The killing of Kuol Deng Kuol near  the small market town of Goli 25 km north of Abyei on May 4th 2013 could have been a murder or an assassination ; but it was definitely not a chance happening .

The Ngok Dinka Paramount Chief , who was a co-administrator of the Abyei Joint Oversight Committee (AJOC) , had gone to Defra to investigate a number of problems , among which cattle theft . The Khartoum government has tried to suggest that his death was a product of a quarrel gone wrong around that cattle problem . But the reality is that Kuol Deng’s killing was the culmination of a steadily rising tension in the area for nearly a year .

  • Direct negotiations between Salva Kiir and Beshir had failed to make any progress on the Abyei issue .
  • Since late February diminishing water and the drying up of the South Kordofan pastures have led the Missiriya to try penetrating the South by force with their cattle and the South Sudanese regional authorities in Warrap and Unity States have blocked these attempts .
  • On March 8th AJOC decided to create a local police force , giving itself an April 10th deadline . Nothing happened
  • On April 2nd UNISFA blocked attempted Missiriya infiltrations of the demilitarized zone around Abyei
  • On April 3rd the Missiriya stole 100 heads of Ngok cattle , probably more to trigger a clash than because they wanted the animals
  • On April 12th the Dinka stole about 400 small animals (ghanam i.e. sheep and goats as opposed to cows , the noble cattle) from the Missiriya
  • On April 14th and 20th several Dinka were ambushed and killed (numbers unknown) in Abyei’s surroundings
  • On April 15th UNISFA intercepted a group of Missiriya with a herd of 300 cows trying to push through the demilitarized zone
  • On April 23rd Kuol Deng offered to both Juba and Khartoum in the name of the AJOC temporary administration that the two capitals withdraw from the confrontation and actually let the local people on both sides negotiate their own fate with each other .

It is upon this background that the May 4th visit and killing have to be seen . In addition , two key facts about Deng are seldom if ever mentioned : he was a relative of Deng Alor Kuol , the powerful Minister for Cabinet Affairs in the Juba government , and the father-in-law of SPLM-North Secretary General Yasser Arman who recently (April 26th) walked out of the Addis Ababa “peace conversations” (where precious little conversation had taken place anyway) . Which made Kuol Deng a thorn in the flesh for a number of people in Khartoum who want to be able to use the pro-NCP Missiriya militia in case of a coup in the capital . Kuol Deng was a bridge between the two communities , something the Missiriya chief Babo Nimr openly acknowledged . His offer of a local negotiation was anathema in Khartoum for those who wanted to keep control of “their” Missiriya , who see politics are their cattle primarily and all the rest secondarily . 

On top of that his family links with Yasser Arman ensured that Abyei would be always at least partly an SPLM-North issue . On April 19th a number of Missiriya from the Mazhana section even threatened to vote for the union of Abyei with the South in the October referendum . This is taking place over a background of Sudanese Army divisions as a slow-motion panic begins to grow within the regime . The military radicals of the Abd-er-Rahim Mohamed Hussein type who want to defend the capital by every possible means are beginning to be worried about their capacity to do so after the surprise JEM attack on Umm Ruwaba on April 27th. There are at least five different factions among the SAF and the diehards are not sure that their group will be able to make it if worst comes to worst . Beshir , who is sick , is seen as increasingly irrelevant . His decision to stand for re-election in 2015 is unrealistic . It is simply the expression of the regime’s incapacity to find a transformative solution . Beshir will be a candidate simply because he is already there and because his main associates are ready to tear each other apart . In this soft and wobbly situation the Missiriya militia looks , paradoxically , like a beacon of military stability in the divided Army of a divided land . Kuol Deng , involuntarily , interfered with these complicated national views because he had fairly simple local ones . Whether his death was a Khartoum-ordered assassination or a local spontaneous murder is debatable – and not known at present, even if Salva jumped the gun and gave a speech on May 9th in which he said , without proof : “It is the Sudan Government that killed the chief” .  In any case , those who killed Kuol Deng for their short and medium term benefit have won : North-South negotiations are now at a standstill and the October referendum is now seriously in doubt . World War Two started – officially – about a territorial quarrel over Danzig (now Gdansk) . Abyei could easily turn out to be the Sudans’ Danzig .