By LWI correspondent Fredrick Nzwili
Taking Peace to Southern Sudan Cattle Camps
PANYAGOR, Southern Sudan/GENEVA, 1 February 2011 (LWI)
It has been six years now since Betty Adau Bul started going to cattle camps in Jonglei state, Southern Sudan. Her mission: seeking an end to the many inter-ethnic cattle raids that occur among the agro-pastoralists communities here.
Our message to the young people is that raiding kills, so they must stop it,” says the mother of two. At 26, she is the youngest member of a local peace committee in Nyauk Piyam division where The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is working with community members to foster peace and reconciliation. The cattle camps, comprising hundreds of animals, are organized all the time, but they move toward the Nile between the dry months when water is scarce. The head of the cattle camp identifies a location which must be secure with a water source nearby, usually a pond. The many herders in any given camp are able to offer security to their animals. The people sleep in the open or near a fire, entertaining themselves through wrestling and dancing competitions .
The months of December and May are critical times, because this is when raids increase. When they occur, our development work comes to a standstill. Last year, for example, the raids destroyed all the fields we had planted and the income-generating activities that had been put up,” says Mary Obara, DWS Sudan program coordinator.
From its offices in Panyagor town, the Twiic county headquarters, DWS Sudan works with community members on water and sanitation, education, food security, and peace building. The interventions against the raids are part of the program on peace work.
While the LWF has been sensitizing both men and women about the dangers of these raids there is a special focus and notable progress with the cattle camp boys.
“Their work revolves around cattle, and the conflict heightens when they are taking animals to the River Nile,” says Obara.
The cattle raids became more fierce from the early 1990s at the height of the civil war between the government of Sudan and the former rebels, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) as communities easily acquired guns, still in the hands of locals. “Piyam” peace committees, which according to community members are doing a lot to reduce conflicts in the county. The committees composed of 11 members each, with a careful consideration for clan balance, were trained on peace issues.Adau joined the Piyam soon after teenage. She too has been a victim of the raids, having lost eight cows in an attack two years ago during which one person was killed.
Bul Mayen Deng, the leader of the committee to which Adau belongs recalls only too well the 2008 attack – he lost 150 heads of cattle to the raiders. He still finds it difficult to forgive the men he says were from the neighboring community, because they also killed his brother. “Our experiences like this are not of one day. They are not pleasant either,” he adds.
The high dowry limits set by families have also been forcing the young-men to stage the raids. In cases where they cannot manage to raise the number of cows demanded through raiding or any other means, some choose to elope with the girl, an action which often generates more conflict.
“Girls are precious. They are seen as sources of wealth. So when they elope the father may mobilize a whole village to go and rescue her and that becomes a community conflict,” remarks Obara.
“The committees have been reaching out to those who have eloped and urging them to go back to their parents. Then parents decide whether to organize a wedding or not,” she explains.Dowry negotiations are usually left to the men. The normal rage for dowry is 30 cows, but in some cases it may reach 100.
The committees have also reduced inter-community conflicts at water points, grazing land and at fields where the residents cut grass for thatching houses (Tukul).
“We tell the people that peace is crucial: why it is important to keep it at water points or at the field. Tension over who will get water first at the well or grass in the field can easily become a community conflict,” Mayem explains.
“We trained a water user committee to manage the source. They fence the area, clean it and in the process resolve simple conflicts,” says John Mabior, acting program manager at the LWF Panyogor office.Families contribute one Sudanese Pound per month to support the borehole maintenance.
On 30 January the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission (SSRC) announced in Juba the preliminary results of the 9-15 January referendum – more than 99 percent of Southern Sudanese had voted for separation from the north. In Jonglei much like in other states in the region, there is general calm. But residents are cautious the cattle raids may increase as water reduces and all communities move their animals towards the Nile River.Expectations remain high, with southern Sudan residents and returning refugees hoping services such as clinic and schools will be available within a short period, and that the peace that has marked the voting period would prevail.
“We must continue the peace building initiatives between the tribal communities,” says Mr Arie Den Toom, the LWF DWS representative in Sudan.
“Anything that happens and changes the political situation in the north, between now and July will have a tremendous impact on the process towards independence,” said Den Toom while explaining some crucial elements of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that mandated the referendum are were yet to be implemented before the south declares independence. These include the north-south border demarcation, resolving the disputed Abyei border region, citizenship and nationality, oil-sharing and currency, among others.
In Jonglei, the LWF plans to intensify peace conferences between the communities in addition to starting mobile schools at the cattle camps to guarantee education for children who accompany the family livestock.
The LWF has been drilling boreholes and training community members to maintain them in a bid to reduce tension at water points and curb part of the movement toward the Nile.
Mary Abuk, LWF peace building officer in Panyagor spoke of decreasing cases of elopement and clashes at wells since the inauguration of the peace committees.
In 2006, the LWF launched 11 Peace Committees.
In the Dinka homeland, families keep large herds of cattle on the plains and grow grains such as millet around their permanent settlements. Recently, the raids have become very violent, prompting heightened intervention from the LWF through its Department for World Service (DWS) program in Sudan. The raids here involve the Dinka, Nuer and Murle, all pastoralist communities, who also abduct children under ten years in the attacks.
“We have also been discussing the possibility of working with teachers, who are living in the camps. While mobile schools within the camp would be the best option, they are expensive.”