The United Nations Mission in South Sudan, together with local authorities in Western Lakes, has begun a series of sessions to avoid conflicts in cattle camps ahead of the notoriously resource-scarce and hence violent dry season, which typically runs till early April.
The campaign was launched in Aguoc, one of the biggest cattle camps found in the area. The efforts are made as an early attempt to mitigate cattle raids, revenge attacks and clashes over pastures and water.
During the fighting, women live in real terror, says Mayen Kuluel, an elderly woman in Aguoc. If you are not raped, you lose a son or a husband at the war front. We can’t keep on living like this, she sighs, pinpointing the reason why peace-promoting efforts targeting cattle camps have become a priority for the peacekeeping mission.
It’s in the cattle camps where you have youths carrying guns, and these are the individuals who cause mayhem among communities, adds Gibril Allan Turay, an UNMISS civil affairs officer.
On this very day, younglings from Aguoc and two neighbouring communities seal a pact of mutual non-aggression and joint defense should anybody else attack them. As the two groups meet, brandishing new machine guns, they dance together, ululations and chants filling the air in celebration of this new alliance.
The way people have migrated to this swampy grazing area of Aguoc this season has been disorderly, says cattle keeper Dut Mariel, explaining the need to make partnerships and warning for possible fighting ahead.
Agouc is one of the biggest cattle camps in Western Lakes, hosting six different communities. Together, they own tens of thousands of cattle, and they often clash with their archrivals from the Rup community, currently occupying the Marielbek cattle camp some 40 kilometres away.
The intercommunal fighting is often caused by a lack of water holes and suitable pastures. As drought takes its toll in the shape of perishing animals, raiding others is frequently the chosen method to replace the cattle that have been lost.
We have held peace conferences in different places of Western Lakes. The governor and local cultural leaders have signed a few peace deals, and we have come here to remind the youth about the promises they have made, so that they can be kept, says Thon Makur Mangok, peace adviser to the governor of Western Lakes.
Over the last week, at least 25 people have been reported killed in cattle raids in the Greater Lakes region. More than 670 heads of cattle have still not been returned to their owners.
The peacekeeping mision’s Civil Affairs Division has conducted several peace dialogues in towns and villages in Greater Lakes, some of which have resulted in neighbouring communities pledging to coexist peacefully. Over the next few months, peacekeepers will make the content of these local peace deals known to far-flung cattle camps across the region.
Source: UN Mission in South Sudan