Agreement on conduct and mobile court to minimize conflicts during cattle migration season

unmiss south sudan cattle migration agreement mobile court conflicts farmers pastoralists

There is always plenty to discuss to maintain peaceful relations between farmers and cattle herders during South Sudan's cattle migration season.

2 Dec 2020

Agreement on conduct and mobile court to minimize conflicts during cattle migration season

Michael Wondi

Most representatives of farmers and pastoralists in the states of Warrap and Western Bahr el-Ghazal have agreed on a number of principles of conduct to reduce conflicts between the two groups ahead of the upcoming cattle migration season.

A mobile court will also be set up in the area to increase accountability and deter potential violators of the resolutions agreed upon.

“I am happy with the reviewed agreement and hope that it will be respected and implemented,” said John Tona, a farmer from Wau.

He referred to the Marial-bai cattle migration agreement first reached in 2017 and first reviewed in 2019.  It was signed by cattle herders from Gogrial and the farming community in Western Bahr el-Ghazal State to regulate the movement of cows and their herders in search of pasture and water.

Among other provisions, the agreement stipulates that farmers are entitled to compensation for any crops that are eaten or destroyed by cattle, and for pastoralists to be recompensed whenever farmers resort to killing intruding animals.

Last week, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan organized a five-day conference for cattle keepers and farmers from the neighbouring states of Western Bahr el-Ghazal and Warrap.

The objective was to review the Marial-bai agreement a second time and discuss recurring thorny issues, such as the presence and use of arms, cattle being moved earlier than what has been agreed on, and how to settle disputes that may still arise.

“The outcome may not be exactly what we hoped for, but the result is still good. We have shared our thoughts with each other, and the way forward will require that we work together to enjoy a peaceful cattle migration season,” commented Sara Cleto, Governor of Western Bahr el-Ghazal State.

While cattle keepers reiterated their commitment to not carry tension-inducing weapons and to not begin their migration till January (when farmers will typically have harvested their crops), a group of landowners in Western Bahr el-Ghazal chose not to sign the revised agreement, claiming that cows had already arrived in the district of Mapel.

“It is disappointing,” said Bona Panek, Governor of Warrap State. He added, however, that a committee has been set up to continue discussions with the non-signatories and that another meeting – and opportunity to sign the agreement - will be convened at some point before January.

In a bid to minimize tensions and prevent violence between pastoralists and farmers, the UN peacekeeping mission will assist in the deployment of joint integrated police forces in particularly conflict-prone areas. A mobile court able to quickly try cases that cannot be solved amicably, also logistically supported by UNMISS, is scheduled to be set up in Wau by January.

Augustino Akoc, an elder from Warrap State, urged both parties to honour the provisions of the reviewed agreement, thus making court interventions the exception rather than the rule. Meteorological factors, he explained, give him hope for optimism.

 “At this moment, we have a lot of water in the areas of the cattle herders, so hopefully there will be no more early arrivals of migrating animals in Western Bahr el-Ghazal State,” he said.

The five-day conference was made possible by a multi-donor trust fund set up last year by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan.