From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Fri Feb 27 2009 - 05:43:00 EST
Sudan: Now Cattle Threaten Hard-Won Peace
27 February 2009
Juba - "The liberation struggle is over. Why are we still killing
ourselves?" South Sudan's President Salva Kiir asked a meeting of chiefs,
exasperation clear in his usually even-toned voice.
On one level, the answer is cows. Thousands of rural people have been killed
in vicious cycles of raids and counter-raids over cattle between different
pastoralist tribes and clans since Sudan's 2005 north-south peace deal.
During the dry season, stories of attacks reach the south's capital Juba
every week. Officials know they don't hear of all the incidents but even so
are so used to grisly news reports of ten or 20 dead barely make a ripple.
Sometimes the numbers are higher: once or twice a year as many as 50 or 100
are slaughtered in a single shoot-out. Huts are burned to the ground and
entire herds driven away, leaving behind destitution.
"If you add up death and injury tolls, a lot of research institutions would
call this a war," James Bevan from the Small Arms Survey said.
As Kiir spoke in far-flung Warrap State, in the shade of a mango tree
nearby, the bloody head of a white bull rested against one horn, eyes rolled
back: a leftover from an inter-clan peace ceremony. There have been
countless similar deals, often violated within days.
The insecurity stymies development in rural areas; children can't go to
school; and NGOs abandon clinics. The U.N. counted tens of thousands
displaced by cattle raiding; people who will often lose what crops they
planted and - as in wartime - become dependent on food aid. The U.N.
situation report for mid-February registered 25,613 people displaced by
inter-tribal fighting in recent months.
Fear of raids has made disarmament extremely difficult for the
semi-autonomous South's government, set up after the peace accord. And
perhaps most worrying, a belief peace has not set in.
During the long north-south war, much of the worst fighting was between the
southern rebels and militia groups also from the south, but armed and funded
by Khartoum. Relations between different ethnic groups, often competing over
resources, remain strained, weakening southern solidarity.
"Could armed communities be exploited again? Yes, easily," Bevan said.
Kiir angrily told community leaders that this new cattle raiding would have
deeply shamed his parent's generation. "In those days, thieves would have
been rejected," he said.
Post-war everyone is trying to grab anything available, including, he
warned, ambitious elites who come "at night like shadows" to manipulate the
rural peoples that are their ethnic power base.
Love and hate
"Cows are wealth, social status, the source of food and are central in the
culture," Kook Mawein, a former refugee, who recently returned to his
pastoralist homeland from the U.S. "And you need them to get married, for
When young boys from the south's pastoralist tribes are weaned, they are put
in the cattle camp often together with one particular milk cow, forming a
lifelong bond with the beasts.
Cowherd Deng Thon spends the last half hour of daylight cleaning dung from
the area around his beloved white bull that nonchalantly chewed cud at dusk.
He works close the ground, sweeping with his hands.
Thousands of long horns float like crowns in thick, eye-watering smoke from
numerous cow dung fires.
Thon cannot really imagine another way of life but agreed that perhaps he
could be a businessman. If he made money he could buy more cows, he
explained. But the shadow of war is dark on this passion for the animals.
"All they know is war, they were born into it," Mawein said. He is hoping to
use his American education to bring new ideas to his community like farming
some of the - as he points out wholly organic - cows for meat production.
But until there's a true belief in long-term peace, he thinks change will be
slow. "You can take your cows with you if you run from the war, but not a
house or a business, or a job," Mawein explained.
Because so few will sell cows for meat, they bring in $250 - $500 a beast in
Warrap's small towns. Millions are grazed across the south's wetlands:
probably more than the south's population. In the war-destroyed and
poverty-stricken south they represent vast wealth but few are willing yet to
cash them in.
Chief Madut Aguer Adel's community has had thousands of cows stolen by
raiding neighbours. Without their cows, youth are leaving for towns.
"Some are waiters in the hotels. It is a waste," he said, adding that
without their cattle his young men cannot provide dowries and so "do not
His only hope is that the south's government will disarm the communities in
neighboring states that are attacking Adel's. His community was disarmed
last year, but others around his area were not, leaving his cattle extra
But so far attempts wide-reaching attempts have failed and thousands have
been killed in battles between communities and the south's army that some
communities simply don't trust. Guns quickly re-enter the South through its
porous borders, from Ethiopia and northern Kenya and Uganda.
In 2011, Southerners will get a longed-for chance to vote on whether they
want independence from Khartoum. Most say they will vote for separation. But
with less than two years to go, the intensity of inter-ethnic rivalries is
beginning to make some worry about what kind of country an independent South
A lack of clear legislation, courts and lawyers means there's often no
recourse to justice for wrongs done.
Rather than forming part of the solution, the south's security forces
including a weak police and the former rebel army often abuse their power, a
report by the U.S. based Human Rights Watch said.
"Soldiers and other security forces that commit human rights violations and
other crimes against civilians are rarely brought to account," the report,
which described killings, torture, ex-judicial executions and arbitrary
detentions by soldiers, said. The road to safety for these rural communities
is long, but they will need to see more real change to achieve the faith
needed to make it.
Sudan: Traditional Authority Seeks Its Place
Tonj - A lion attempted to devour Dinka chief Makom Majong Makom once. It
was during the long years of Sudan's north-south conflict that also saw a
militia attack nearly destroy his rural South Sudanese community.
The chief shot the animal as it leapt on top of him.
Makom sees his survival as a result of inherited power. His
great-great-grandfather was one of tens of thousands of Southerners sold
into slavery in the 17th century. But at the end of his life he managed to
make his way back home from the depths of Europe.
"The spirit power is great. We still believe in it," Makom said,
matter-of-factly showing the deep scar the lion left on his neck.
Makom's paternal line is a succession of spearmasters. These are the Dinka's
traditional spiritual leaders, responsible for the well-being of a community
that used to be firmly under their control.
This inherited power is how his father still cures sick members of their
community. And Makom believes this power is central to his authority as
president of a traditional court, although his job is very different from
"(Before) the spearmaster could work freely because he was a man of god.
This was before the people worshipped the government as the new system,"
Makom described, explaining that fear of a spearmaster's curse kept the
community in order. But government arrived with Anglo-Egyptian rule in the
late 19th century and later the Dinka wrote their Wanh Alel law code,
introducing fines and imprisonment.
The chief-judges became crucial parts of colonial government.
Like all the other chiefs attending a meeting of traditional authority in
South Sudan's Warrap State at the end of September, Makom wore a hat. His
was bright red and sparkled. Others had more traditional khaki safari hats
or fake-fur Russian-style ones or cowboy hats, embroidered caps and even the
occasional Moroccan fez.
All the chiefs were looking for clarity from the South's three-year-old
government as to what their roles will be now, whether and how they will be
paid and to form a council to strengthen their position, still uncertain, in
The first government
Chiefs are respected in South Sudan. Politicians rely on them as key links
to their far-flung ethnic communities and will likely be looking to
strengthen bonds with them further before national elections set for next
"Historically the chiefs were the government, in the Greek sense of the
word, the kind of governance where everybody is involved," Dr. Alfred
Lokuji, a Southern political scientist, said. "And today they are still the
first interaction with government: most of the population is rural."
During the long civil war, chiefs kept rural communities together and also
collected food and recruits for the South's large army.
But their judicial role was challenged by fierce military courts set up by
the rebels and respect for their positions weakened as the South steadily
filled with Kalashnikovs and the new power that came with them to every
owner, no matter how young. The chiefs believed they would be reinstituted
when the rebellion was over.
"(And) we were told we would be paid when peace comes. We expected that this
would happen at the same time as the soldiers began to be paid," said Joseph
Brown Lomose, paramount chief of the Kakwa.
They were also to be custodians of the culture that the southern rebels
fought to protect from Khartoum's attempt to spread Islam. In their courts
and leadership, they would keep alive the fire of traditional laws and
But a Local Government law that would give the chiefs clearer judicial and
administrative roles as the lowest level of government with salaries, still
has not been passed.
A 2005 peace deal ended Sudan's north-south conflict, giving South Sudan a
share in Sudan's oil revenues and its own semi-autonomous government
including a judiciary, separate from the legislative body and the executive.
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir told the Warrap chiefs it was this
judiciary, not the executive arm of the government, which had taken power
away from the chiefs.
"Matters are being taken up by judges that are supposed to be addressed by
the chiefs who know about what is happening to their people," Kiir said,
explaining that in this way the chiefs have been sidelined as administrators
of justice even on family problems.
A short-staffed judiciary with limited capacity (many lawyers were trained
in Khartoum and the South now rejects Shariah Law) has led to other problems
as well. "The chiefs should be empowered to deal with cases that are about
their own community," Nicodemo Arou Man, from the Local Government Board,
said. "There is confusion, a feeling the chiefs are too mild, but the
judiciary also delay cases."
One chief at the conference said there were 53 remand prisoners who had
waited months for their murder trials in the new judicial system.
Differences between how these judges work and traditional authority has also
caused some stress. "For example, instead of trying to make reconciliation
between married couples, they will just give them a divorce," Makom said
Tension between old and new
Chiefs will have to look to the South's government for help in disarming the
large proportion of the civilian population that carry guns. Cattle raiding,
often between tribes and clans, has killed thousands since the 2005 accord
and deprived areas of much-needed development and destroyed relations
But although chiefs need the cleanup to be able to control the war-affected
youth, prior patchy disarmament efforts have left some communities totally
vulnerable to attack and chiefs angry with central government. While they
desperately want their positions in government to be clearly set out, the
chiefs also need some kind of autonomy to be able to do their job properly.
Chiefs used to take a cut from the poll tax they collected, rather than a
government salary, thus retaining some freedom. "(But) the revenues are too
small now to cover the chief's salaries and some development," Man said,
explaining that government will have to foot the bill, even though with the
new legislation all the chiefs will again start collecting tax. He hopes
that as the South develops, chiefs will slowly go back to getting reparation
from the community rather than from above, giving them more autonomy.
Lokuji believes this autonomy is essential for the chiefs to remain true
representatives of their communities. "The bad thing that could happen is
that the chiefs become just extensions of government rather than playing a
role in their own right."
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