Opinion | Searching for solutions to cattle raids and Child-abduction in Greater Jonglei of South Sudan
The former Jonglei state which included the current Jonglei and Greater Pibor Administrative Area (GPAA), is inhibited by pastoralist communities which include, Dinka, Anywaa, Nuer, Murle, Kachipo, and Jie. These communities shared a lot of things in common. They are all Nilo-ethnic groups who lived side by side for generations.
Under the current administration units, Murle, Kachipo, Jie, and part of Anywaa fall under GPAA while part of Anywaa, Dinka, and Nuer remain under Jonglei State.
These communities as I mentioned above, shared a lot of things in common for example, they all rely on agro-pastoralism and fishing. Although the Anywaa community gave up on cattle especially when these animals become a source of conflict among these sister communities. (I am aware that there are some who think that the Anywaa surrendered their cattle to Murle). The truth is the Anywaa realized early on that cattle are the main source of conflict among communities in Jonglei and they opted to concentrate on agriculture which favors them due to the fertility of their land. Besides farming, the Anywaa community is also involved in fishing, hunting, and small-scale trading and mining especially in the Baat-Akobo area up to Dimma inside Ethiopia.
The land and seasons favor agriculture since the entire nation of South Sudan experiences two kinds of seasons each year. The rainy season usually begins in April to the end of September, and the partially dry season beginning in October to the end of December while the real dry season beginning in January to the end of March. This favors farming in that the community could plant twice a year.
Unlike the Anywaa community, there are so many other communities in the country especially those who still keep a lot of cattle who spend their entire lives moving from place to place in search of pasture and water for their cattle. This is not bad so far, because the truth is when there are a lot of cattle, obviously, they require a large area to graze and usually these communities move from one camp to the next. For that purpose, the Murle have been grazing on Anywaa land for generations.
Usually, during the dry season, they would run out of green pasture in their area and that would force them to move to Anywaa land where they would always have plenty of green pasture but also water. This has been traditional practice and they even don’t have to ask for permission but just move and for humanity's sake Anywaa would not ask them out or deny them to access the area.
However, cattle keeping has become a huge problem today in this part of the country. There are cattle raiding every year resulting in the loss of so many lives. These raids are a result of some traditional practices especially marriages among the Dinka, Murle, and Nuer communities.
I tied that to marriage because there is no regulation as to how many cows one should pay as dowry to the parents of the bride especially among the communities I mentioned above.
I said, there is no regulation because when we take the Anywaa community, for example, they have managed to regulate dowry. Anywaa community has been ruled by kingship for generations and this set a well-working system with regulations and laws in place that everyone in the land follows.
For example, when it comes to dowry, Anywaa uses beads called ‘Dimuy’ for bride price although some parents would still ask for one or two cows in addition to Dimuy which sometimes would be paid in terms of money. In addition to that, Anywaa recognized that when a man is ready to get married he has the right to get marry and no one would deny him that. The same to ladies. That means, even a poor Anywaa man can get married as long as he commits himself to pay Dimuy in installments. He does not have to have all five strings of Dimuy at once (5 strings is the standard required number of Dimuy to be paid.)
Figure 1:Two strings of Dimuy
Usually, a poor man could pay up to two (2) strings of Dimuy and start bearing children with his wife and pay the remaining later. No one would deny him his right to raise a family.
Now, that is not the case among these other sister communities. Among the Dinka, Nuer and Murle, if you have no cattle, you will never marry because who will give you his daughter when you have no 30 to 70 cows to pay to her fathers.
It still sounds ok, because you might ask me, isn’t that the right of the parents to give their daughter or deny her to marry anyone depending on what he has or hasn’t? well, it is a problem, because a lot of people who really want to get married will miss out since they have no at least 30 cows to pay as dowry.
Are you still with me?
So what happens to young men who really want to get marry and do not have cows? This bred a lot of problems in Greater Jonglei because the situation forced these young men to look for cows by all means so that they could marry those young beautiful ladies they are in love with. Thus, they found quick ways to fix this problem of marriage by;
- Conducting raids on other communities and take away their cattle to pay as dowry (all the three communities practices this)
- Abducting children from other communities and sell them for cows which one would either pay as dowry or keep to accumulate wealth. (this is mostly among the Murle)
Raids on other communities
When these raids are carried out, a lot of lives are lost in the process. The owner(s) of the cattle is attacked and killed in the process and his cattle are taken away. The truth is, we are losing so many lives every year to these kinds of attacks.
The practice also created mistrust among these sister communities. They do not trust each other anymore and that results into great enmity in the region. There is no peace because everyone is plotting to attack everyone. People are on alert every hour because you never know who is plotting to attack you and take away your cattle. For that reason, acquiring guns for protection or for attacks become inevitable.
There will be no development in the region with that kind of practice in place. People do not feel safe anywhere within Greater Jonglei.
Child – abduction.
Another business that is connected to this is children's businesses. What I mean is that these communities and especially the Murle tribe ambush women on the roads between villages in other communities and kidnap their children and sell them among their community for cattle which they would use for either marriage or just accumulate wealth.
We are human beings and we know the pain that mothers go through, carrying babies in their wombs for whole nine (9) months. After the 9 months, they go through labor pain which today kills a lot of mothers in our nation. We are losing a lot of women during childbearing in the country because we lack facilities especially in most of our states.
It just puzzles me to see these people separating mothers from their children in such a heartless manner. Who on earth still does that in the 21st century? Anyway, I now concur with the person who says ‘common sense is not common.’
Although Anywaa abandoned this practice of cattle keeping many years ago, they still suffer in the hand of these child-kidnappers. Anywaa are losing children every year to Murle’s kidnappers.
I mentioned above that apart from dowry, a lot of young men from these three communities have also realized that this is a cheap way to get rich as one could accumulate as many cattle within a short time.
What could be a solution to this madness in Greater Jonglei?
There could be so many solutions but I believe;
- Firstly, regulation of dowry among Dinka, Nuer and Murle would reduce this practice significantly. I know Dimuy will not work among these communities even Anywaa community is running out of them and many families are resorting to money instead of Dimuy nowadays due to the shortage of items. One string of Dimuy right now goes at $400 to $500 which is still expensive too.
My first recommendation is regulation of dowry: There should be a standard amount of dowry to be paid among the Dinka, Nuer and Murle say up to 10 or even 5 cows which I think many of our young men would afford without raiding their neighbors to meet the demand of the parents-in-law.
- The second recommendation depends entirely on the government and this is how I think it works; There should be a decree from the president office against cattle raids and child abduction and this decree goes through a chain of commands down to the office of the governor who will pass it down to the office of the county commission down to the Payam administrator who will pass it down to the chief at Boma level (the smallest unit in the system).
Every chief must know everyone in his Boma (village) and their assets. There should be the registration of assets for example, how many heads of cattle one has such that if there would be an abrupt increase of cattle in his Kraal he would answer to the chief.
Also, every chief should monitor everyone in their Boma in that if someone misses from the Boma for a number of days his family must answer to the chief of his whereabouts, and when he comes back with anything that raises suspicion, he must answer that to the chief or the chief will have to report him to the Payam administrator who will involve the police if necessary the matter would be reported to the county commissioner’s office for further action. If it goes beyond the county commissioner, it has to be reported to the governor who will make sure the person in question is brought to book.
Who should effect these?
These practices have become a national problem since the nation is losing a lot of innocent citizens and properties each year. Therefore, the government should take the initiative to engage all elders of these three communities for dialogue and present these proposals. Let them discuss items number (i) above so that they would come to a common ground. Parents need to stop treating their girls like assets because they are not. When they have agreed on a reasonable price then it has to be gazette and put into law with consequences to any parents who violate it.
The issue of guns in the hands of civilians
The presence of guns in the hands of civilians fueled these practices.
I am aware that the government initiated a program to disarm all the communities in the country. This program deserves support because when all these communities are disarmed, they will not raid other communities with sticks.
How will they protect their cattle without guns?
I know this is the greatest fear they have, if they surrender their guns, how will they ensure the security of their cattle?
Well, the government shall have to deploy government soldiers to provide security in and between the borders of these communities. The government soldiers would need to be deployed with the mandate to provide security but also to implement these new laws. Law-breakers have to face the law without partiality. They have to be punished such that the rest will know how serious the government is.
Protecting citizens is the role of the government and that has to be taken seriously. These communities need to be assured that once their guns are taken away from them the government shall provide maximum security to protect their properties and their lives. For example, these soldiers would need to be stationed between Dinka and Murle, between Murle and Anywaa, between Nuer and Dinka, and between Nuer and Murle.
These soldiers need to patrol and to do that, they need a good road for their mobility. In other words, there should be road connectivity in this region of the country to make these laws effective.
If any cattle keeper is moving with his cattle across the border, he must acquire a letter from the chief of his Boma certifying that the cattle are his but also the reason for his movement. Anyone caught without any letter, his cattle would be confiscated and investigated to make sure he didn’t steal them from someone else.
The church is not exclusive in this process
The church can also help the government to achieve peace among these sister communities by preaching against taking the lives and properties of others. All lives are sacred and deserve protection.
One way that the church can help is by teaching to correct the worldview of our communities.
What is a worldview?
Worldview is defined as the lens through which people look at things and interpret them. It is the way people see things. Our worldview is important because it does not just influence how we live but it actually impacts how we do things.
That being said, if we want to change how these communities interpret things and live well, we need to change their worldview. There is no better worldview than a Biblical worldview. That means the church has a huge task for peace to be achieved among our communities.
It is not only the three communities I mentioned early but all our communities in the nation. If our worldview is transformed Biblically, then we will have God’s fearing communities who respect and treat human life as sacred.
God instituted three institutions for the welfare of humanity. That is the family, the church, and the state/country. Out of these three, the family is the smallest institution but the most influential of all the three.
This is because the family is the institution that feeds the church and the state with members. If parents take their job seriously and ground their children in Biblical worldview when these kids grow into men and women, they will take the fear of God with them to the church where it will be cultivated and nourished but also they will take it to the state because the children are the next leaders. They will take the fear of God to the government’s offices and we will have leaders who always seek the will of God in whatever decisions they make.
One more component to this change is education.
Education is another tool that exposes people to other cultures and people around the world but most importantly it helps in logic analysis.
The rate of illiteracy is still very high in South Sudan and education should be on top of the priority and actually should be made compulsory for everyone at the school-going age. Government should improve educational facilities and pass it into law that all parents must send their children to schools and any parents found violating that law shall face the law.
For example, if any child at the school-going age is found at home during school hours, the parents should be arrested and arrange in court to answer why their child wasn’t in the school.
Educating children is educating the nation and when the nation is educated, a lot of what we are experiencing right now shall be eliminated. i.e. taking innocent life without any good reason, stealing someone else’s kid, and sell him/her for cows just because you want to marry or get rich.
We will have responsible youth in the nation who shall seek to build the nation. We will have youth who shall be thinking not on how to ambush their neighbors but new inventions and building the nation.
May God help us.
The author is Okuch. A. Ojullo is a South Sudanese – Pastor Trainee. He can be reached via his email email@example.com
The views expressed in ‘opinion’ articles published by Radio Tamazuj are solely those of the writer. The veracity of any claims made are the responsibility of the author, not Radio Tamazuj.