Abyei Dialogue: Bottom Up and Top Down

The Sudd Institute

Author: Francis Mading Deng

Type: Dialogue briefs

Date: 14/07/2017


Publication Summary

This report on the case of the Ngok Dinka of Abyei provides a model for the National Dialogue that substantiates the Bottom-Up-Top-Down approach, which the President has stipulated in his various statements, and in his Concept Note. The experience documented in this report is particularly remarkable in that it started as a personal problem between leading individuals, extended to regional relations between neighboring communities, became incrementally connected to the responsibility of the national government for addressing the Abyei crisis, and ended with the challenges facing Sudan and South Sudan over the case of Abyei.


The starting point is a conflict that persisted for years between Bona Malual and leading Ngok Dinka individuals in the SPLM/A and the Government of South Sudan. As is well known, Bona Malual's leadership extends from his base in the Twic Dinka community to the Greater Bahr el Ghazal region, on to the level of South Sudan, with connections to the leaders of the Sudan, and outreach extending to the international community. The Ngok leaders with whom Bona Malual has been in conflict are individuals who contributed enormously to the South Sudanese struggle and continue to play crucial roles in the post-independence Government of South Sudan.


Considering Bona Malual's influence at the leadership levels of both South Sudan and Sudan, his adversity toward Ngok Dinka leaders inevitably impacted negatively on his approach to the case of Abyei. It not only deprived the area of the constructive role he could have played in the search for a solution to the Abyei crisis, but also reflected a negative attitude to the area by association. Reconciling Bona Malual with Ngok Leaders, therefore, became an urgent imperative.


Years of efforts by the author eventually achieved the reconciliation and the unification of cooperative efforts between Bona Malual and his Ngok Dinka adversaries, followed by the unification of efforts to address the Abyei problem. Throughout reconciliation talks, the leadership of South Sudan was kept informed and in full support of the process.

Following the reconciliation, Bona Malual and the author proceeded to Khartoum to dialogue with the leaders of the Sudan. On their return, they visited Abyei to brief the community and solicit local support for their efforts. That occasion demonstrated that the reconciliation had extended to the neighboring Twic community whose Chiefs and elders attended the Abyei gathering and discussions. The Governors of Twic and Gogrial States also attended. All demonstrated their solidarity with the Ngok Dinka people.


The challenge now is how to sustain this spirit of reconciliation and the unified approach to the Abyei problem. This  will entail  addressing the crises at all levels, including the urgent need for the stabilization of the area which requires providing security, encouraging the return of the displaced populations to their areas of origin, delivering essential services, generating socio-economic development projects, fostering peaceful and cooperative relations with neighbors to the North and South, and intensifying the dialogue with the Sudan to expedite the search for  a final solution to the Abyei problem. Provided is a detailed menu of recommendations for pursuing this goal.

  1. Undertake a serious review of the case of Abyei in light of the impasse that has stalled progress in the search for a final solution of the status of Abyei problem and consider seriously the options now available for a practical approach to the problem, the time frame for realizing these options, the security and development needs of the people of Abyei, how they can be met during the interim period, pending a final solution to the Abyei problem, and availing the percentage of the oil revenues allocated to the area by the Abyei Protocol, including settling the arrears;
  2. Explore ways of promoting peaceful and cooperative relations between and among the Sudanese and South Sudanese neighbors at the borders, to reassure the nomadic tribes, especially the Missiriya Arab, of their seasonal access to grazing lands and sources of water, and to strengthen the current joint peace and development committees for managing inter-communal relations, building on the customary arrangements that managed seasonal migrations in the past; 
  3. Engage Khartoum in an earnest and sincere dialogue on possible approaches to the Abyei issue with the objective of serving the mutual interest of the communities at the borders of Sudan and South Sudan, as well as the national interests of both countries, such as through cross border infrastructure and expansion of regional trade;
  4. Engage the international community, in particular the United States, which championed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and its Abyei Protocol, the African Union and the United Nations in reactivating mediation between Sudan and South Sudan over the Abyei issue, and supporting security and socio-economic development arrangements and activities as urgent components of the interim stabilization of the area, including a renewed commitment to UNISFA’s role in securing the entire “box” (i.e. map) determined by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA). 


Francis Mading Deng's Biography

Francis M. Deng has recently been assigned the position of South Sudan's Roving Ambassador after having been the country's first Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Prior to that, he served for five years as the United Nations Secretary-General's Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide at the level of Under-Secretary-General. From 1992 to 2004, he served as Representative of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons.  His first position in the United Nations was that of Human Rights Officer in the Secretariat from 1967 to 1972 when he was appointed Sudan's Ambassador to the Nordic Countries. He was also Sudan's Ambassador to Canada and the United States of America and was also Minister of State for Foreign Affairs for five years. After leaving his Government's service, he held a series of positions in leading think tanks and universities in the United States. Dr. Deng graduated with an LLB (honors) from the University of Khartoum to which he was appointed a member of the Law Faculty and then sent abroad for post-graduate studies.  He holds an LLM and a JSD from Yale University Law School. Dr. Deng has authored and edited over thirty books in a wide variety of fields and has written two novels on the crisis of national identity in the Sudan.


Download Full Report (1.1 MB)


Return to Publications