Jonglei pastoralist: “These peacekeepers saved my cows”

16 Nov 2018

Jonglei pastoralist: “These peacekeepers saved my cows”

Mach Samuel / Filip Andersson

Imagine living in a landlocked country, yet susceptible to succumbing to a calamitous, ocean-longing-inducing disease called East Coast fever. Such is the ironic fate of many an African cow, not least in South Sudan’s Greater Jonglei region.

Fortunately for a great number of these four-legged, prized assets and their owners, bovine-friendly Indian peacekeepers serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan are at hand to cater to their every need.

“You know, taking care of cattle might be simple, but treatment [when they are sick] is the most difficult part of this job. These peacekeepers have saved my cows,” says Mary Yar, beaming happily.

At 8.30 in the morning, when she arrived at the Bor veterinary clinic, two cows and five goats in tow, Mary was worried. All of her companions were a bit under the weather, with the goats showing signs of diarrhea and high fever and the cows not looking their best, either.

Dr. Carter and the vet team examined the cows closely and found one of the telltale symptoms of the epidemic East Coast fever: enlarged lymph nodes. Mary, who lost her husband in the 2013 conflict, is given the treatment needed to get her bovines back on their hoofs.

Getting hold of the vital drugs for free makes a huge difference in Mary’s life: they would have cost her nearly 100 dollars, more or less two thirds of the money she makes, selling homemade doughnuts, in a month.

“I could not have afforded to buy this medicine,” she says, adding that she was not aware of the free veterinary service till a relative told her about it.

With two sons and a daughter to fend for, Ms. Yar can do with every cow she can lay her hands on, to pay for school fees and, later on, the dowry needed for her boys to land suitable wives. Should Mary lose her cattle, the consequences would be dire.

“My children would end up on the streets and eventually become criminals or cattle raiders.”

Ms. Yar is hardly unique in depending on her animals staying healthy, and with her. Livestock farming is the lifeline of the various and multiethnic pastoralist communities in the Greater Jonglei region.

Here, cattle are more than mere meat and milk. They are status symbols, and used both to pay for brides (from approximately 30 cows upwards, sometimes reaching three digits) and to compensate aggrieved parties when disputes are settled.

Essential as these cows are, most cattle owners can do very little about epidemic and other diseases affecting the animals. They lack the means to adopt preventive measures and to pay for having sick bovines diagnosed and treated. The East Coast fever, in particular, have made many of them leave Jonglei for pastures new, often in the Equatoria region.

The peacekeeping mission is doing what it can to alleviate the precarious situation of some of the animal keepers in Jonglei. Over the last few months, an Indian military contingent based in Bor has treated more than 18,000 heads of cattle in the region. Providing veterinary services is, despite the impressive numbers, a task they take on in addition to their key activity of protecting civilians.

Deworming, vaccinating and giving cattle other forms of treatment has contributed to healthy reproduction of livestock, and in some cases an increase of bovine capital.

Another beneficiary Majok Madol Kuchlong is a young man, pastoralist and beneficiary in Bor town. Over the last few years, Indian-led UNMISS animal welfare initiatives have seen his number of cows and goats, and hence his level of food security, increase significantly.

“I started with only two goats and now I have more than fifty of them. I had one cow and now I have almost twenty, and it is because of the [UNMISS] veterinary service provided,” Kuchlong said.

But vets can only do so much. Cattle are in fact so precious that if one disease or other does not claim them, chances are that somebody else will. Cattle raiding is rife, and a constant source of inter-communal conflicts.

The signing of the revitalized peace agreement, does, however, offer Ms. Yar a much-needed boost of optimism.

“I hope that it [the peace deal] will stop the cattle raiding and that my children can continue to go to school.”