By Philip Thon Aleu
In 2012 when the Cooperation Agreements between South Sudan and Sudan were signed, one young man promised to challenge the SPLM party in forthcoming elections – the elections that never arrived yet! Asked what would be his main points, he said the SPLM government does not take care of its people. He said the government accepted to allow Arabs nomads, Messeirya, to graze their cows in Abyei but refused to extend similar olive agreement to other cattle keeping communities from grazing in Equatoria, for example.
The Dinka cattle are roaming in Equatoria Region and this has become a political issue over the last ten years. As a reminder, Dinka tribe are pastoralists and most tribes in Central and Western Equatoria are crops farmers. So in the last twelve months, President Salva Kiir weighed and issued two Republican Decrees asking cattle keepers to leave the Equatoria region and returned to Jonglei – and wherever they came from! One such decree was issued about a week ago. The first decree issued in 2016 was ignored by the pastoralists. In twisted coincidence, the President recommitted himself to the Cooperation Agreement with Sudan this week – a few days after ordering fellow South Sudanese out of what is constitutionality part of their country. The agreement between Juba and Khartoum allowed unimpeded “transhumance.”
“The Agreement makes special arrangements for transhumance (seasonal movement of livestock for pasture) and guarantees the continuance of nomadic livelihoods,” partly reads The Agreement on Border Issues (Ref: Agreement with Sudan on transhumance (movement of livestock for pasture.
How Dinka pastoralists came to Equatoria?
The first time I arrived to the Equatoria Region was in 1992, a year after that infamous SPLM spilt. The SPLM-Nassir faction attacked Bor villages, killing thousands of people and raiding cattle. After that massacre and the sequence famine, my father decided to relocate our family to Equatoria through current Lakes state region. Our family arrived Youdu camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) near Kaya on December 23, 1992 (I remember this date because on the following day – December 24, members of the Episcopal Church of Sudan marched on streets at the Eve of Christmas – which I later learnt fall on December 25th every year).
In Munduri and Maridi of Western Equatoria region, IDPs camps were also opened and thousands of people from Bor took shelter there – in Kotabi (near Munduri) and Angutwa (near Maridi). These people did not come with more cattle, if any, from cattle Bor.
But you can’t separate pastoralists from cattle. They are like water and oil. Their livelihood rotates around cattle – for milk, meat, dowry payment and as medium of trade. Young men from the Dinka Bor IDPs started off – moving to Rumbek, buy few bulls, and drove them from Rumbek to Koboko in northern Uganda. This was a painstaking journey, lasting two months or more between Rumbek and Koboko. The Sudan Armed Forces controlled Yei town from till March 1997. In August 1993, the SAF took control of all towns long that route including Kaya at the border with Uganda. So the cattle traders were taking risks to engage in the business – and some of them paid the ultimate price with their lives. When those young men get profit, they would buy heifers and lactating cows and leave behind with their parents and children. The Equatoria region was good for animal growth and there was no problem with the local Moro and other communities since they too were keeping cattle – though fewer compared with the swelling cattle the Dinka Bor were gathering. By the year 2000 there were thousands of cattle and hundreds of cattle camps in Munduri. Dinka from Lakes state would cross seasonally to Munduri areas but it was predominately the Dinka Bor who stayed there throughout the year. That is the genesis of cattle camps in Munduri and surrounding areas of Western Equatoria.
There was peaceful coexistence because we were all Southern Sudanese – not Dinkas, Equatorian and what-have-you.
How did the problem start?
Then came the year 2005, the year Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed. This triggered off political maneuvering and fostering as politicians compete to represent their constituencies in Juba and elsewhere. The CPA wealth sharing chapter actually ignited many problems in South Sudan because politicians discovered the oil money locked in political offices. To get the keys, you have to be a politician – and divisive politics resonance perfectly in illiterate societies. It started off in Western Equatoria – and Bor politicians responded with affirmative. In Western Equatoria, the politicians accused cattle keepers of invading farms, destroying hunting bushes, stealing beehives and wanted Dinka Bor cattle camp out of the area – including the IDPs. This worked well with the local communities who did not see the benefit of multiethnic towns the IDPs would provide in the due course. On the other hand, the Bor politicians wanted the cattle to return home so that they gain the needed numbers of constituencies. The irony here is that all of these politicians – from Equatoria and Bor, sent their families outside South Sudan to get good medication and education for their children (that is a story for another day!).
With the political rhetoric as a cover, armed men started killing Dinka Bor around Munduri – I survived one such attack while on a brief visit to cattle in a place called Ladiing, west of Munduri. Both sides later engaged in deadly clashes and the Dinka Bor ultimately left in 2006 for Bor. It was a brief departure.
Why the Dinka Bor returned to Equatoria?
In 2008, hundreds of cattle camps from Bor where already, again in Equatoria. This time, Central and Western Equatoria forested were littered with the Dinka Bor cattle camps.
There are many push and pull factors. After rearing their cattle in Equatoria for more than a decade, the pastoralists found that Equatoria is good for the animals because there is less mosquito, no wild animal and the area is not water logged during rainy season. On returning to Bor, their cattle died in thousands due to diseases that the politicians who encouraged people to return home failed to help to treat. Another push factor is the insecurity in Jonglei. Unlike the period before 2005 CPA, the youth rightly conceded the safety of their animals and their security to the government. In contrast, the local politicians encouraged the local people to defend themselves. This is funny! A government does not encourage civilians to arm themselves anywhere and expect better security results. Anyhow, the security situation worsened and pastoralists returned to Equatoria.
In 2009, Bor community leaders shuttled the animal back using military force. Many young men, women and children were killed between Bor and Juba in cattle raids as the watch of helpless government soldiers. In 2011 and 2012, the cattle returned to Equatoria – the push and pull factors were not addressed. Those factors have not changed today – in 2017.
What problems are associated with Dinka Bor cattle in Equatoria?
Cattle and crops are like leopards and goats. You cannot put them in one room. Even in Bor, we keep cattle and grow crops and they are never mixed in one place. There are reports of Dinka Bor cattle destroying crops in Equatoria and that is unacceptable. These problems are sometimes addressed locally between the cattle camp leaders and local chiefs. But politicians capitalize on that and plot hostilities between the pastoralist and people of Equatoria.
How can this be resolved?
The Dinka Bor must keep their animals away from farms. The Dinka Bor pastoralists must obey local chiefs’ orders and pay fines for destroying crops. This is standard anywhere. You cannot leave your village and carry your rules along. The central government has a role to play here by strengthening local chiefs to force the pastoralists whose animals that destroy farms to pay fines and be jailed where necessary. Chasing them to their villages infested with deadly cattle diseases and insecurity is unconstitutional. Our Transitional Constitution is very clear on the rights of South Sudanese to live anywhere in the country – provided that this right does subvert the rights of other fellow citizens.
Is there any benefit Equatoria region gets from Dinka Bor cattle?
There is this statement repeated by Ugandan President Museveni every time speaks in Juba. He said that he is rich because people in Kampala, the Buganda and who farm crops, buy his milk and cattle for meat. On the other hand, he buys food crops from Buganda.
That is exactly how South Sudanese communities should benefit from each other.
There is no single community that lives isolate and prosper. The multiethnic composition of our towns is an evident that we benefit from each other. Likewise, the presence of Dinka Bor cattle in Equatoria has some advantages – no all disadvantages as politicians have made us to believe.
Since the cattle keepers have no time to plan crops, they buy food from local people. This encourages local food people since there is ready market and hence, supports economic growth. Milk and meat is also available. Cattle camps should also be paying taxes to local chiefs and many more.
Is returning to Bor bad news for Dinka Bor people?
Not all. If the Dinka Bor cattle camps returned to Bor today, there will be some celebrations. This is because Bor villages are now deserted because all the young men have got to Equatoria with their animals. These young men are the source of community security. So that will be good news for Bor leaders too.
Note: I don’t support arming of civilians to protect themselves for a simple reason. Government MUST be the monopoly of power. Arming civilians encourages a circle of revenges and there will be no room for economic empowerment and development will be elusive.
Having identified the pros and cons, a middle ground can be found.
1. Communities, who keep animals – and those planning crops, must respect each other. The government should enforced this by empowering local chiefs and punish anyone who allow his animal to destroy crops. Anyone who steal animal (and/or kill them for meat) should also be punished.
2. The push and pull factors must be addressed. Dinka Bor leaders should not continue to hide their heads in the sand and push cattle keepers to Bor – to provide security to the villages and become their constituencies. Let’s hit on the problem: hold the government accountable for not providing sufficient security and failure to avail drugs to treat deadly cattle disease in Bor.
3. Respect the constitutional right of citizens to live anywhere in the country – provided that those rights don’t infringe on rights of others. Instead of bending the rules for political reasons, the government must assure Equatorian crops farmers that they are protected by the law – and bring the Dinka Bor cattle keepers to their senses by punishing them severely if they allow their animals to destroy crops. We must be a country that respects it laws.
And finally, this should be very clear. The cattle keepers in the forests of Equatoria are not taking any body’s land. Land grabbers are in towns.
Instead of seeing cattle keepers as Dinka, let’s see them as fellow South Sudanese who must obey our laws – including local by-laws anywhere in the country. That is what is called national identity. And that is why the young man – who should be eligible to run for any office now, has a case against SPLM government during elections. If the government allows Arabs Messeirya to graze their cattle in Abyei, why not allow fellows citizens to do so on their land?
How could this multiethnic coexistence be achieved South Sudan? That is my next and finally part of this article. Stay tune!