Contributor's Opinion

Opinion: New realities in Dinka community: redefining approach to conflict resolutions in post-independence South Sudan

By Daniel Juol Nhomngek

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

February 5th 2020 (Nyamilepedia) – The traditional nature of conflict and it causes among South Sudanese communities and among the sub-clans within the Dinka Community in particular is currently experiencing some fundamental changes that has never been seen before. The change has altered the nature and the character of traditional conflict as we previously knew it.  The conflict is now highly modernized though it causes have almost remained almost the same. Dr. Samson S. Wassara (2007) in his work entitled, Traditional Mechanisms of Conflict Resolution in Southern Sudan identified the causes of the conflicts among Southern Sudanese Communities and among the Dinka people in particular to include—

First, the struggle over grazing land and water; second, blood Feuds (and revenge) which is a crosscutting cause of dispute in different sub-clans not only within Dinka Community but among other tribes in South Sudan; fourth, family Disputes arising from marriages; and fifth,  culture of violence and poor economy that causes poverty.  Other writers have also further identified land dispute not for grazing but for its use; lenient punishments which do not deter the wrongdoers; border disputes; militarized cattle raiding and wrestling; spread of the use of magical powers in cattle raids; weak government that has allowed injustices to file up due to the weak justice mechanisms; corruption among the law enforcing agencies, unprofessionalism of organized forces who sell guns to civilians that leads to the infiltrations of modern weapons into the hands of civilians.

John Ryle and Machot Amuom (2018) in their work entitled Peace is the Name of Our Cattle-Camp Local responses to conflict in Eastern Lakes State, South Sudan further identified the corruption of central government, the partisan machinations of politicians, the erosion of customary authority, the redivision of states and counties, the spread of firearms, an increasingly violent youth subculture and military confrontations provoked by the conflict between national political elites.  All these causes and others have led to conflicts that has caused rampant insecurities, untold sufferings and rampant deaths among civilians.

As I am writing this article, hundreds of people in the States of Greater Lakes State and Tonj have been killed this year alone yet the government remains powerless in the face of these unending killings, raises the question, what should be done to save the people in Greater Lakes and Tonj State and to bring lasting peace there?

How To Achieve Peace And The Type Of Peace Needed Among Dinka Communities Of Greater Lakes State And Tonj

Coning, C (2013) in the work on peacebuilding entitled, Understanding Peacebuilding as Essentially Local. Stability published in the International Journal of Security and Development is of the view that peacebuilding is an activity that aims to resolve injustice in nonviolent ways and to transform the cultural & structural conditions that generate deadly or destructive conflict. In that respect therefore, peacebuilding tries to help transform the conflict by constructing personal, group, and political relationships across ethnic, religious, class, national, and racial boundaries. This type of Peace is what has been referred to as the Positive peace.

Unlike negative peace which is a peace without justice based on a false sense of “peace” that often comes at the expense of justice, the concept of Positive Peace is where peace comes with justice for all. The importance of Positive Peace have been explained by Galtung, Johan (2011), in his work entitled, Peace, Positive and Negative, published in The Encyclopedia of Peace Psychology, American Cancer Society, positive peacebuilding where he states that Positive Peace intentionally focuses on addressing the indirect factors driving or mitigating harmful conflict, with an emphasis on engaging institutions, policies, and political-economic conditions as they relate to exploitation and repression.

Looking at the structural setting of our communities and how the conflict is deeply entrenched in their culture, I recommend that Positive Peace approach should be adopted. The Positive can help in solving all the conflicts among the communities in South Sudan and the communities of Greater Lakes State and Tonj State in particular. This is because the nature and roots of conflicts are found in the interplays between diverse identities, type of economy, ownership and the use of natural resources (Dr. Samson S. Wassara, 2007).

The foregoing conclusion stems from the argument that understanding how the politics and government, ethnicity identities, social setting and geographical location interact may help in tracing the ways for conflict resolution and indefinite ending of disputes among these communities. Understanding as such as the only way of achieving positive peace as it will inform the method to be adopted and applied.  I therefore argue that in achieving the Positive Peace among our communities, we need to adopt the same approach that was applied in the Wunlit and other local Peace Conferences.

The Wunlit Peace conference was held in the Wunlit village in eastern Tonj County by then but now Tonj State in Bahr el Ghazal region in 1999. The conference brought together Nuer from Western Upper Nile and Dinka from Tonj, Rumbek, and Yirol. It is the first most prominent and comprehensively documented case of a people-to-people peace process in the modern Republic of South Sudan.

The purpose for the Wunlit Peace Conference was to dig out the root-causes of the grievances between Dinka and Nuer that were and are still complex and multi-dimensional resulting from the interlacing between local, regional, national and international conflicts as we see today (visit Wikipedia.org). In the same way, the conflicts occurring in Greater Lakes and Tonj are combination of structurally rooted grievances and hatred fueled by the use of guns. In order to solve such conflicts, the root causes must be unearthed through fairly determined community dialogues. As I have already recommended above, we must adopt the Wunlit Peace approach as a matter of necessity.

How Wunlit Conference Preparations Were Done And The Need To Do The Same In Greater Lakes And Tonj State

The Wunlit Peace Conference was initiated, organized, facilitated and moderated by New Sudan Council of Churches two years before the actual Peace Conference was conducted according to John Ashworth, who was a veteran advisor to the NSCC and a former Catholic missionary in Southern Sudan.  This means that Wunlit peace process was initiated in 1997. The preparatory meetings were held at Lokichogio in Kenya, where the NSCC was based at the time where the group of Nuer and Dinka Chiefs were brought together in 1998 since Lokichogio was the safest place by that time. It was during the preparation meetings the participants agreed on how the reconciliation between Dinka and Nuer was to be held with the aim ending the decades of conflicts between the two communities.

From 1998 to 1999 the Preparatory meetings for the Wunlit were conducted by the NSCC which in the course set up different committees responsible for lobbying, fundraising, and facilitating the Wunlit peace conference.  In the end, the leaders of NSCC managed to mobilize international church bodies such as the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC) to get involved in the peace initiative, especially by giving financial and moral supports.

Conference Proceedings: How The Wunlit Peace Agreement Was Conducted And How It Can Be Helpful In Doing The Same In Greater Lakes And Tonj State

After two years of preparations i.e. from 1997 to 1999, the actual conference took place. The conference took ten days, that is, from February 27 until March 8, 1999. The participants were made up of church leaders, traditional chiefs, spear-masters, elders, youth and especially women, who accounted for about 30 percent of the attendees. From the non-civilian side, it included commissioners, members of ethnic militias, as well as representatives from Garang’s SPLM/A and Machar’s South Sudan Defense Force (SSDF). In addition, numerous external observers, donor officials, and international journalists were present.

The first day of the Conference which was on February 27, 1999 and the conference was opened with the slaughtering of a white bull – “Mabior-thon” in Dinka as well as “Mabor” in Nuer language as a sacrifice (visit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wunlit_Peace_Conference).The white bull was provided by the chief of Jalwau in Wunlit, Gum Mading.

The killing of the white bull signified the commitment of both communities toward peace and reconciliation as they believed that it cleansed out the sins that had been committed against one another. This was made explicit by Chief Nyal Chan Nyal who declared— “We have all seen the sacrifice of Mabior (white Bull), Nuer and myself, we Dinka which has washed the devil between us” (Dinka-Nuer West Bank Peace & Reconciliation Conference. New Sudan Council of Churches. 1999. pp. 1–167).

After the killing of the White Bull, Christian worship ceremonies in local languages, which was followed by an invocation offering from spiritual leaders, Benybith – from the Jieng (Dinka) side and Kuar-Muon from the Naath (Nuer) side. On Nuer side, William Ray Kuong addressed the audience as follows: “I speak to you, we all of us; we Southerners, we are all people of one God. We fought each other for many years, O God. I myself have been a great fighter. My ancestors before me were warriors; I fought fiercely for many years. We elders know the history of this conflict” (Dinka-Nuer West Bank Peace & Reconciliation Conference. New Sudan Council of Churches. 1999. pp. 1–167).  All these took place on the first day.

The second day was continued with the introduction from dignitaries and guests, before storytelling started. After that the storytelling started and the narrations or storytelling took four days to finish. The narrations were divided into two sections. One community was given a chance to tell its grievances without interruption by the other. This type of approach prompted Chief Jacob Madhel Lang Juk from Twic who has been reported to have said, “I am pleased that God has placed the hope of peace in our hearts so that we can end the fighting between us” (Dinka-Nuer West Bank Peace & Reconciliation Conference. New Sudan Council of Churches. 1999. pp. 1–167). The Sixth day featured the general addresses and discussion from Rumbek before the participants were broke up and formed into the discussion groups.

In the end, six groups were formed and each group was chaired by rapporteurs to discuss issues that were raised and the solutions suggested during the Conference. The purpose of the groups was to discuss the causes of the conflicts, the harms each community has done against the other community and how they could be dealt with plus the way forwards to achieve lasting or positive peace.

After that the discussions groups came out with the resolutions and recommendations. The resolutions that they came up with from the discussion groups were as follows—how to deal with the issues of missing persons and marriages to the abductees; how to monitor the border issues; the setting up of institutional arrangements such as border courts, police, appeal processes and Dinka/Nuer coordinating council; how the people outside the peace process would be involved; how to deal with the issues of the land and rebuilding the relationships and how to extend this approach to peacemaking and peace to the East bank and Equatoria. After discussing the resolutions, the recommendations on how to achieve lasting peace were made which included—

First, that there should be facilitation of border administration stations; second, giving each District a radio that can easily be monitored by the police and border Chiefs which was a part of early warning system; third, disarming all the civilians holding firearms; fourth, absorption of all local civilian militias, Gelweng in Dinka or Jiecabul in Nuer into army or should submit their firearms; fifth, establishing the Police Posts in the border division between Bahr el Ghazal and Western Upper Nile to effective monitor the civilians and their activities;  Sixth, composition of the Police force and provision of the arms, munitions, other equipment and training for them; seventh, establishing the joined police; eighth, reviving and strengthening the existing courts as well as training of paralegal men courts; ninth, the applications of the Customary laws; tenth, border courts shall have original jurisdiction; eleventh, formation of coordinating council; twelfth, ensuring the freedom of movement; thirteenth, promotion of Dinka- Nuer reconciliation and familial; and fourteenth, take the same peace initiative to other parts of Southern Sudan

The above recommendations were filed into copies and then those copies were signed as covenants or peace accord by the two parties. Representative of each delegate signed or placed his or her thumb print on the final documents. After that the covenant was blessed through Christian worship ceremonies and another traditional sacrifices of a white bull. The foregoing discussion explained the traditional ways combined with the modern approach of achieving lasting peace among the communities.  In fact, (as Bradbury, Mark (2006). Local Peace Processes in Sudan – a baseline study. London: Rift Valley Institute. pp. 29–31, 56–57 found), the Wunlit peace conference was able to bring an immediate cessation of hostilities between Dinka and Nuer communities of the West Bank. Cattle rustling, the abduction of women and children, and killings came to an end after the conference. Dinka and Nuer military forces as well as armed civilians stopped violent actions against each other.

In the context of Wunlit’s amnesty declaration, all sorts of past offenses were immediately and unconditionally pardoned by both sides. Dinka and Nuer started to move freely across each other’s territory with their animals to share grazing land, water, fishing ground and other natural resources. The local cross-border agreement and arrangement of Wunlit was respected by both sides. In addition, the people who had been displaced from their land of origins were encouraged to return to their home villages and to rebuild the lost trust with their neighbors. For instance, in September 1999, 148 abductees were reunited with their families and 141 cattle were returned to their owners (as Bradbury, Mark, 2006). The Wunlit peace conference idea was extended to numerous other conflicts in Southern Sudan, most prominently to the East Bank in Waat and Lilir in 1999 and 2000 respectively.

Also in 2000, another similar conference was held in the Kenyan city of Kisumu. Those conferences drew women representatives from the previous conferences as well as chiefs, community leaders, elders and youth in a bid to realize greater peace in Southern Sudan. Again, women constituted about a third of the participants and their voices were key to the conference, which aimed at mediating between Garang and Machar. According to NSCC-advisor Ashworth, the Wunlit conference and successive peace processes greatly contributed to the reconciliation between the two main rivals and to the SPLM/A reunification in 2002. In short, the Wunlit Peace was able to maintain peace between Nuer and Dinka and if there was strong government to enforce it was it was agreed, the conflict between Nuer and Dinka would have been the thing of the past today.


In conclusion, the new realities in Dinka Community needs us to redefine the approach to conflict resolutions in post-independence South Sudan. This implies that the redefinition must be based on the discussion of those who are involved in the conflict so that they help policy makers to redefine the policy approach to meet the new changes in the behaviors of the members of the communities.  In order to do that there is a need to adopt both traditional means as explained in Wunlit Peace Conference in resolving the conflicts and modern means in enforcing the resolutions of the Conflicts.

Importantly, the Dinka traditional system of authority is very strong if supported and it can operate along sides of modern courts and police to enforce decisions reached through resolutions among the communities. If the outcome of the conference is implemented as it is agreed, the lasting peace can be achieved. The reason many local community peace initiatives fail is because they are implemented poor as there is no political will on the side of the government of the day.

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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