AU Awaits Mbeki Report
The long term success of an oil and security deal between Sudan and South Sudan could depend on the much disputed Abyei border region.
That’s why Princeton Lyman, the U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, says Abyei’s exclusion from the agreement between presidents Omar al-Bashir and Salva Kiir is “a big, big loss.”
And Lyman says it’s going to take a lot of work, by both governments, to demilitarize the border and deal with remaining issues such as Abyei and humanitarian access to the border regions of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile.
“They should not let these things slip,” he warns.
Thabo Mbeki, the African Union chief mediator, is trying to keep momentum going with talks in Khartoum and Juba ahead of his October 21 report to the AU Peace and Security Council.
Lyman says that’s an opening for the international community to back AU recommendations on Abyei, a 10,000 square kilometer region straddling the still undefined border between the two nations.
“We didn’t make a lot of progress there,” Lyman says. “This has to be now a very high priority for the international community.”
Solution is “imperative”
John Prendergast is co-founder of the Enough Project, a Sudan advocacy group. He agrees.
“Despite Abyei’s central role as a catalyst for North-South tensions, the international community has historically dodged the difficult issue of the area’s final status,” Prendergast writes. “Determining the final status of Abyei and resolving the other outstanding issues is imperative for any sort of sustainable peace between the two countries.”
The African Union offered an Abyei solution in the September oil and security plan. But Khartoum refused a proposed referendum because it did not include Arab nomads among eligible voters. Those Messriyah nomads graze cattle several months a year in an area that is home to nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms.
Jennifer Christian, a Sudan policy analyst with the Enough Project, says Mbeki’s report should help the international community frame its response to the outstanding issues between Sudan and South Sudan, including the final status of Abyei.
“If history teaches us anything, it’s that a failure on the part of the international community to take a strong stance on Abyei now will very likely result in further violence on the ground in the near future,” Christian writes, calling on the AU to push for U.N. ratification of the plan “as the final resolution of the two Sudans’ dispute over the area.”
The Sudanese foreign ministry spokesman, Al-Obeid Ahmed Marawah, says his government prefers a political agreement over a plebiscite because “the referendum would end by attributing Abyei to one of the two countries.
“And this will not satisfy the other party. Therefore, this could cause a new conflict between the two people [ Messriyah and Ngok Dinkas] of Abyei and it might extend to between the two countries,” Marawah says.
And that, in turn, threatens the new deal over the sharing of oil-revenue, which Ambassador Lyman says “holds tremendous potential benefits for the people of both countries, particularly in South Sudan where there has been serious rises in food prices, shortages of fuel, and insecurity on the border.”
Oil revenues account for more than 90 percent of Juba’s budget. So the suspension of exports earlier this year – to protest of higher fees for using Khartoum’s pipelines and port — set back ambitious infrastructure goals for the new nation.
“By restoring this income, the country can go back to investing heavily in development,” Lyman says. “While the production was down, all the resources were just to keep things going, keep things in place as much as possible. They couldn’t go ahead with roads.”
Lyman says Sudan benefits not only from an additional $15 a barrel surcharge over three-and-a-half years, but also from increased security along the border “where people are hurting, the economy is in difficulty, and there is too much attention to war and conflict.”