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[Dehai-WN] Africanarguments.org/: South Sudan: Intercommunal Violence in Jonglei State - From Restitution to Revenge

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Tue, 28 Feb 2012 22:35:17 +0100

South Sudan: Intercommunal Violence in Jonglei State - From Restitution to

By Adam Hyde, 28 February 2012


Pastoralism is the dominant economic activity of South Sudan's
conflict-prone Jonglei State. It is so critical to livelihoods that it has
shaped cultural practices throughout much of South Sudan. Though violence is
not new to these areas, a striking feature of the post-independence South is
a stark increase of violence and conflict along pastoral community lines.

For instance, in the first two weeks of February 2012, there have been at
least 12 violent inter-communal incidents in Jonglei alone, killing around
60 people and wounding 38[1]. The backdrop of this is the heavy loss of
life, theft and destruction of property, and the displacement of tens of
thousands of people from their homes and villages, in preceding months.

In part, the cause of this trend is that in the context of contemporary
South Sudan, traditional means to manage grievances related to cattle
raiding have been eroded. State and federal institutions appear incapable or
unwilling to confront and address grievances in an unbiased and
representative manner. In this context, violence escalates with each new
incident, creating instability and on that basis limiting the scope for
economic development.

Problems in South Sudan

The former Sudan (encompassing what is now Sudan and South Sudan) emerged
from civil war in 2005, brought about by the signing of the Comprehensive
Peace Agreement (CPA). The CPA was designed to facilitate the transition to
self-determination for South Sudanese. Voting overwhelmingly for separation
in a February 2011 referendum, the South declared independence on 9 July
2011. Yet, still in its first year, South Sudan appears to oscillate between
progress and regression. A number of objectives contained within the CPA
remain outstanding, including border demarcation, citizenship, and oil
revenue sharing with the North. Each of these factors presents a unique and
significant challenge and require resolution if Sudan and South Sudan are to
realise sustainable peace internally and regionally. Interestingly, these
challenges have overshadowed characteristics of South Sudan's domestic
political economy that also present daunting challenges to stability. The
most salient of these considerations is the political economy of

Cattle keeping and traditional justice

The characteristic of pastoralism that receives most attention in media
accounts of violence is cattle raiding. Cattle theft has long been
considered within Southern Sudan as an accompanying feature of the pastoral
way of life. Its acceptance within the economy was facilitated by the
existence and enforcement of a traditional system of justice. This system
regulated violence by providing mechanisms for the management of grievances
through the negotiation and award of compensation or restitution by the
family, rather than by individuals. Such systems have historically been
utilised in many pastoral societies and serve to reduce violence by more
widely distributing responsibility for checking such behaviours across a
group. The amount or 'degree' of compensation or restitution depended on the
specific nature of any individual incident[2].


The period since the signing of the CPA has created important challenges to
these traditional measures governing theft and violence within the pastoral
communities of Jonglei. Not least are the problems associated with high
rates of small-arms ownership by pastoralists, being a legacy of the Civil
War and a vibrant small-arms trade across Jonglei's domestic and
international borders. Broad-based small-arms ownership means that
individuals often perceive they can seek retribution of their own accord
and, where they feel traditional measures will not effectively address their
grievances, they may choose to do so, rendering such traditional mechanisms
less effective still. Likewise, weapons provide a strong incentive for
opportunistic theft. The result has been the proliferation of inter-communal
violence such as through unregulated revenge or reprisal attacks against
those individuals or groups deemed to have instigated theft or attacks.
However, this does not adequately explain why these attacks have targeted
non-combatants with increasing brutality, particularly women and children.
The escalation of the violence requires further analysis of evolving South
Sudanese institutions and the role ethnicity plays within these

Politics matters

The recent de jure creation of South Sudan consolidated the power of the
state's dominant ethnic group - the Dinka Bor. This outcome is
understandable considering that it was the Dinka Bor, an ethnic sub-group
from the Bor region of Jonglei, who first declared war against the Khartoum
government in 1983 and who led a rebel movement, The Sudan Peoples
Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) that ultimately delivered independence. On
this basis, many of the positions of power in Juba, as well as in Bor, are
held by, or perceived to be held by Dinka Bor affiliated with the SPLM.

In itself, this consolidation of power should not necessarily be a problem.
However in South Sudan, there exists a perception that public offices are
manipulated for the gain of ethnically based patronage networks, and these
views are based on the perception that often, state and national government
institutions bias justice and allocation of resources according to
ethnicity. As a consequence, strong grievances across ethnic groups have
developed, and have undermined traditional justice systems now perceived as
tainted by corruption and bias. In the context of fractured traditional
institutions, to prevent violence, individuals and groups need to see
grievances addressed within a new code of justice and political organization
that citizens can trust and access.

Where implementation of a new code of justice fails, whether by a failure to
negotiate and convince or where it cannot be enforced militarily, violence
is likely to escalate. In Jonglei, the perception and practice of power and
resource allocation based on ethnicity and the consequent reputational
damage to traditional justice measures, significantly contributes to the
underlying reason for a change in the nature of conflict toward more
deliberate attacks. When one group is attacked, but fails to receive redress
for their losses, they then perpetrate an escalated attack against their
attacker, and so forth. It is this escalation that has driven up targeting
of women and children. This will continue to be the case until at least in
part there is a balanced justice measure trusted by all parties to violence.


There are myriad and urgent considerations that command the attention of the
South Sudanese government, not least of which are the on-going negotiations
with the North. Still, a strong case can be made that given the
aforementioned dynamic and cycle of escalating violence, the opportunity
cost of not addressing the causes of conflict in Jonglei is too high.
Ignoring these cleavages is not a realistic proposition in the short-medium
term if South Sudan is to stabilise. Yet, given the current shape of
government leadership, there may be insufficient will, let alone capacity,
to address grievances in the foreseeable future.


It remains to be seen whether pastoral based socio-economic organisation is
reconcilable with peace and stability in the context of Jonglei. But to help
address the causes of violence and to better inform policy for international
assistance in South Sudan, more systematic analysis of the conditions
(including the natural environment) that have resulted in local settlement
patterns, production, means of exchange, and justice systems will be
essential. Such analysis will enable a fuller understanding of the social
mechanisms and economic strategies that have historically assured food
security and distribution, even in times of scarcity in Jonglei. Jonglei's
pastoral political economy represents myriad governance challenges. In the
absence of pragmatic solutions to these challenges, and around managing the
breakdown of traditional mechanisms, stability, as a precursor to economic
development, cannot be achieved in South Sudan.

Adam Hyde is a PhD candidate in International Development at the London
School of Economics. The focus of his current work and research is South

[1] OCHA, South Sudan, Operational update as of 13 February 201 - Jonglei

[2] For instance, an award witnessed by the author in Duk County in Jonglei
in May 2009 saw a ratio of 2:1 used for cattle theft - that is - two cattle
payable for every one stolen - if the perpetrator(s) is identified and
reprimanded. Regarding physical violence, 50 cattle might be payable if a
perpetrator is deemed to have committed murder or 25 if manslaughter.
Payment norms are, however, rapidly evolving in South Sudan and have become
increasingly integrated with state-based mechanisms.

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