Home / Events / ISS and EIIPD Seminar Report, Addis Ababa: The Contribution of Ethiopian Peacekeeping Mission in Abyei
ISS and EIIPD Seminar Report, Addis Ababa: The Contribution of Ethiopian Peacekeeping Mission in Abyei
Date: 7 December 2011
Venue: , Institute for Security Studies, Get House Building, Africa Avenue, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia




Jointly presented by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and Ethiopian International Institute for Peace and Development (EIIPD)


On 07 December 2011, ACPP-Addis Ababa organized a seminar on the United Nations Interim Security Force (UNISFA) and the current relations between South Sudan and the Republic of Sudan. This was one of the largest diplomatic attendances in an ISS Seminar in Addis Ababa. The Head of the Ethiopian Peacekeeping Mission and the Ambassadors of the South Sudan and the Republic of Sudan were among the most important speakers. They covered the successes achieved, the challenges faced by the United Nations Interim Security Force (UNISFA), the current tensions and contentions between South and North Sudan as well as the political dynamics in North Sudan and the viability of the state of South Sudan. With more than 70 participants, Ambassadors and representatives of Peace and Security Council, Permanent Representatives Committee, the AU Commission, Peace and Security Department, and the AU Border Programme were in attendance. Ambassadors and representative of  South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria, Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Angola, Morocco, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Togo, Swaziland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Japan, China, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Venezuela, Canada, France, USA, Netherlands, Denmark, Italy, Austria, Spain, ECOWAS, United Nations Mission to the African Union, European Union Mission to the African Union, UN Women, IPSS, NATO, MSF, Oxfam International, ICRC attended the seminar. 

In his opening remarks, Ambassador Olusegun Akinsanya, ISS-Addis Office Director, pointed out the objective of the seminar, that since the declaration of the independence of South Sudan , it is feared that a number of outstanding thorny issues will lead to a relapse of the devastating war with what has now become its Northern neighbour. Consequently, the UN Security Council voted unanimously on a resolution to establish a new 4,200 strong UN peacekeeping force, called the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), to be sent to the disputed Sudanese territory of Abyei. He added that the objective of the seminar is to provide an important forum for many issues to be addressed by both the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan for both, a productive discussion as well as to inform decision and policy making organs such as the AU, IGAD and the UN.

The seminar was chaired by Colonel Sandy Wade, Military Advisor of the European Union Delegation to the African Union, and brought together speakers from both the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan, including His Excellency Arop Deng Kuol Ambassador of the Republic of South Sudan, Mr. Hunsi Mustfa, from the Embassy of the Republic of Sudan, Major General Yohannes G/Meskel, Head of the Ethiopian Peacekeeping Department, Ministry of Defence, Ato Mogus T. Michael, Deputy Executive Director of the Ethiopian International Institute for Peace and Development (EIIPD), Mr Kahssay Gebreyesus Biru, Country Director at the Juba Office of Justice Africa, and European researchers from ISPI Prof. Gian Paolo Calchi Novati and Prof. Giorgio Musso.


An initial analysis was made by Major General Yohannes G/meskel on the conflict drivers, including resources such as oil, water and land within the communities. Oil is vital to both Sudan and South Sudan, but no agreement exists on how much the landlocked South, which must send its oil exports through pipelines across Sudan should pay in processing and transit fees. Thus, the recent decision to close the oil pipeline has further exacerbated the threat to the peace process in the area. The blockage of the oil flow between the two countries could be taken as an incentive to pressurise the countries into dialogue, but the failure to reach a deal exemplifies the difficulties in settling on the existing interdependence between the Sudan and South Sudan.

General Yohannes went on to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the UNISFA mission, highlighting the clear confidence that Ethiopia enjoys by both parties and the UN as a contributor to the peace process and the advantages of a mission which is unified in language, culture, doctrine, tactics and processes. Furthermore, the advantages of the short distance for deployment and eventual evacuation, together with the cost effectiveness of the mission were noted. Because of Ethiopia`s strategic interest in maintaining peace and security in the area, the contingent will be permanently and deeply involved; however there is also a question of perception and that too high expectation might exists in terms of their performance.

Compared to the geographic size of such an area, and its complexity, the mission is very limited. Furthermore, the mandate itself is limited and does not include key aspects such as disarmament and human rights monitoring, but especially a border-monitoring mechanism.

The second speaker, Mr. Hunsi Mustfa from the Embassy of the Republic of Sudan, also stressed the acceptance that Ethiopia enjoys by both states and highlighted the importance of its mediation efforts. Mr. Mustfa also underlined that Ethiopia has a wise and independent political will, strong historic relations within the region, a long experience in peacekeeping operations, and a strong professional army with a deep rooted doctrine. Mr. Mustfa underscored the issues surrounding the control of Abyei`s disputed area, especially the fact that UNISFA cannot provide civil administration to the people, or services of such a kind. He then went on to consider the options available to resolve the conflict, including a possible referendum, maintaining the Naivasha status, or creating an integration area, a free zone for all people from North and South. He also considered either the annexation of Abyei to the South through an administrative decree which would be supported by the GOS, or the division of the area into two parts under one administration, or finally the possibility of dividing Abyei between the North and South. Overall Mr. Mustfa pointed out the mutual socio-economic interests and interdependence that exists between the Republic of Sudan and South Sudan. He also underlined the fact that in order to avoid a proxy war, and the deterioration of the conflict, an increase of efforts to coexist through political dialogue must occur.

The third speaker, H.E Arop Deng Kuol, Ambassador of the Republic of South Sudan, considered that the role of African Union High Implementation Panel (AUHIP)has so far, unsuccessfully attempted to mediate over border demarcation issues, which is one of the pillars of contention between the Republic of South Sudan and the Republic of Sudan. Although 80% of the border demarcation has been agreed upon, the lasting percentage remains critically disputed for the presence of natural resources, while the border demarcation process remains stalled. This is where he felt that the battlefield lies and where the war will be won or lost, as the enduring rivalry and persistent conflict over such disputed border risks causing a relapse into full-blown war.

Ambassador Arop deliberated on the opportunities that exist for UNISFA, as great expectations exist by the displaced communities who see the mission as their salvation. However the SAF`s interference in the communication between UNISFA and Missiriya is hindering UNISFA`s efforts. He thus stressed that the realization of peace for Missiriya should be in the hands of UNISFA and not SAF or SPLA, which should distance them to allow UNISFA to handle the relation between the two communities.

The fourth speaker was Professor Gian Paolo Calchi Novati. Prof. Novati reflected on the challenges and opportunity of the newly born country based on historical relations between the Arabs and the Africans. He examined the cases of the Republic of South Sudan pointing out analogies and discrepancies under five parameters: a) history; b) colonialism and decolonization; c) regional environment; d) internal and external factors in the eventual success of the secessionist move; e) who led whom. The South Sudan people, exploited for the resources of their land – gold, minerals and slaves – they had been discriminated in terms of language, religion and access to power after the settlement of the Muslim state. The national rhetoric of Sudan is monopolized by the saga of the Mahdist state; the Black, partially Christianized, non-Arabic-speaking communities of the South are definitely out of the ‘core business` Southern provinces of Sudan were part of the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium but were separately administered laying the bases for their future irredentism. Nevertheless, colonial power did not entirely abolish slavery. The forced removal of women and children from the South to Khartoum and the Arab regions was tolerated because, after all, they could find there better conditions of education (in Arabic and the Koranic rules) and standard of life. Missionary and colonial schools trained an alternative Christian and English-speaking elite. Separate administration sounded as ‘collaboration` because of Southerners` pro-British attitude.

The fifth speaker, Prof. Giorgio Musso, considered issues of interdependence, as a source of cooperation but also of conflict. This he said will provide opportunities for peace but also mutual vulnerability, posing serious restrictions on independence. This is why he said that institutional mechanisms should be divided. The level of trust between Khartoum and Juba is currently at a very low point, and the existing mechanisms in place are not working, including the AUHIP. He stressed on the establishment of a ‘soft border`, and a UN administered buffer zone, following from the November 2010 meeting of the Inter Government Authority on Development (IGAD). The advantages of interdependence were emphasized as a means for mutual dialogue to continue, backed by strong institutional mechanisms. However he also highlighted that operational issues are being intensified by the potential radicalisation in Sudan, where no process of normalisation is taking place in terms of establishing clear relationships with the international community. He argued that the latter has also lost confidence in the SPLM for its inability to mobilise support for its cause and keep a high degree of international focus on the area.

The sixth and final speaker, Mr. Kahssay Gebreyesus Biru, Country Director at the Juba Office for Justice Africa considered the existing lack of unity in the Republic of South Sudan as an impeding issue. According to him, the new founded country has never been unified as ‘one people` and has never shared one economic community, which means that although the nations in Southern Sudan have been fighting against the North, there have been conflicting interests among the diverse nations within Southern Sudan too. Mr. Gebreyesus pointed out that the Republic of South Sudan now faces several critical problems, namely the formation of a state and nation building, to solve the endemic ethnic conflict, the issue of peace and security, of resource distribution, of stability and coexistence, and of economic cooperation with its neighbours and the region at large. It was felt that it is time for the RSS to determine the way to address the challenges and prospects of the newly emergent multi-cultural state and to build a democracy that can accommodate internal diversity. It was suggested and discussed that since unitary state structure has failed before, federalism could be the right option.

During the discussion, it was clearly felt that the mandate of UNISFA is inadequate and needs to be broadened, and that a more multi-party dialogue framework needs to be supported by the international community. Overall, it was pointed out that the main challenge to the conflict resolution was the on-going unwillingness of the armies of both parties to withdraw from oil rich border disputed areas. Despite the recent agreement between the Government of Sudan (GOS) and the Sudan People`s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) over the disputed territories of the Blue Nile and South Kordufan regions, and the agreement to establish a Safe Demilitarised Border Zone 10 Km each side of the North/South 1956 border line, no UNSC resolution exists on the Border Monitoring, and the fighting is still on-going.  This is a seriously negative development for UNISFA, whose mandate is to monitor redeployment and demilitarize the region but not to create a weapons free area. Its mandate is limited to security matters, including monitoring presence and involvement of regular troops. Other mechanisms such as the Status of Force Agreement (SOFA), signed between the GOSS and UNMISS, which allows South Sudan to host foreign forces, are under way. Furthermore, the establishment of an Abyei Area Administration and the convening of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee have recently been launched. These are considered as high priority, together with a forum to resolve operational issues.

UNISFA is not expected to work with the Abyei Administration, but by default it might have to take on the role of administrator until the parties agree on the disputed border and their forces are withdrawn. Again, there is a serious problem of lack of resources for UNISFA and who will provide them. Another thorny issue was whether the parties will agree on a Security Council resolution to be passed for extension of the mandate and to also include an operational mandate under Chapter VII in Abyei. Without a revision, UNISFA will be unable to function and its credibility will be damaged.

Overall, it was noted that there is a strong need for an internal permanent mechanism for continuous dialogue between the parties, as the existing agreements are not working and need to be further backed by institutional mechanisms. The question of the resolution of the oil dispute, which risks not only increasing tensions but also destroys both countries` economies was perceived as the most pressing issue. Although the advantages of the UNISFA mission were agreed upon and highlighted, the poor infrastructure around Abyei and limited mandate of UNISFA were seen as potentially jeopardising the entire operation to resolve the conflict.

In his concluding remarks Dr. Mehari Taddele Maru, ACPP Head Addis Ababa Office, reminded the audience that this seminar is meant to have a seeping effect on the decision making bodies by informing the officials of the AU, RECs and governments as well as other international actors.  He acknowledged the presence of more than 75 participants mainly from the diplomatic community. He also thanked the presenters, mainly the Head of Ethiopian Peacekeeping Mission, General Yohannes Gebre-Meskel, and the Ambassador of the South Sudan Mr. Arop Deng and the representative of the Republic of Sudan Mr. Hunsi Mustefa. He noted that this large diplomatic attendance indicates the interest of the diplomatic community on the topic and the increasing relevance of ISS Seminars to the stakeholders` daily work.  He further pointed out that that the seminar has provided adequate analysis for the root causes of the problem in Sudan. In relation to governance, he mentioned the struggle between the peripheral communities and centre of Sudan. Sudan, as it is now, constitutes a patch of Peace Agreements such as Darfur Peace Agreement, Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and East Sudan Peace Agreement and so on. He then raised the question whether Sudan will disintegrate more with the ever increasing crises in Darfur and in the Bejja areas. Moreover, he explained how the internal political dynamics in Khartoum and the shrinking budgetary situation within the government of Sudan negatively affects the relation between the neighbouring countries leading to military confrontations. As such, the border and other issues related to appropriation of oil revenue is a direct reflection of the internal political dynamics of both countries. While 36 USD per barrel for transit service is too much for the North Sudan government to demand, if South Sudan refuses to pay this amount, the North has to reconsider the service fee.  Options for building alternative pipelines with another neighbouring country as economically unadvisable, that both sides will have come to terms. As a result, all disputes related to the pipeline, Dr Mehari forecasted, will not last long and both sides will be forced to reconsider their stance due to financial requirements of both sides. He also summarized how the border and the pipelines issues could become barriers if the two sides are not ready to use them as bridges.

With regard to the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), Dr. Mehari pointed out that while the deployment was very swift compared to other peacekeeping missions-this is entirely composed of Ethiopian troops- it has its own advantages and disadvantages. The advantages however, overweight the disadvantages. Clearly, Ethiopia as a country in the region has stakes on the peace and security of the whole South and North Sudan. While the military doctrine, technical and procedural issues will be much easier to apply, the willingness of both armies to withdraw from Abyei and the size of the troops compared to the geographic area that it is supposed to cover may prove to be difficult. Likewise, the responsibility of the Ethiopia government in terms of foreign policy relations to ensure a continuous trust by both sides puts huge burden on the country. Finally, Dr. Mehari thanked the chair, the panellists, the participants as well as the donors.


Institute for Security Studies
Get House Building
Africa Avenue
Addis Ababa

Mrs Seblewongel Mulugeta
Phone: +251-11 5156320/24/67/98
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