The Problem of Pastoralists in Equatoria:
By Dr Lako Jada Kwajok
Sept 10, 2015(Nyamilepedia) —- Pastoralists activities were never a major security concern to many communities in South Sudan 10 years ago. However, it had been a big problem for some parts of South sudan bordering our northern neighbour. For decades, it had been a seasonal threat to the Dinka populations of northern Bahr El Gazal, Warrap and to some extent the Abyei area. The encroachments and raids mostly emanated from one or two tribes namely the Misseriya and the Rizaigat tribes of Southern Kordofan and Southern Darfur states respectively. Years after years, the encroachments and attacks were carried out in those areas and usually end when the rainy season starts. Of course sometimes they do not attack the local population, nevertheless there is certainly an animosity in the relation between them and the communities in those areas. It was never a case of invasion and settlement as these are nomadic tribes that move from one place to the other. We have never heard of them going beyond those areas and reaching for example Equatoria. There is no need for them to go that far as the grazing lands they require are abundant in those areas closer to their ancestral lands. The only time that the Equatoria region was affected was when the Umbororo came to western Bahr El Gazal state and subsequently parts of western Equatoria state. But the Umbororo were just like the Misseriya and Rizaigat, they left the area by the end of the dry season. Despite some isolated incidents, pastoralists encroachment on Equatorian community lands was never a topical issue 10 years ago.
Why did the pastoralists activities turn into a belligerent practice that poses constant threat to the livelihood of the Equatorian communities ?! Is their encroachment on other people’s lands born out of necessity ?! Do they really need to move to Equatoria ?! Is there an ulterior motive that is driving them in droves towards Equatoria ?! Numerous questions begging for answers. It is my assertion that there is something sinister underneath the seemingly outrageous activities of the pastoralists and many Equatorians have now come to realise it. The following points will shed more light to what is in the making:
- Everywhere in the world, pastoralists movements are dictated by their need for grazing lands and water for their livestock. Their life usually follow a particular pattern again guided by the whereabouts of good grazing lands and water resources. It is a way of life that has been going on for generations. However some are lucky with plenty grazing lands and water resources in their areas. Hence they have limited movements within their areas. Therefore it raised eye brows when pastoralists came all the way from Warrap and northern Bahr El Gazal with their cattle to settle around Juba. others took their cattle from Lakes state to settle in western Equatoria state. And yet another group drove their cattle all the way from Jonglei state to Nimule harassing all the communities on route to their destination. In the case of the northern Bahr El Gazal and Warrap pastoralists, there is absolutely no logical reason to make them come all the way from their home states to look for grazing land in Equatoria given the fact that they allowed the Misseriya and Rizaigat to use their land for grazing. As for the other pastoralists, it hasn’t been known that they lack grazing lands in their areas. In fact grazing lands are quite plentiful and some were never used before in those areas. In terms of availability of water supplies, it has never been recorded that people or animals died of thirst though people did die of hunger in those areas. In reality there is too much water in those areas and this is why they tend to suffer seasonal floods. Therefore the pastoralists descend on Equatoria is not due to lack of grazing lands or water supplies but is part of a plan.
- The people who came to Equatoria departed from what pastoralists normally do. They did not return to their lands following the end of several dry seasons and continued to refuse going back. It is a further confirmation that concerns about the survival of their livestock were not the reasons that made them to bring their cattle to Equatoria. They came to Equatoria with only one thing in their minds which is settlement. They are among the bits and pieces of a plan orchestrated by the Jieng Council of Elders ( JCE ) and Kiir’s regime with the aim of creating some demographic realities on the ground. The Jieng have never been comfortable with the fact that they are found as indigenous people in all the states except greater Equatoria. The wild dream of changing history and circumventing laws of nature is unfortunately entertained by members of the JCE and many Jieng politicians including those in the government. In their fantasy they envisaged the Jieng becoming the majority tribe in greater Equatoria. What are they going to do with the indigenous population ?! Would they stop them from procreation ?! Or we are about to see what Stalin did to the Tatars of Crimea in 1944 by removing the whole population from its motherland ?! They seem not to be concerned of the vacuum left in the Jieng lands by many pastoralists converging on Equatoria. The Misseyriya and Rizaigat could exploit the presence of vast empty lands in the Jieng areas and create a permanent settlement in them. But does it really matter to the JCE and the tribalistic government of Salva Kiir. Abyei, Panthou ( Higlig ), Kilo 14 and areas in northern Upper Nile State are still under occupation by the Sudan government. Salva Kiir regime didn’t even have the decency and courage of supporting the outcome of the unilateral referendum conducted by the civil population of Abyei. For them executing their plan in Equatoria is more important than losing their own lands to the Mundukuru’s.
- In the case of western Equatoria, there are vast areas there that are known to be infested with the Tsetse flies which are the vectors of the Trypanosome parasites, the cause of ” sleeping sickness “. The Trypanosome parasites are more lethal to cattle than to human beings. You don’t have to be educated to know the fundamental fact about this matter. The villagers in Equatoria and the adjacent areas know that there are flies out there which are not good for cattle raising. This is partly why the Azande and the Moru people are not cattle owners. Those areas are also not suitable for cattle as they are not the natural habitat for them. We have not heard of large herds of cattle in the amazon jungles. Anyone who goes on a venture to establish a business of say, raising camels or growing apple trees in western Equatoria would certainly run bankrupt in a short space of time. It would be seen as a foolish undertaking. Perhaps in future after eradication of the Tsetse flies and the introduction of modern animal husbandry, the Azande and the Moru people could turn to be successful cattle owners. We do know that most of those pastoralists would value cows more than human lives. They cry in tears for the death of a cow and go into a long mourning more than they would do for their deceased relatives. With all that in mind, how plausible that a typical pastoralist would willingly take the unusual decision of moving his cattle to western Equatoria ?! Will his act not be against rational thinking ?! The only explanation is that he is executing a plan. In such a situation, loss of cattle in the short term is sacrificed for future gains conceived by his leaders.
- The presence of pastoralists in Equatoria has been bad news for the Equatorian communities. Their behaviour is quite far from what would be expected from people who regard the Equatorians as their fellow countrymen. The situation is so strange that it is the intruders who are causing problems rather than the land owners. Not only that they failed to establish good relations with the local communities that generously accommodated them but they succeeded in making themselves the target of dislike. It is all down to their behaviour that does not respect the local norms and people’s properties. For example destroying people’s crops can only be seen as deliberate acts because we have never heard of Dinka pastoralists growing crops for the sake of feeding their cattle. They totally depend on wild grass to feed their livestock and they don’t have to spend a penny to by animal feeds. The pastoralists are also armed to their teeth and spreading a wave of terror across Equatoria. The announced government policy was to disarm the civilian population which is expected from any responsible administration. But this was done in partiality by disarming the Equatorians and keeping a blind eye for the Dinka pastoralists to acquire as many arms as they would like and covertly arming them as well. The end result is that the Equatorian villagers are left defenceless as the SPLA and the police force would not defend them when attacked by the pastoralists. It is the malicious plan in play.
- The SPLA has been shown on several occasions to side with the Dinka pastoralists. When there is friction and violence between them and the local communities, the SPLA instead of diffusing tensions or apprehending the culprits, is seen to allow the pastoralists to bring reinforcements from their areas. The SPLA is a facilitator and an accomplice in spreading insecurity all over Equatoria. What has been happening around Juba, Nimule, Mundri, Maridi and other parts of Equatoria gives enough evidence. We have seen some of the cattle camps being guarded by SPLA soldiers in uniform. It is a disgraceful abuse of power and government resources.
- This brings me to what came in the news fews months ago. It was reported in the news that 3,000 heads of cattle that belong to the president were transported to Warrap state. They were loaded onto several trucks and were heavily guarded by SPLA soldiers. This caused a lot of apprehension along the route to Warrap as some communities in western Bahr El Gazal state were concerned about the influx of such a large number of cattle and the damage they could cause to their crops or properties. Those who have seen the cattle said they carry presidential badges. It is likely the first time in history that the presidential title has been bestowed to animals. President Kiir will never disappoint us as a constant source of ridicule.
- But on a serious note, it was the true embodiment of a blatant abuse of presidential power, corruption and destabilisation of the local communities. In the first place, why would the president bring such a large number of cattle all the way from Warrap to the Juba area ?! And now by returning them to Warrp state, Is it out of admission of poor judgement or it was a tactical withdrawal to absorb the criticism of the Equatorian communities and also to be seen doing what he had decreed over the SSTV and the news outlets ?! But Kiir is not the only pastoralist, there are thousands of them who are not going to remove their animals from Equatoria willingly because the plan is to keep them there. We have seen something similar from Kiir when he wrote letters to 75 of his top officials to return the 4 billion US Dollars embezzled by them. As we all know they ignored him because he was also involved and hence toothless against them.
- Corruption was clearly exhibited by using government resources for personal matters. The SPLA is supposed to be a national army hence should not be in the business of guarding personal properties, be it president’s property or anyone else’s personal property. These soldiers are being paid wages from the government coffers and not from Kiir’s pocket. It is clear that the cost of logistics for transporting that large herd of cattle from and back to Warrap must have reached several thousands of US Dollars. Of course no one would believe that it was not the government that paid the bills.
- The local population endured unbearable suffering in terms of destruction of their crops, intimidation and killings. Some villagers found it unsafe to stay in their villages thus had to move to Juba. These are people who have been living peacefully in their villages around Juba, cultivating the land for whatever crops they could grow using traditional methods. With the end of war with the Mundukuru’s, they hoped the national government would provide basic infrastructure and help them with modernisation of their farming practices. They were full of hope and optimism and never foresaw the death and carnage brought to their land by the pastoralists. Before independence and in the early years following it, they were wondering why the pastoralists were left to commit crimes with impunity ?! And why would the SPLA use brutal acts against them knowing that they are unarmed civilians ?! For example the SPLA recently used tanks in shelling an area north of Juba. Now everyone knows what is going on. It is a wicked plot that is underway all over Equatoria. The goals are to spread a wave of terror in the area, forcing people out of their lands and paving the way for Jieng settlement. What the plotters are underestimating is the magnitude of resistance that would face their satanic plan. As for president Kiir, the sheer number of the cattle he brought to Equatoria before returning them to Warrp, justifies giving him the title ” Leader of the pastoralists “.
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