The northern neighbour

Twic attacks on southern Abyei in 2022 come after a decade of de facto Misseriya occupation of the north of the territory, where a rival Misseriya administration has existed since 2020, led by Gumaa Dawood Musa Hamdan, based in Diffra. Thus, for the last decade, Abyei has been divided between north and south: the Misseriya and SAF control the north of the territory, and the AAA controls the centre and south of Abyei. This has led to a stand-off over humanitarian services, with the AAA largely preventing humanitarian assistance from being transported from Abyei town to the north, and Khartoum banning the use of the Anthony airstrip by humanitarian services.

The Misseriya migration into Abyei, which traditionally occurs annually between October and mid-May, takes place against this backdrop of high tensions over the provision and distribution of resources, and has also been affected by broader political dynamics in the territory. Most notably, after the assassination of their paramount chief in 2013, the Ngok Dinka barred the Misseriya from entering what UNISFA refers to as Sector Centre and Sector South, and particularly Abyei town. This interdiction remains in place today and is one of the clearest signs of the breakdown in relations between the two communities.

In recent years, efforts to mediate between the two communities have been largely unsuccessful. On 16–17 December 2020, for instance, Misseriya and Ngok Dinka delegations failed to agree to the modalities of a meeting. A central disagreement was on nomenclature: the Ngok Dinka insisted that the meeting should be declared as being between the Ngok Dinka and the Ajaira Misseriya (one of the two Misseriya subsections that annually migrate into Abyei), while the Misseriya insisted that the meeting should simply be between the Misseriya and the Ngok Dinka. The Ngok retorted that one might as well have a meeting between the Dinka and the Misseriya, a response that lays claim to the Ngok membership of the broader Dinka people of South Sudan, just as the Ajaira and Felaita belong to the broader ‘Dar Misseriya’.[10] At stake in this terminological disagreement is the question of who gets to be included in Abyei. The Ngok Dinka fear that the name ‘Misseriya’ is a Trojan horse, hiding all of Kordofan within.

Abyei was fractured and violent throughout the 2021–22 grazing season, following these inconclusive meetings, as well as during the
2022–23 grazing season, which saw Misseriya attacks on Ngok Dinka villages in the centre of the territory and the partial destruction of Amiet market. In 2023, there have been attempts to improve the relationship between the two groups, including a peace conference held on 20–23 March, which led to a commitment to resurrect a 2016 peace agreement.[11]

It is unlikely, however, that these agreements will lead to a durable peace. Misseriya–Ngok Dinka violence is fundamentally structured by macropolitical developments, with the Misseriya effectively used as a counter-insurgency force by Khartoum whenever the Ngok Dinka make a move towards self-determination. These political determinations mean that peace agreements are unlikely to be successful unless they address the substantive issues of Abyei’s future, such as Ngok Dinka returns to the north of the territory.

[10] Interviews with Twic officials, Juba, September 2022.

[11] Telephone interviews with those present at negotiations, Abyei and Warrap, October 2022.