At the end of October, 2013 tens of thousands of people from the Dinka Ngok tribe returned to the contested region of Abyei to vote in a unilateral referendum they hoped would decide whether Abyei would join South Sudan or Sudan. 

Abyei, a small area of fertile grazing land and oil reserves sandwiched between Sudan and South Sudan was a hotbed for fighting during the decades-long civil war between north and south and has been a wedge between the two countries since South Sudan declared independence in 2011. In May 2008 and May 2011 Sudan Armed Forces attacked and seized Abyei town forcing 100,000 people to flee.

A referendum was promised as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between Juba and Khartoum in 2005 but was left unresolved when South Sudan declared independence. The two countries have yet to agree on conditions for the proposed referendum, with Khartoum claiming the Misseriya, nomadic Arab pastoralists, have a right to vote while the Dinka Ngok say they only have grazing rights for their cattle.

The African Union promised a referendum for October of 2013, but Sudan once again baulked at the proposed provisions. Tired of waiting for the international community, the nine chiefdoms of the Dinka Ngok staged a unilateral referendum which concluded on the 29th of October, 2013. The results showed that 99.9% voted in favor of joining South Sudan. Rejected by both South Sudan and Khartoum, however, the vote dwindled to no more than a symbolic gesture to raise awareness amongst the international community and respective governments, leaving the issue of Abyei unsettled and its people without a country.