Peace and Reconciliation begins with a single handshake in Ngauro
A single handshake can symbolize profound change and a strong step towards reconciliation in a conflict-affected country like South Sudan, where intercommunal violence, revenge killings, cattle raiding, and ethnic conflict are common.
In the remote mountain town of Ngauro, outside of Kapoeta in the Eastern Equatorias, a handshake between heads of kraals (cattle keepers) signified a renewed relationship between the Toposa and Didinga tribes in the area.
The Toposa and Didinga, both cattle-herding tribes, have a long history of attack and revenge against each other. They frequently clash over grazing areas, raid each other’s cattle, and ambush vehicles thought to be carrying passengers from the other tribe. Violent conflicts between the ethnic groups in February and May of this year claimed the lives of over 50 civilians.
Yet when a patrol from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan visited Ngauro - a hotspot for conflict between Toposa and Didinga - heads of kraals and youth from both tribes were engaging with humour and respect, making jokes and embracing each other. The Toposa even joked that they wanted to start intermarrying with Didinga to strengthen their newfound friendship.
The positive shift in their relationship has come in the after of conflict management training provided by UNMISS’ civil affairs team to members of both tribes. At these sessions, heads of kraals, including women and youth leaders, had the opportunity to air their grievances and discuss the common challenges they face, opening up dialogue and paving the path for reconciliation between them.
UNMISS also helped the participants learn how to communicate more effectively, how to manage conflict in a non-violent way and how to address the root causes of the conflict by changing their cultural and social behaviour.
Since the training, youth and heads of kraals reported that there has been no outbreak of conflict and the Toposa and Didinga in Ngauro are living together peacefully.
Leaders of kraals from both tribes expressed relief at the progress made and their improved relationships.
Augustino Victor, Clerk of the Kapoeta State Legislative Assembly, summarized the Didinga’s response to the training and their outlook on the current situation.
“UNMISS gave the training that they have to live together, they have to be in peace. They have to coexist with one another,” he said. “From that, they have picked up the point and they live together. The road is peaceful and there is no problem since they were trained. There is no conflict now.”
Speaking on behalf of the Toposa community, Augustino Victor, said that the Toposa youth are now even interested in strengthening relationships with members of the Didinga tribe.
“The Toposa said they are really very happy that the conference was held. They are now together with the Didinga people,” he said. “They are living together in Ngauro here. They even came yesterday and they slept here. Now they want their relationship to become stronger. ”
Speaking about their shared experiences, the heads of kraals became emotional and embraced one another. Each reached out their hand in a conciliatory handshake, showing their commitment to embarking on a new path to ultimately overcome entrenched rivalries.
Some say peace begins with a smile, but in this case, it began with a handshake.