Jies in Kassengor call for humanitarian assistance and support peace talks with neighbours
Seasonal migrations and a frequent scarcity of grazing pastures and water holes have resulted in recurrent skirmishes in the area between Boma and Kapoeta in the Eastern Equatoria region. The fighting comes at the price of severe food shortages.
“We have been living on wild herbs and fruits because there is nothing else to eat,” Sarafino Biyo, a teenage girl from the village of Kassengor tells a visiting delegation from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan.
“We fetch our water from there because the borehole is too far away. We are usually ill, and I think it is from the water,” she adds, pointing to a pool of water under a few nearby trees.
The Jie community’s seasonal movements between Boma and Kapoeta often lead to clashes over resources with the Murles in the former area and the Toposas in the latter. When such fighting erupts, the Jies usually seek safety in and around Kassengor, located in between the two hotspots.
Attempts to solve the intercommunal conflicts have been made. In September 2018, the UN peacekeeping mission spearheaded the signing of a peace agreement between the feuding ethnic groups. Compliance with the deal was patchy, however, with subsequent attacks leading to a second UN-led reconciliation meeting in February 2019.
Unfortunately, it seems like positive results have so far been meagre.
“The communities keep attacking each other. They raid cattle and abduct women and children,” explains Joseph Akio, a leader of the government military forces in the area.
Fighting has led to the displacement of approximately 4,000 persons, mainly women and children, to Kassengor, where the situation is dire.
“People are suffering from a lack of food and medicines. The worst hit are the elderly and children, who keep dying,” says Zackaria Ngoletiang, the area’s parliamentary representative.
The peacekeeping mission in the country remains steadfast in its support for intercommunal harmony.
“We will continue working with the communities until durable peace is restored,” says Bashir Aligelle, representing the world body.
He and his colleagues made the most of the visit to Kassengor by getting inputs from chiefs, community elders, opinion leaders, youth and women representatives.
Since tensions between the neighbouring communities tend to worsen during the dry season, when resources are scarcer than normal, the peacekeeping mission would like to convene the parties to a new dialogue at the beginning of the barren spell.
Peter Lokole, chief administrative officer for the area inhabited by the predominantly pastoralist Jies, hopes that such a meeting will indeed take place.
“It is time for the people of Boma and Kapoeta to come together and seek a lasting solution to this crisis,” he says. “I am looking forward to the day when the people can be united.”