Following conflict between farmers and herders in Magwi, UNMISS steps up patrols
EASTERN EQUATORIA - “Many lives have been lost, while even more of us were displaced,” revealed Stella Ayaa, a women’s leader from Ayii boma [administrative division]. “Our homes were looted, burnt to cinders and our crops, destroyed. All we have are the clothes on our back while cattle herders are still omnipresent in our area,” she continued.
“Nobody came to our rescue,” she added poignantly, speaking to a visiting patrol team from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
Stella and many others like her hail from Magwi, Eastern Equatoria, where a massive influx of semi-nomadic cattle herders disrupted life for settled farming communities and led to a recent upsurge of violence.
Discord began when hungry animals began grazing uncontrollably on farmlands, destroying precious food crops cultivated by settled communities in Pageri, Abara, Agoro, Omeyo, Ayii, Nyolo, and parts of western Torit county.
Women and girls have been disproportionately affected.
“We have always been a peaceful community and we want to remain that way. Our children are suffering, and we don’t want them to grow up in camps for displaced people. They deserve to be able to live without fear in their own homes,” stated Anyek Rose John, a women’s leader who is currently part of the displaced in Magwi town.
Abductions among people who are returning to their homes from temporary shelters to look for food are rampant, sexual violence has been reported, while bereaved families are still looking for the bodies of their loved ones.
“My father was killed in the bush, but we haven’t been able to retrieve his body because it’s not safe to move even a kilometer in this place,” revealed Oyalla William, the son of a man abducted and later killed in Ayii.
Though some herders have begun to leave the state, community leaders and local authorities have urged displaced families to not return to their homes just yet.
“Our people are farmers, they are not used to such privations. But in the interest of their safety, we are cautioning them against returning to their lands before we are sure stability and calm are fully restored,” averred Joseph Atube, a traditional leader.
Following the rapid escalation of clashes, UNMISS has rallied its peacekeepers and stepped up its presence in and around the area.
In two recent consecutive patrols, Blue Helmets with the UN Peacekeeping mission engaged with local communities, authorities and government partners to find ways to peacefully reconcile disputes.
“As a peacekeeping mission, our primary concern is the safety and security of civilians. We will continue patrolling to reduce tensions and are engaging consistently with the government to ensure no more lives are lost,” stated Frederick Wanjofu, an UNMISS Security Officer.
For the newly displaced, the only hope is that the government and partners such as UNMISS and humanitarian organizations will lobby on their behalf so that they can return home and start rebuilding their lives.
“We are engaging with the national government to see how best we can protect you. However, I plead with you to not start taking up arms yourself. We are doing our best to restore peace to Magwi,” stated Magwi County Commissioner, Otto David Ramson.
More than 14,000 displaced people are now sheltering at Magwi central payam [administrative division] while another estimated 1,000 are facing dire humanitarian shortages in Ayii.