Bothering borders: the struggle to unite the people of Lohiri and Pachidi

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The communities of Lohiri and Pashidi in Eastern Equatoria hope to mend broken relations through dialogue.

13 Sep 2019

Bothering borders: the struggle to unite the people of Lohiri and Pachidi

Samira Salifu

In March, simmering tensions over ancestral land demarcation and ownership escalated into violence between the communities of the Lotuko in Lohiri and the Pari in Pachidi, both located in Eastern Equatoria.

But despite their historical differences, their anguish over the fighting is one and the same.

“We want to go back to our normal lives. We need help!” exclaimed Arosola Alipidio of the Lotuko.

“I have lost too many loved ones since all this started,” said Olum Opuri John of the Pari.

These communities once lived side by side in unity but are now at loggerheads over shared fishing territory. Their animosity is compounded by ongoing cattle raids and government initiatives to define new administrative areas, which would separate the two into distinct counties.  

The new boundaries have created rising concern that the groups may become even further wedged apart, making harmonious relations harder to achieve.

“Some mediators are dishonest. They spoil the peace for their own selfish interests,” Olum Opuri John believes.

Frequent clashes between the two groups over the last six months have resulted in deaths, injuries, and sexual violence. Their fighting eventually led to the closure of a main road connecting the communities.

“As you can see, we are still mourning our loved ones, but we are not against joint discussions,” said Karina Odola Okidi of the Pari. “Nonetheless, the price must be paid for the psychological effects of what we have endured.”

But legal protocol, especially when local capacity to enforce it is weak, can sometimes stand in the way of justice being meted out in a timely manner.

“After the crimes were committed, some arrests were made. We have not heard anything about proceedings since then,” said Peter Okong Adijo of the Pachidi.

Bashir Aligelle, representing the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, pleaded for patience, and for everyone to follow correct procedures.

“Victims must provide an official statement to law enforcement agencies to commence legal proceedings, and thus ensure that current detainees are tried and convicted,” he advised.

In the heat of the initial violent exchanges, government forces were briefly deployed to restore order to the area. Attempts at reconciliation were also made by commissioners of both counties, but to little effect.

The Lotuko and the Pari have not, however, given up on peaceful coexistence, with new measures to achieve it being considered.

"We will open the common road linking the two communities to help kickstart a renewal of good relations between them," said Permo Peter Isara, county commissioner of the Lohiri community.

The UN peacekeeping mission has also made mediation efforts in the wake of the unrest to help reinforce government actions.

“The mission is committed to working with all parties concerned to mitigate the impacts of what has happened, and to find lasting solutions to ongoing issues through joint discussions,” said Mr. Aligelle.

Recently, peacekeepers engaged with residents of Lohiri and Pachidi to learn more about the current dynamics of the conflict, encouraging open dialogue.  This revelatory proposition was received with enthusiasm by the two communities. 

“We need to talk face-to-face,” Mr. Adijo agrees.

"We must talk to each other as soon as possible so that further upheaval can be avoided,” Felix Asai of the Lotuko concurs.

Both sides have recently committed to using non-violent ways to settle disputes, hoping that such a makeshift ceasefire will serve as a primer for further fruitful negotiations.

In the past, flooded roads have impeded the two groups from coming together. Although the dry season may be months away, residents are anticipating that the travelling made possible by it will allow for more dialogue - and for unity to once again become the status quo.