UNMISS supports pre-migration conference to reduce tensions between farmers and cattle owners
In South Sudan, overstating the importance of cattle is almost impossible. Millions of people rely on the animals for their livelihoods, but as the preferred currency and indicator of a family’s economic and social standing, cattle and their seasonal movements also create problems.
Violent clashes between farmers and semi-nomadic cattle keepers, and between cattle keepers themselves, competing for scarce water and grazing resources, have become more frequent.
The ongoing civil war has exacerbated the problem by disrupting traditional cattle migration routes and patterns.
Yet these annual movements of cows during the dry season are an integral part of the South Sudanese social fabric.
David Achiek Machar, a cattle owner from Tali, a small pastoral village some 200 km north of the capital Juba, said that before the war the land belonged to everyone.
“There were no issues of this is your area, and this is my area. Cattle keepers moved freely.”
The Civil Affairs Division of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) facilitated an inter-state Pre-migration Conference in Tali, in the Terekeka region, where local authorities, cattle owners and farmers from the five bordering regions of Terekeka, Amadi, Gok, Eastern Lakes and Western Lakes met.
The objective of getting together was to reach an agreement that regulates seasonal cattle movements to prevent conflict, identifies water resources and grazing lands and sets out compensation rules for the destruction of crops and beehives by cattle as well as for theft or killings of cattle.
“The UN Mission is very pleased to support this conference,” said UNMISS Civil Affairs Officer, Stella Abayomi. “We hope to help replicate a model on management of cattle migration that has worked in other parts of the country like in Northern Bahr-el-Ghazal.”
The conference also served as a follow-up on initiatives that started in May 2017, at the Mvolo Peace Conference in the Amadi region.
During the conference in Tali, state governors in the region formally handed over the authority to settle disputes between cattle owners and farmers to a recently formed Joint Border Peace Committee/Court.
“Sometimes, when we get to the host community, our cows eat the greens of the farmers not knowing that these are for humans. It causes many problems and we are forced to pay a heavy fine – usually a cow or two,” said David Achiek Machar.
“Some farmers also slaughter our cattle as revenge,” he added.
Charity Micah Dawich, a member of the Joint Border Peace Committee/Court, said that a growing concern is the increasing number of small arms owned by cattle keepers.
“It is only cattle keepers who have arms, and this makes farmers afraid of them,” said Charity Micah Dawich, adding:
“The farmers are the losers because whenever these cattle camps come to their areas and destroy their crops, cattle keepers harass them with their arms so they cannot say anything.”
“They use the guns as if they were using sticks,” said Joseph Ngere Paciko, governor of the Amadi area.
The ongoing civil war has contributed to the proliferation of arms, leading to local authorities trying to disarm civilians.
David Achiek Machar hopes for the best but has his doubts about the effectiveness of the ongoing disarmament process.
“They collect the arms but you still see those same arms making their way back into the hands of some cattle keepers and you wonder why,” he said.
David Achiek Machar believes that collecting arms from civilians will not stop all violence related to cattle migration, but it will help reduce the number and severity of clashes.
Charity Micah Dawich is more optimistic.
“We need the people to drop their arms. I am confident that they will because now they can see that they are just destroying themselves by using their weapons,” said Charity Micah Dawich, the only female member of the Court/Committee.
“Slowly we will see that the guns will leave the hands of civilians and our people will have peace again.”