Former long-standing rival communities in Lakes region sign historic peace deal
The two nomadic communities of Rup and Pakam in the Western Lakes region have negotiated and pledged to end decades of intercommunal violence of cattle raids and deadly revenge attacks. Returning stolen cows and increasing intercommunal interaction, not least by encouraging intermarriage, are among the measures to be taken.
The agreement, partly brokered by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, Oxfam and other partners, was reached on 31 December 2018 at a peace dialogue in Malek County, near Rumbek.
The Rup occupy the Malek and Amongpiny counties, bordering the Pakam-dominated counties of Alor, Malueth and Meen, all in the western part of the Greater Lakes region.
“When the Rup and Pakam men go to fight, the entire burden of providing for the family is shifted to us women. We live in a place with no food, no medical facilities and no schools for our children,” explains Mary Anywang Deng from the Rup community.
Western Lakes is a region known for cattle raids and intercommunal revenge attacks. The animosity between the Rup and Pakam communities is historically and culturally rooted and has claimed scores of lives.
The single most fatal attack took place in December 2017, resulting in the death of more than 200 people. That particular clash, like many others, stemmed from the two cattle-keeping communities disputing the ownership of grazing land.
A reconciliation steering committee with representatives from both conflicting communities was set up at the beginning of last year. Since then, several unsuccessful attempts to bring the two communities to a dialogue had been made, until the recent breakthrough that has now lead to a peace deal.
Key to the agreement was the fact that negotiations were very inclusive, this time involving not only local leaders but also elders, women and youth representatives and cultural leaders from both the Rup and the Pakam community.
The peace dialogue in Malek ended with the two parties agreeing on a number of measures to ensure durable intercommunal harmony, with representatives from both sides pledging to lead by example.
“Let us be ambassadors of peace by mobilizing all the communities to accept peace in their hearts and spirits” said Zeckaria Puorich Matuong, a Rup representative.
Makim Dut, chief of the Alor Pakam community, cautioned against the mentality of revenge emanating from past attacks.
“Holding on to the past goes against tranquility. Let us open a new page by forgiving, forgetting and co-existing as brothers and sisters,” he said.
Members of the reconciliation steering committee members also noted the importance of putting an end to violence-fuelling hate messages and the culture of cattle raiding.
Addressing the latter problem, one of the resolutions passed states that all raided cattle has to be returned to their rightful owners, through the respective county commissioners of the Pakam and Rup communities.
The area being awash with firearms was declared another significant challenge, although a recent government-led disarmament campaign seems to have yielded positive results.
“The presence of guns has led the youth to fight each other, but when the government disarmed them, they had to accept peace because their power was reduced,” commented Mabor Akech, a Rup member of the reconciliation steering committee.
Increasing intercommunal interactions is seen as a vital way of reducing tensions. To this effect, continuous visits between the two feuding communities will be organized and intermarriage encouraged.
To make such movements between the areas of former foes safe and possible, it was also decided to secure the Maper-Rumbek highway, where many previous attacks and ambushes have been staged.
Mary Anywang Deng is optimistic that the conflict may finally have come to an end.
“This stage is very important because women will now settle in their homes and go about their lives normally,” she said.
Majong Ajok, head teacher at one of the schools of the Rup community, shares Mary’s faith in intercommunal harmony to prevail.
“We believe this time round will be different [as compared to other, failed dialogues] because our people have finally accepted that peace is what we need.”