Troubles in Eastern Equatoria spur push for regional dialogue
Martin Lorikai is a local chief in the village of Magos, Eastern Equatoria. He and his people are descendants of the Toposa, one of more than 60 ethnic groups in South Sudan. In the neighbouring village of Lopeat, on the other hand, a different group known as the Jie makes up the majority of residents.
According to Chief Lorikai, relations between the groups tend to mimic the tides of the ocean, oscillating between calm and turbulent.
“Sometimes we have peace, at other times we don’t,” he says, summing up the situation in minimalist fashion.
Historically, relations between the two communities have been strained by violence fueled by land disputes and cattle raids, sometimes making every-day life a bit of a hassle.
“We women are often left in the middle as mere victims,” said Nacheybei Loburio, who lives in Lopeat.
Recently, though, the two were united in outrage as a spate of child abductions tore through both communities.
“My child was abducted while he was tending goats,” said Nachapiyo Bokot, a mother from Magos, a village sometimes referred to as Maghos. “This must be stopped.”
Although a few have been reunited with their families, several children are still missing, according to Chief Lorikai.
An old adage claims that adversity has the potential to bring people together, and youth from Lopeat and Magos proved just that as they put aside ancestral differences to join forces to help track down the children.
“We usually search for perpetrators by looking for footprints and then following them,” said Simon Lomong, one of the search group leaders in Lopeat.
Despite their valiant intentions, community members fear that the youth may be getting in over their heads, inviting potential retaliation from the alleged abductors. A scenario like this may turn peace into an ever more distant reality.
“We don’t want the issue of child abductions to escalate into something more serious,” said James Lochebe, a local teen.
The multi-faceted, complex nature of conflicts plaguing the communities of Eastern Equatoria, as well as South Sudan as a whole, can at times inhibit endeavors to achieve reconciliation.
As part of its mandate to protect civilians and build durable peace, representatives of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) earlier this week visited the communities to promote increased dialogue as a way to overcome their quandaries.
“We have seen an intermingling of Jies and Toposas, which is a great achievement,” said Bashir Aligelle, an UNMISS Civil Affairs Officer in Torit. “We encourage you to continue cooperating and to seek opportunities to come together in an organized setting.”
During the encounters, community members also expressed rising concerns over malnutrition, water scarcity, lack of medical infrastructure, and crop devastation.
“We hope that humanitarian partners can give us the assistance we need to achieve a better tomorrow,” said Benjamin Lopeyok Komuya, Magos village commissioner.