South Sudan

Community Perspectives on the Lou Nuer / Murle conflict in South Sudan

Originally published



Establishing security is one of the greatest challenges faced by the government of the Republic of South Sudan (RoSS), which declared independence July 9. Aside from violence on the border with its northern neighbour the RoSS must contend with a host of militia groups as well as a culture of cattle raiding, and tensions between ethnic groups that often lead to deadly attacks.

Compounding such problems is the ubiquity of small arms left over from a decades-long war, which also militarized society and broke down traditional structures of authority. The marginalization of southerners, which was a root cause of the war in the first place, has also left its imprint. For decades, southern resources were exploited by northerners who funnelled wealth to the Khartoumbased establishment. Thus, the south was left with little infrastructure or industry, factors that also contribute to ongoing violence in this new era of independence.

Such problems are common to much of South Sudan, but they are particularly acute in the eastern state of Jonglei. With a population of about 1.3 million, Jonglei is the base for a number of militia, and the state is home to a diverse array of ethnic groups that often compete for scarce resources. Such competition, in addition to traditional rivalries, which intensified during the civil war and have also been exacerbated by underdevelopment, led to clashes that left thousands of people dead in the state during 2011. The United Nations Secretary General’s Special Representative to South Sudan, Hilde Johnson, said:
The escalation that has taken place in Jonglei has a threshold that is much higher than what we have seen in other states. … And if it gets out of hand we’ll be in a situation where the cycle of violence will escalate to unknown proportions.2

At a governors’ forum in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, on 17 November, Jonglei Governor Hussein Maar Nyout said at least 3,000 people had been killed in inter-ethnic conflicts in his state during 2011.3 To put that number into perspective, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that about 2,500 people were killed in violent conflicts in 2009 throughout the whole of Southern Sudan.4 About 750 of those killed in 2009 were killed during a week-long battle between the Lou Nuer and the Murle.5 It should be noted that such statistics are extremely hard to verify due to the lack of road access and communications networks in rural areas. But the figures do point to endemic violence that appears to have worsened in Jonglei in 2011.

Many of those killed in Jonglei in 2011 were victims of attacks and counter attacks between groups of Lou Nuer and Murle. That conflict provides an insight into the factors contributing to inter-ethnic tension in South Sudan, as well as its tragic 2 Community Perspectives on the Lou Nuer / Murle conflict in South Sudan results. The subsequent peace process, led by the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC), points to methods of resolution, and its inherent challenges. Interviews with stakeholders suggest possible longer-term initiatives that could lead to lasting peace between such communities.