Implications for the international community

Since its inception, UNISFA has had an extremely difficult mandate to ensure security and protect civilians in Abyei. A mono-national force of Tigrayans from Ethiopia was initially designed to operate in a demilitarized territory; however, in addition to SAF forces in the north, SSPDF have entered the territory—recently setting up barracks in southern Abyei—and frequent clashes occur between the Ngok and the Misseriya. UNISFA has also been forced to act as a police force, given that Abyei’s own force had not been established due to disagreements over administration in the territory. The peacekeepers are ill-equipped to be police officers, especially as Sudan has consistently blocked the deployment of UNISFA police personnel by delaying or not granting visas.

In such a difficult context, UNISFA has often been accused of being partisan. It has acquiesced to the presence of SAF at Diffra, while proving much more efficacious in ensuring that SSPDF elements are escorted out of Abyei. The Ngok Dinka are still suspicious of UNISFA, following the 2013 assassination of their paramount chief, which was carried out in the presence of the peacekeepers. In addition, UNISFA’s ‘quick-impact’ schemes in the north of the territory have been accused of enabling Sudanese population engineering by creating the conditions for long-term Misseriya residence in the north, while Ngok Dinka are still unable to return to their homes in the area. Finally, while UNISFA has been unable to prevent attacks on the Ngok Dinka by the Misseriya, it has provided security for the northern nomads while they graze in Abyei.

UNISFA’s situation became more difficult as negotiations between Ethiopia and Sudan in April 2021 over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) broke down, and Sudan asked the Ethiopian government to remove its forces from Abyei. The subsequent deployment of a multi-national force was delayed, leaving a security gap in Abyei that the Twic exploited. While UNISFA managed to defend the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Agok, the mission was unable to prevent Twic attacks on the territory. Its failure drew the ire of the Ngok Dinka—especially during the March 2023 attack on Amiet, when Ghanaian peacekeepers
were accused of standing down while civilians were attacked.[12] The absence of sufficient force, a lack of knowledge of the area, and an unwillingness to intervene meant that UNISFA was almost wholly unable to stop the Ngok–Twic violence in 2022–23.

[12] Interviews with Abyei area residents, Abyei, September 2022.