To prepare for seasonal cattle movement, the UN family supports a pre-migration conference in Kuajok

UNMISS cattle livestock migration herders women farmers pastoralists semi-nomadic Wau Kuajok south sudan cattle migration western bahr el ghazal conflict peacekeeping united nations undp fao unmiss Marial Bai Agreement

A recent conference in Kuajok organized jointly by UNMISS, UNDP, FAO, and the UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund aims at predicting and preventing conflict that frequently arise between farmers and pastoralists during the annual cattle migration season in South Sudan. Photo by Zejin Yin/UNMISS

24 Nov 2021

To prepare for seasonal cattle movement, the UN family supports a pre-migration conference in Kuajok

Zejin Yin

KUAJOK - “Cattle migration season is almost upon us and the knowledge that I have gained at this conference will surely help us mitigate any conflicts that typically arise with the farming community,” stated Joseph Manut, Payam* Administrator of Pathuon West in Gogrial East, Warrap.

Mr. Manut was speaking at a conference in Kuajok co-hosted by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as well as the UN Multi-Partner Trust Fund.

The focus of this gathering: To review the Marial Bai Agreement and sensitizing participants on using recently established mobile courts to settle any disputes caused by the annual migration of livestock between farmers and pastoralists.

Every year between January and April, cattle herders in the Tonj and Gogrial region move their animals to greener pastures near Wau. This annual migration of hungry cattle and their often armed owners creates tensions with farmers in the area, as cows tend to be happy to munch away on their crops. They also affect available water sources negatively.

Disagreements caused by such movements sometimes escalate into violent clashes and the loss of lives, a phenomenon that in November 2016 made herders and farmers sign the Marial Bai Agreement, so baptized after a county with the same name, stipulates rules on how to resolve migration related struggles, procedures for seeking permission to move cattle and what compensation should be paid for crops eaten and livestock killed.

The two-day discussions brought together some 100 youth and women representatives, cattle camp leaders, and payam administrators from Gogrial East and West, Tonj North and South, who will be involved in the upcoming seasonal movement from Warrap to Western Bahr el Ghazal.

Given its relevance, the event won support from state authorities, including the state government, the Ministry of Local Government and Law Enforcement, the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare, and the Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation Commission.

During the discussions, women representatives highlighted that in its current form, the Marial Bai Agreement does not adequately address gender-based violence that occurs during migration. Women frequently become victims because there is no effective means of obtaining justice.

“Migration isn’t just about cattle. It also brings in unfamiliar people with it. As women, many of us become exposed to violence and, at times, even rape,” stated Akutat Beek, a women’s representative from Tonj South passionately.

“We repeatedly encounter unjust treatment, but we’re at a loss for how to bring perpetrators of abuse to justice. The Agreement makes no reference to women and we are the ones who pay the heaviest price when conflict breaks out,” she continued, highlighting the critical role played by South Sudanese women in peacebuilding and ensuring future generations coexist peacefully.  

 “Women must be treated with dignity and respect,” she stated eloquently.

Additionally, participants identified a number of potential sources of friction during such bovine voyages, including a lack of civilian disarmament by neighbouring states, a scarcity of water points in Warrap, plus incidental charges generated by livestock movements at payam levels.

According to Lucia Bassa, a UNDP Peace and Community Cohesion Officer based in Kuajok, this conference, the first of its kind, aims to pre-empt challenges encountered and propose solutions for the safe movement of livestock and people during the upcoming annual migration to Western Bahr El Ghazal.

Conflicts associated with cattle migration are expected to decrease as routes and grazing areas are mapped and monitored by state and local authorities.

“However, it is critical to include women’s interests and voices in this process,” she asserts.

This forum also serves as a teaser for a larger, state-level discussion prior to the upcoming cattle migration conference in Wau later this month. But perhaps, its multiplier effect is best summarized by Mr. Manut.

“When I return home, I will convene meetings and speak with all cattle keepers and others involved in next year’s seasonal movement to ensure a peaceful transit and that any conflicts that occur during the journey can be resolved amicably and with respect for justice.”

*Payam - administrative division