Early every year, the nomadic people of Misseriya in Sudan and their herds of cattle make the long journey south to Aweil East County in South Sudan. They come in search of water and pasture, but a scarcity of such resources frequently leads to tensions and sometimes violent clashes with cattle herders in the Dinka Malual host communities.
This year has so far been no exception, with the recent killing of a Misseriya tribesman resulting in the closure of the border post between the two countries.
To reduce tensions, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) in collaboration with its peace partners and the government have hosted a peace and pre-migration conference between the two groups. The representatives who met in Aweil have now agreed on a series of resolutions and recommendations to promote peace and freedom of movement for all – without carrying guns.
“Any person found possessing a gun or ammunition inside South Sudanese territory shall be arrested and subjected to legal procedures,” said William Kolong, the Regional Peace Coordinator, reading out the resolutions.
In South Sudan, cattle are precious assets, symbols of wealth and the currency used to pay dowries for marriages. Their immense and intrinsic value means that cattle are often stolen, sometimes with women and children as part of the bounty of successful raiders. Human lives are regularly lost in the process, with women frequently being sexually assaulted as well.
“Our differences have escalated due to the involvement of politics and politicians, and armed robberies. People are being killed and cattle stolen without proper accountability,” explained Bahkar Abdel Jalil Bahkar, a Misseriya representative.
In a bid to come to terms with the impunity leading to an escalation of violence, a set of rules and accompanying sanctions for anyone breaking them was agreed on. Anyone found guilty of murder or rape, for example, will face time hefty fines, consisting of both cash and many heads of cattle.
The positive impact of the brokered deal was immediate: the border post between Sudan and South Sudan, which had been reopened but remained virtually unused due to security concerns, suddenly saw a steady flow of trucks carrying both humanitarian and commercial commodities in both directions.
“I commend the role played by the two leaders of South Sudan and Sudan for recognizing this Dinka Malual and Misseriya border conflict, and for supporting its resolution. This was the first time that the Sudanese government was directly involved in addressing the conflict,” says Deng Deng Akuei, a Representative of the Dinka Malual.
The agreement recommends that UN agencies and peace partners provide funds to supply border communities with essential services such as water, healthcare and education. Part of this suggested support should also consist of the opening of joint markets at specific locations along the border.
Women were poorly represented at the peace and pre-migration forum, but those present made their voices heard.
“Our gentlemen should stop fighting because they are killing our children,” said Sulafa Babo Maki, a Sudanese woman.
Nefisa Abdelrahman, a female Dinka Malual counterpart, completed Ms. Maki’s message:
“Or else we shall stop giving birth to children.”