not from itself.