Opinion: civil wars ignored: the case of communal violence in South Sudan

By Daniel Juol Nhomngek

A cattleman herds his animals (File/Supplied/Nyamilepedia)

A cattleman herds his animals (File/Supplied/Nyamilepedia)

February 7th 2020 (Nyamilepedia) – South Sudan gained her independence from the Republic of the Sudan in 2011. This made it the most recent sovereign state with widespread recognition (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia). The independence of South Sudan was achieved through the Second Sudanese Civil War that was fought from 1983 and 2005 between the central Sudanese government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army that was fought after the First Civil War between 1955 and 1972.  The independence of South Sudan was achieved after incurring heavy human costs.

As it is the well-known fact widely documented, the number of the people killed during the Second Civil War before achieving independence of South Sudan is estimated to be two million people (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia). The death came as a result of combination of war, famine and diseases in the course of the Civil War that lasted for 21 years.  Though not mentioned among the causes of the deaths, the communal violence also contributed as it was witnessed in the case of the Bor massacre.

In the Bor Massacre, about 2,000 civilians were killed by the ethnic or communal army from Nuer Lou known as the White Army in 1991. Despite the fact that the communal violence was there before the civil war started in 1983 and continued during the war even after the independence of South Sudan, it has been largely ignored by both the Government of Sudan then and the current government of South Sudan. The main reason of ignoring the deadly community violence as we still witness today may be something to with the way it is deeply enshrined in the cultural setting of our communities which becomes highly complicated due to its presence militarization (Jana Krause (2019) in Stabilization and Local Conflicts: Communal and Civil War in South Sudan, Ethnopolitics, 18:5, 478-493, DOI: 10.1080/17449057.2019.1640505).

The conclusion I may draw from the assertion I have made above is that communal violence being part of the pastoralist communities’ cultural settings further complicated by its militarization makes it hard to be addressed in all the agreements dealing with political settlements in South Sudan. This is due to the fact that such conflicts need a lot of time and resources. This explains the rationale the community conflicts have been left out as it was the case in the CPA as well as in the current Revitalized Agreement on the Resolutions of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan-R-ARCSS, 2018, which could not address the causes of communal conflicts and mushrooming of different militia groups in South Sudan.

The national peace Agreements are just for political settlements whose grievances are always simple to tackle as they are clear and straight forward. Hence, as Jana Krause observes  above, the CPA came with the ‘vision’ of establishing the South Sudanese government that by implication ‘removed legitimacy from non-government armed groups including localized, armed defence forces that used to protecting communities against cattle raids and other revenge attacks, which becomes a source of frustration of those left out groups. In other words, the CPA failed to address the communal violence among the communities in Southern Sudan by then because its focus was to resolve the political grievances between politicians rather than tackling communities’ grievances which fuel the political crises.

There was and still is a very serious need to incorporate the communal violence in the overall conflict resolution in the country, which needs the communities and their conflicts to be brought on board during the peace process. Thus, we can say that had the mediators who brought the CPA decided to address the communal conflicts or violence through normal peace process in South Sudan, they must have considered the aspect of the ordinary citizens being engaged in their own inter and intra-communal process to address their deep rooted grievances. This would have been done by extending the process that was initiated by the Late Dr. John Garang known South-to-South dialogue. This would have further mean that a parallel peace process had to be conducted alongside the political peace process that came with the CPA and implemented alongside it.

The crisis we have today among the communities in South Sudan would have been lessened had the mediators and South Sudanese politicians incorporated communal violence in the process of political settlements. Unfortunately, mediators and politicians ignored it as the matter of their own needs or necessity. However, little did they know that leaving out the militia groups and communities in the national Peace Processes has become another problem or it continues to perpetuate the militarization of communal violence through the arms infiltrations into civilians’ hands due to the lack of control of the arms that are in the hands of different militia groups in the country.

It should nonetheless be stressed that most of the communal violence or conflicts occur among pastoralists owing to the nature of their lifestyles that is prone to actual or potential violence in their natural settings. It implies that for anyone who wants to address the communal violence or conflicts in the country, he or she must analysis the lifestyle of the pastoralist communities in South Sudan. Their lifestyles is majorly defined by the communal violence, which is as old as their history. In relation to this conclusion, Hannah Wild, Jok Madut Jok and Ronak Patel (2018)in their work entitled the militarization of cattle raiding in South Sudan: how a traditional practice became a tool for political violence, published in Journal of International Humanitarian Action observe that cattle raiding is a longstanding feature of many East African pastoralist societies, which has been intensified by availability of arms and the incorporation of their practice into the larger political conflict in South Sudan. They further point out that cattle raiders originally or before the infiltration of small arms into their hands used to carry out attacks during those raids with spears but which today they execute using AK-47s.

The practice of using AK-47s or automatic rifles to raid cattle as well as perpetuating the communal violence is now widespread due to the fact that these weapons are cheaper as they are available for as little as the price of two cows (Hannah Wild, Jok Madut Jok and Ronak Patel 2018). Their prices have undergone because of the inflation since after decades of on-and-off integration into state armed forces, some civilians are able to have accessed to all types of guns and are now equipped with heavy weapons including rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns (Hannah Wild, Jok Madut Jok and Ronak Patel 2018). This affects the prices of AK-47s since the demands for the bigger weapons has reduced the demands for small arms.  The lack of control over all guns in the country has caused untold insecurity which becomes one of the predicaments facing our communities.

All the attempts by the Government to disarm civilians is often ineffective as it is in most cases very brutal which makes it hard to effectively disarm civilians who then keep on killing each other with impunity. This further increases the cycle of killings as communities since the arms remain in the hands of untrained civilians who not trust state authorities to provide security for them as there is effective or comprehensive disarmament is ever effected. Hence, they end up hiding guns for their own protections which they use in their daily life to kill each other which makes death rates caused by guns become rampant caused by communal violence among the communities in South Sudan.

International Crisis Group found that communal wars killed an estimated number of people as 2,500 in 2009 alone, predominantly in Jonglei, and no reconciliation took place. This report was in 2009 alone and mostly in one state which left out those that were killed before and after that year in different parts of Southern Sudan by then and in South Sudan after the independence in 2011onwards.  Sadly, the government has so far failed to control the communal violence despite these rampant deaths it causes. The failure by the government to curb the communal violence has made everybody in South Sudan wonder as to when it is going to end.

The unending nature of the communal violence has made some of the researchers reach the conclusion of terming it as civil war within the civil war, which has been ignored by politicians. The failure by the government to effectively curb the communal violence stems from the fact that the government do not see it as a threat to the national security. They only look at it as revenge killing or community conflicts and then confine it to the communities’ levels. This denies it the priority it deserves from the government policy. Looking at the fact that communal violence though ignored, it is very deadly unending conflict, the question  it invokes is what is this called communal violence and what should be done to end or control it?

Oxford Dictionaries defines communal violence as a form of violence that is perpetrated across ethnic or communal lines, where parties feel solidarity for their respective groups, and victims who are often chosen based upon group membership. The term includes conflicts, riots and other forms of violence between communities of different religious faith or ethnic origins. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime further defines communal violence to include any conflict and form of violence between communities of different religious group, different sects or tribes of same religious group, clans, ethnic origins or national origin as communal violence. In accordance with the foregoing definition, we can conclude that communal violence is the civil war at community level based on the reasons I will give in the next paragraph. However, it should be noted that its meaning excludes conflict between two individuals or two families (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).

Historically, the term Communal violence was coined sometime back by the British colonial authorities as they wrestled to manage violence between religious, ethnic and disparate groups in its colonies, particularly Africa and South Asia, in early 20th Century (read more in: Gerry van Klinken, Communal Violence and Democratization in Indonesia – Small Town Wars, ISBN 978-0-415-41713-6, Routledge). The British Colonists removed the community conflicts from the mainstream of the understanding of civil wars and put in its own category probably they might either want to understand them in details or just wanted to isolate them from civil wars as they could not affect their interests or even support it through their divided and ruled policies.

Having its origin from colonial policies, the inference is that communal violence has been common in different parts of the world even before the colonial rule. But the colonists gave the community conflicts different names such as ethnic violence, non-State conflict, violent civil unrest, minorities’ unrest, mass racial violence, inter-communal violence and ethno-religious violence for the reasons as I have already given above. This was way of increasing differences between the communities that would give them humble time to properly exploit the colonized without any resistance.

In fact, as I have already concluded that civil wars and communal violence are the same as they have the same meaning.  By definition, civil war is the violent conflict between a state and one or more organized non-state actors in the state’s territory, while communal violence as already defined above includes conflicts, riots and other forms of violence between communities of different religious faith or ethnic origins (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia). This makes communal violence to be another form of civil wars at community level. The causes of the communal violence and the civil wars in general understanding are almost the same as they are said to touch upon broader issues of accountability, reconciliation, political inclusion, state effectiveness, development, and the proliferation of arms among the civil population.

In reference to South Sudan, the Communal conflicts have complex historical roots in local practices of cattle herding, but their transformation into deadly communal wars ‘was deliberately wrought by political elites in order to mobilize civilian raiders for their own ambitions’ (Jana Krause, 2019). As stated here, mobilizing civilians to support politicians in their proxy war through the use of their communities against the communities of their opponents purposely to weaken each other makes the communal violence a civil war as well as the extension of civil war in South Sudan.

The conclusion in the foregoing paragraph implies that leaving out or ignoring communal violence in the peace process is a mistake made by both politicians and peace makers since the meaningful peace in the country will never be achieved without addressing it in an effective way. Rather, the communal violence remains and will remain a potential flash points of reigniting or restarting of the conflicts being addressed in the political agreement.

In summary, communal violence or communal conflicts in South Sudan are civil wars at community level which have been ignored in all the peace processes. For instance, the 1972 Addis Ababa Peace Agreement; the 1986 Koka Dam Agreement; the 1987 National Islamic Front Sudan Charter; the 1992 Abuja Peace Conference Communiqué; the 1993 Abuja Peace Conference Statement; the 1994 Declaration of Principles; the 1997 Sudan Peace Agreement; the 1997 Nuba Mountains Peace Agreement; the 1997 Fashoda Peace Agreement; the 1999 Wunlit Covenant; the 1999 Homeland Call; the 1999 Blue Nile Peace Agreement; the 2000 Liliir Peace Conference; the 2000 Libyan-Egyptian Peace Proposal; the 2001 Comboni Missionaries Declaration; the Comprehensive Peace Agreement-CPA; the ARCSS, 2015 and 2018 ignore the communal violence.

Even if we see the community peace agreement like the 1999 Wunlit Covenant; the 1999 Homeland Call; the 2000 Liliir Peace Conference and other community peace among the above listed Peace Agreement, they are not implemented as they communities agreed which always lead them to ignore those Agreements in the long run. For communal violence to be halted, the communities must be engaged in meaningful dialogues on how the rule of law, law and order can be restored and maintained among them. This can be achieved by implementing what they have agreed in dialogue in accordance with the principles they have agreed.

Typically failure to implement the agreements of the communities always leads to recycle the communal violence as a result of degradation of rule of law, the failure of the state to or is widely seen as unable to provide order, security and equal justice, which then leads to mass mobilization, followed by radicalization of anger among one or more communities, and ultimately violent mobilization ensues (Colm Campbell (2011) in his world, ‘Beyond Radicalization: Towards an Integrated Anti-Violence Rule of Law Strategy’, Transitional Justice Institute Research Paper No. 11-05, in Salinas de Friás, KLH Samuel and ND White (eds), Counter-Terrorism: International Law and Practice (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2011).

Daniel Juol Nhomngek is a lawyer by profession holds LLB from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.   He’s currently working with M/S Ibaale, Nakato & Co., Advocates, P.o Box 26781, Kampala, Uganda. His research, he is interested in teaching and law practice in the areas of criminal law, international human rights law and the law of armed conflicts, public international law, administrative law, Equity and Trusts, constitutional law, Jurisprudence or political philosophy, legal methods and theory, legislative drafting and judicial practice; and law & public policy. For any comment please reach the authority through any one of the these email addresses: juolmarialdit@gmail.com ;or juoldaniel2003@gmail.com


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