If anywhere typifies where Africa and the Arab worlds meet it is Abyei in Sudan — it is a complex tapestry of ethnicities, cultures and religions where Arabs, Africans, Christians, Animists and Muslims live side by side. It is also a possible flash point for any conflict that occurs when the time comes to demarcate the border between north and south Sudan – because it sits right on the likely border.
Reports suggest that as many as 95% of people who voted in the just completed referendum supported the southern third of Sudan forming its own independent nation in July.
As the seemingly unstoppable march towards the division of Sudan into two countries proceeds – issues such as where to locate the border – how to share the oil – how to apportion the land that surrounds that border and most importantly who will control the water – need to be resolved. North and south Sudan fought one of Africa’s most protracted civil wars over these same things – resulting in the deaths of more than 2 million people.
Despite much speculation that it will be the struggle to control oil which will determine whether the division of Sudan will be peaceful or not – it is access to water that may be the real issue. People can live without oil but they cannot live without water.
Everyone in Abyei relies on water from what the Dinka’s of the south refer to as the Kirr River and what the Misseriya of the north call Bahr al-Arab, or River of Arabs. How the control of this river and the water it provides is resolved may determine whether a peaceful division of the Sudan occurs in July.
The Africa Water Bank develops new water points in the Sudan and is currently working with different groups in the Abyei region to find ways water security can be maintained following the division of north and south Sudan. The provision of clean, safe water in Africa will save more lives than any other intervention.