As part of a bigger program of policy and technical support to critical Concordis peacebuilding work in Abyei, Transformedia is providing a pilot mobile Migration Monitor using simple smartphones with solar chargers.
Before the secession of South Sudan, the Abyei Area was commonly referred to as the ‘litmus test’ of peace in Sudan. If the agro-pastoralist Dinka Ngok and the Arab Misseriya herders could coexist in this area – and if their governments would let them – then anything was possible. But since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in 2005, violence has continually returned to this small patch of land. Abyei Town was completely destroyed in 2008 and 2011.
At the nub of local political contestation is land ownership and usage rights. The nine chiefdoms of the Dinka Ngok claim to be the rightful community owners of the land (the precise borders of which are another question for another time) – and this was recognised in the CPA’s Protocol concerning Abyei. However, a number of Arab Misseriya groups have traditionally migrated with cattle into, and through, the area in search of pastures during the dry season (roughly November-May).Indeed, since the displacement of many Dinka Ngok in the 1960s and 1980s, many Misseriya settled and spent much of their lives in Abyei. The secondary rights to ‘use’ the land for seasonal migration is also recognised by the CPA.
The real interests of both communities are not so far apart. The Dinka Ngok benefit from goods and trade from the Misseriya. The Misseriya benefit from access to markets as well as the pasture and water required for their cattle in the dry season. The fact is that whilst livestock migration can lead to violence and disagreement, such issues could be resolved by local leaders under normal conditions. Instead, the communities are still being used against one another by the national armed forces, fighting as proxies for national strategic concerns.
Relations between the communities hit an all time low in 2013 when the Paramount Chief of the Dinka Ngok, Kuol Deng Kuol, who I met a number of times in Abyei, was assassinated (in full view of the UN peacekeeping mission). ‘Diplomatic’ relations between the communities were cut off.
Since then, Concordis undertook an incredible local trust building exercise. A member of the team spent a year living in Abyei, working first with members of each community as individuals before building up enough trust to start bringing small groups of ‘non-political’ persons together across the conflict line to express themselves honestly and without political pressure. This tireless work led to a breakthrough whereby leaders from both communities agreed to open up dialogue on substantive issues.
The hand of national politics is still conspiring against local peace, but we hope that enabling local leaders to obtain better data about the movements of people and livestock, about unresolved issues, upcoming flashpoints and successes and failures of local response, will help communities and peace-builders ensure that local incidents don’t become national tragedies. We will be updating this blog with the roll-out of this pilot in the coming months.
The remote data collection is undertaken on simple smartphones installed with an offline-online Migration Monitor application.