Cattle, crops and wildlife

3 Sep 2012

Cattle, crops and wildlife

Dismayed at the herds of cattle invading his county, village headman Kenyui Danga said he feared his crops would become animal fodder.

Like many residents of Kajokeji County in Central Equatoria State, Mr. Danga was even more concerned about the weapons carried by the newly arrived herdsmen.

"How shall we protect our crops from being eaten by cows, goats and sheep when the owners are armed to the teeth? Where is our security?" the distraught villager asked an UNMISS team assessing tensions in the area in mid-April.

"We are agricultural people and ... cattle keepers do not live together with agriculture people," Mr. Danga said.

Lying in a lush area of South Sudan bordering with Uganda, Kajokeji is populated mainly by unarmed farmers who keep a few goats, sheep and cattle. Cattle raids or thefts are rare among the county's main community, the Kuku, who view stealing as a bad omen.

County Commissioner Muki Batali Buli expressed fear that the "intruders", who hailed from the Dinka community, would steal Kuku cattle roaming freely in the hills or cared for by unarmed men, believing they were theirs.

He was also concerned that the new arrivals would clash with another group of herders – the Mundari – who had come to the county three years earlier.

"I understand they have started stealing cattle from each other and this can cause misunderstandings, which may develop into tribal feuds,"the commissioner said.

A Mundari herdsman, Joseph Loku, had found 12 of his cattle missing, said headman Danga. He had searched in the Dinka cattle camps with the local chief and headmen to recover six of them. The other six were still at large, which could spark greater mistrust between the two communities.

Yata Daniel, a Rodo-Kaya Boma (town area) youth leader feared the situation would drive youth to arm themselves so that they could defend land their property in keeping the Dinka from claiming it for their own.

"We can't tolerate the presence of armed people in our county other than the SPLA (Sudan People's Liberation Army), our official military personnel, and police," the young man said.

Another concern was that large numbers of cattle and armed herdsmen would interfere with wildlife returning to the area, according to Kajokeji wildlife officer Kenyi Joseph Kiliona.

The armed herdsmen might be tempted to poach the animals in an area like Sokare, where animals of different types were beginning to settle, Mr. Kiliona said.

"The animals will once again scatter into various areas, as they did during the civil war," the wildlife officer added. "Cattle do not mix with wild animals. Their presence in a large number in these areas ... will drive away our animals and we will be left with empty game reserves or parks."

County authorities said they were uncertain why a large group of armed people and cattle had left their own area to move far from home. Nor were they sure where they came from, but people traveling from the capital Juba (three and a half hour drive from Kajokeji) had seen them traveling in vehicles from Juba County and also using boats on the Nile River.

Concerned about current tensions, county officials were planning to draw in both state and national governments in diffusing a possible clash between the Mundari and Dinka as well as Kuku fears that their crops would be destroyed.