(Burlington, USA NSV) - At Sustainable Academy Hall, Burlington, Vermont, sounds of the traditional drums of Ngok/Bor/Aliab/Atuot/Chiech/Agar Dinka, and a loud Music of Nyankol Mathiang’s new song “Abyei e dong Wei Kede” played simultaneously as preambles for big celebration that took place over the weekend for Abyei people’s victory from the Abyei Arbitration Tribunal ruling that occurred a few months ago.
From the parked cars at the nearby lot on the side of Academy Hall, the women are calmly loading off and bringing in different kinds of Sudanese dishes to the designated place at the back of the hall.
Inside the hall, the invited dignitaries, mostly Sudanese, from different North-Eastern states are being seated at their designated places labeled state by state. While at the corner room designated for kids, the Sudanese children of different ages are happily and playfully running around the hall more interested in their own hide and seek game than what their parents are to celebrate in 30 minutes till midnight.
“Yes, it is Abyei Arbitration Celebration”, said Chol Dhor Riak, the Vice Chairperson of Sudanese Community in Vermont. The Sudanese are holding this celebration because of the ruling by the Abyei Arbitration Tribunal that handed the land of Abyei to its own people of Ngok Dinka, and that essentially means they will decide their own destiny during referendum in 2011. The happiness and jubilation is very clear from all celebrants from different corners of the Sudan but of course Abyei people couldn’t be any happier with the outcome of this crucial ruling.
The Hague Tribunal whose job was to determine whether the Boundaries Commission had exceeded its mandate "to define and demarcate the area of the nine Ngok Dinka cheifdoms transferred to Kordofan in 1905,” said there was no such interprettion but “that the ABC Experts EXCEEDED their mandate in certain areas of its implementation.” That was the basis for ruling on July 22,2009.
The weekend celebration officially called Abyei Arbitration Celebration was organized under the auspices of the Sudanese Community Leadership Team of Mading Machar Makang, Rumbek, the Chairperson; Chol Dhor Riak, Bor, the Vice Chairperson; James Maluk, Abyei, Secretary of Information; Butrous Warguo, Equatoria, the Treasurer, and Monday Abbas Tong, Awerial, the General Secretary.
During celebration, the New Sudan Vision interviewed a handful of elders from Abyei and other parts of Sudan in order to find out what their understanding of this ruling is, and what it means for the people of Abyei and South Sudan in general. All people that gave New Sudan Vision interviews unequivocally stated that the ruling simply meant the people of Abyei have been granted their land, and it is up to them at this point to decide their own destiny, and that is Abyei becoming part of South Sudan through the referendum in 2011.
Arkanjelo Ayok Ajing, an elder from Abyei and a Vermont resident jubilantly argued “Abyei Arbitration Tribunal ruling is the guarantee that Abyei will be part of Southern Sudan because we now have our land and we know Southern Sudan is going to be the country we will choose to be part of.” Ayok is still concerned that NCP will try to dishonor the ruling but given their unequalled determination and the dedication of Southern Sudanese to stand with them, Abyei will prevail and will be part of Southern Sudan. Other Abyei elders in the names of Kuot Ajing, Chol Mijak Kur, Nyok Deng Ajou Lual, and Arop Mian Alor all concurred with Ayok that this ruling gave Abyei people their land, and it is worth celebrating by all Sudanese people who suffered from marginalization from the Khartoum Regime. Arop Mian Alor, however, argued that he is still very sure that NCP will attempt to dishonor the ruling because the land of Abyei, and its resources known to the world is what they want, not Ngok Dinka people. But he added that NCP has a huge burden in Darfur with Bashir’s arrest warrant outstanding and coupling such a dynamic with South Sudan standing firmly with Abyei people as it has been doing, will ensure Abyei will prevail in holding on to its land and opting to be part of the South when all is said and done.
All Southern Sudanese who attended this event, and who had been interviewed by New Sudan Vision on records were all very unequivocal in their determination to stand in solidarity with Abyei people should NCP attempt to dishonor this ruling which clearly gave Abyei people of Ngok Dinka their rights to their own ancestral land.
Abraham Akec Awolich, MPA, of Awerial County, Lake State, stressed that Southern Sudanese always stood with Abyei people during struggle and during the negotiation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and were ready to go back to war if Abyei protocol was not incorporated into the CPA. He added that these same individuals who negotiated with NCP on behalf of Abyei during the negotiation of the CPA went to court again to bring Abyei people their rights under Abyei Arbitration Tribunal ruling. He concluded that these are the evidences that prove South Sudan will not waver from standing with Abyei people until they are part of the Southern Sudan.
However, Awolich added two caveats that may render this joyous celebration meaningless down the road, and these are not being 100 percent sure how Abyei people will vote during referendum because it could go either way, and failure by the NCP to implement the ruling of the Abyei Arbitration Tribunal because having the language on the book, and actually implementing what has been documented in the book are two different things, and that has been where the North outmaneuvered the South for a long time. Awolich was quick to emphasize that he is confident that Abyei people will vote to be part of the South but his confident level is not the same as 100 percent assurance that they will do so.
Mading Machar Makang, the Chairperson of Sudanese Community, and of Rumbek, thanked the international tribunal for giving Abyei people their rights to their ancestral land. He thanked NCP, and SPLM for honoring and following through with the court ruling up to this point. He, however, warned the NCP that South will not accept anything short of Abyei people deciding their own destiny in an internationally supervised free and fair referendum. He bluntly put it that Dinka of the Sudan are known by the world as inhabitants of the Southern Sudan, and there is no way Ngok Dinka should be left in the North where their destiny is to be determined b y people who oppressed them for more than half a century.
An endorsement from the Northern Sudan came from Micahael Kodi, Kadugli, Southern Kordufan, who added that he is celebrating for Abyei people today because their victory is the victory of all marginalized people from all corners of the Sudan. He added that the Nuba people are Abyei’s neighbors, and have stood with Abyei people, and the Southern Sudanese during struggle. In his word, the fact that Abyei people are finally given their rights is the victory of the marginalized over the elites from the center in Khartoum.
The setback for the celebration tonight was the fact that Sudanese Community which organized this event was not able to invite Dr. Francis Mading Deng, and Nyakol Mathiang because the event was put together within a short timeframe, and getting these Abyei celebrities would have required at least a year long plan from the side of Sudanese Community in Vermont.
Nonetheless, after all speeches by the leadership team members, and invited dignitaries from the nearby states, and testimonials by a number of Abyei elders, the celebrants feasted, sang, and danced till midnight celebrating nothing but the ruling by the Abyei Arbitration Tribunal that gave nine Ngok Dinka chiefdoms their ancestral rights to their ancestral land. The modern music featuring all the songs by famous Sudanese singers such as Nyankol Mathiang’s “Dong Abyei Wei Kede”; John Kudusi’s “Ok a ho dier lor wo madhie Deng”; Ayom Yor ‘s “Jur ajowak”; and Panchol Deng Ajang’s “Du wek ke kon men e kueth” were all playing with deafening sounds while the celebrants danced around the hall soaked by their own sweats.
The traditional dances of Ngok Dinka on the one hand, and Agar/Bor/Aliab/Tuot/Chiech Dinka on the other hand followed with all people participating in one dance at a time. American friends who befriended Sudanese living in Vermont for the past 8 years were blown away by the uniqueness of this event and wondered if it could be replicated across cultures here in Vermont.
The Sudanese leadership team, energized by the success of Abyei Arbitration celebration are planning to replicate this function during Christmas/ New year Eve, and during 16th May anniversary next May, 2010. There are also planning to open SPLM Chapter and Sudanese Center underway which will serve the very purpose of sponsoring future Sudanese functions like Abyei Arbitration ruling that all Sudanese and their friends held today on October 31, 2009 at Sustainable Academy Hall, Burlington, Vermont, USA.
The celebrants know that the road ahead to Southern Sudan and Abyei referendum is going to be bumpy, and a lot still needs to be done. But a moment like this has to be marked with jubilation because so many martyrs had sacrificed their lives to bring them this far.
New Sudan Vision columnist Akol Aguek contributed reporting from Burlington, Vermont.