Contributor's Opinion

Opinion: The necessity for all in South Sudan to own personal guns for self-defence.

By Lemi Logwonga Lomurö

“Those who make peaceful revolutions impossible will make violent revolutions inevitable”

John F. Kennedy.


South Sudan conflict gets complicated as more guns ends up in the hands of untrained civilians.(Photo: file)
South Sudan conflict gets complicated as more guns ends up in the hands of untrained civilians.(Photo: file)

August 17, 2020 (Nyamilepedia) – A snapshot at the current state of affairs in the Republic of South Sudan will tell the reader that something has fundamentally changed in our short history as a people for the worst. In the recent past, the spate of insecurity, land grabbing, cattle rustling, revenge killings, child abduction, criminal gang attacks and armed robberies have dramatically increased throughout the country, putting many lives in danger as people are victimised in every aspect of life. Some of these incidents could however, be attributed to changes in society that are associated with increased economic activities, urbanisation or civil wars. Others could be a consequence of bad government.

Our neighbours in Uganda, Kenya and, to lesser extent, Ethiopia have also seen increase in varying degrees of criminal activities. However, the difference between us in South Sudan and our neighbours in those countries, is that there they have the rule of law and order in place, and the criminals-whether these are Karamojong in Uganda or Turkana in Kenya-are being locked up to face justice. Paradoxically, in South Sudan impunity reigns high as criminals are celebrated instead of punishment! Examples of these crimes include but limited to issues of cattle rustling and grabbing of farm lands in many areas in the country.

Push Factors for Land Grabbing

In many of our rural areas, cattle rustling is on the increase. It has morphed from traditional art of stealing cattle by a group of youth of one clan armed with spears and bows and arrows; to a small-scale warfare; with increased level of brutality that is unprecedented, and often leads to counter attacks that spiral into ‘revenge killings. Sometimes revenge killings can be triggered by feuds such as simple issues of competition over grazing land or women.

This propensity for violence is exacerbated by the rampant availability of small-scale fire arms like the AK47. According to UNDP report of 30th November 2016, there are about 601,000 Small Arms in the hands of civilian populations in South Sudan. These fire arms are the result of succession of wars; the failure of the government to implement a comprehensive disarmament of the civil population etc.

Since President Salva Kiir launched his war in 2013 against all those who dare to challenge him, insecurity increased countrywide. Poor leadership and mediocre governance have not helped the situation either. Therefore cattle rustling, revenge killings and insecurity have acted as veneer push factor for some cattle keepers to move southwards.

Land Grabbing

Up to the recent past, there was always a borderline between farmers and cattle keepers within and without the regions of Equatoria, Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile. The two communities respected each other’s right to exist; farmers went on producing their crops, while cattle keepers looked after their cattle. However today, there is a one-way inter-regional migration of hundreds of thousands of cattle keepers with their families and animals from Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile to Equatoria. The former regions have grassland suitable for cattle grazing while the latter is forest, and the people there are predominantly farmers.

This large-scale migration of cattle to Equatoria is unprecedented and very troubling. The phenomena can’t be defined as pastoralists in search of new pastures, no, because it is not. What is happing is a ‘Territorial Expansion’ by cattle keepers and their eventual permanent settlement in the occupied areas. This is a process known as Centripetalism in Newtonian scientific jargon. Simply put, it is the tendency by a group or community to acquire and centralise territorial land that is previously owned by other groups in the country. It is a process that takes many years to materialise.

There is plethora of implications to this move; first it means massive displacement of indigenous local populations from their traditional farm lands; secondly, it means gradual assimilation of the remaining few indigenous people in the area into the new, dominant occupying group cultures of the settler communities. This is not only seriously criminal but, indeed, dangerous to the victim communities. For once the indigenous local population will disappear after losing their ancestral farm land to cattle keepers, and their language with their traditions will dissolve into a new dominant culture.

Land ownership laws in South Sudan recognises communal land, despite the fact that communal land is not registered. Every community knows where their land begins and ends.

Historically pastoralists have often migrated in search of grazing land in lean times and returned to their homes when there is plenty. But the recent movement of cattle keepers is rather a wholesale provocation to occupy another people’s land. A search for new grazing pastures has become a pretext for occupation. In their drive for occupation, cattle keepers kill anybody who tries to prevent them or their cattle from grazing on farms; often misinterpreted as posing a threat to security of animals. It is a classic art of land occupation, where pastoralists move in, with all their belongings, including animals and families, literary settled in other peoples’ territories, effectively occupying the land there after chasing away the traditionally natural owners of the area. This is exactly what Europeans did in 1491 AD to indigenous Indian Americans and Aborigines in today’s America and Australia. It is a phenomenon I choose to label as ‘Kill, Occupy, Enslave, Rape & Settle’ (KOERS)[1].

Examples abound of how heavily armed Dinka cattle keepers from Bahr El Ghazal invaded the Zande and Moru farms; driving hundreds of thousands of cattle through farms and leaving behind carnage. Attempts by the Zande and Moru to protect their farms with bows and arrows and spear, proved futile given the disparities in armaments between cattle intruders and local communities. The youth in the area could do nothing but watch; knowing well that the carnage had broken open the gates of famine; which they had tried hard to seal. Further, cattle keepers often have the backup of senior commanders in the army, whom they can call upon for support.

This same story has been replicated in Western Bahar-El Ghazal, where lives have been lost as farmers try to defend their homesteads against marauding land grabbers. In some cases, it is not the cattle keepers to blame, but the Presidential conduct of state affairs in Juba (J1) where too many unnecessary decrees are issued for cattle to be returned to their original territorial areas but to no effect. Instead, more and more cattle are driven into agricultural land of those with no arms to the detriment of farming communities. One example of those draconian decrees was the “Republican Order No. 36” that had taken away the land of the Shilluk and given it to the Dinka community in Upper Nile. Today, the Shilluk are trying to get their land back, through the Independent Boundary Commission (IBC) created as part of the so-called peace agreement between Riak and Kiir in 2015. Ironically, now the Shilluk must prove ownership of their own land, however given endemic corruption and biasness in the system, it is a tall order for the victims.

And as if by concerted coordination, another large-scale invasion originated from Bor in Jonglei, and headed to the now-target triangle of Lobonok in southern Bari, Kajokeji and the Ma’di corridors. The youth in the area have long packed up and gone for their own safety or to Juba and join the vagabonds on the streets of Juba town.

While visiting Lobonok two months ago, Salva Kiir’s cynicism did not go unnoticed as he made his remarks about the youth in Lobonok. Kiir accused the youth and their parents for being collaborators of rebel groups whom he claimed have been allowed to dig gold in the area. He (Kiir) forgot that rebels are free people. They do not need permission from local citizens to do what they wish to do in the bushes of South Sudan. They are not bound by any law of the land. Moreover, the civilian do not have any power to prevent armed rebels from carrying out their own activities in the areas they control.

One other area that has suffered disproportionally from the marauding cattle keepers and land grabbers is the Nimule district also knowns as ‘the ma’di corridor’. This is perhaps the most affected area in Equatoria Region.  Not only have the pastoralists from Bor dislodged the people wholesale, but they now literary occupy every single Ma’di village. Dinka cattle keepers have gone on to occupy the Ma’di and, appointed their own administrative Chiefs after settlement. In Nimule and Magwi counties for example, some pastoralists have deliberately built permanent structures on people’s land. It is just a matter of time, before they claim that there is a Dinka community originating from Mugali, Kerepi, Moli and Nimule. Although settlement of peoples in any part of the country is not an issue in itself, since our laws allow for people to settle and live where they chose to, the displacement of landowners and grabbing of their land is not permissible under any circumstance. Occupying people’s land by any means is criminal, it is wrong and must not be condoned.

In particular, when these land invasions are institutionalised, meaning the decision to grab land is often taken at the highest levels of government institutions, including the army to implement it. After all the cattle belong to the same Generals in charge of the organised forces, the herders are supposedly government soldiers-turned-cattle keepers. The soldiers are provided arms by the government in Juba, either directly or indirectly through the generals. It is hence, undisputable fact that arms can only be acquired from the authority in charge in Juba. In other words, no civilian has the ability to obtain any weapon or ammunition from anywhere in the region, except through the government in Juba and its security forces. The uniform they wear are supplied by elements within the government security forces. From time to time these soldiers-turned cattle keepers are replenished with both military equipment and food supplies. The prove to these claims is that General Salva Kiir himself, like other generals, owns hundreds of thousands of his own cattle in the Luri area of Central Equatoria. These too are guarded by hundreds of SPLA soldiers. This act of turning soldiers into cattle keepers redefines the meaning and purpose of a national army in South Sudan. It changes the purpose of the armed forces from being protectors of the state to become personal servants whose services is sought for individual interests.

What is the remedy?

Let everyone get armed. South Sudan is still a country in transition, emerging from a prolonged colonialism and becoming independent only in July 2011. It still has pockets of what John Hobbs (1632), described as men in “the state of nature” where society is characterised by brute force, short and nasty life. It will take a new leadership with vision, wisdom and determination to build a modern South Sudan. A modern nation state governed by contemporaries who will be prudent, judicious and far-sighted visionary leaders whose actions will be in harmony with the norms of the 21st century societies. Until then South Sudan’s humanity will remain as chaotic as the state of nature, especially when the AK47 predominates all corners of the country.

Those who look for a moral society, where man is created in God’s image, and imbued with values such as security, liberty, justice, equality and the pursue of happiness will be forgiven for looking to the heavens and wait until this government is gone. While those who look to the rule of law will be disappointed as there will be none. The government of Salva Kiir will not disarm civilians, particularly the Dinka pastoralists because he armed the civilians in the first place.

What then is the solution to this malady? To address these issues concretely, there is only one way forward: Let everyone get armed.  It is my humble, honest opinion that it is now incumbent upon all South Sudanese, both individuals and communities, to assume the right to own arms. Individual gun ownership has become a necessity in South Sudan, it is not a choice anymore if only for their self-Défense and, the defence of their land and property.

As I make this proposition, I do so while being fully aware that many will jump on the top of a mountain and say, such a suggestion will produce more violence. To those people, I say you are failing to see the logic. There is already more than enough violence in the country. Majority of community members in South Sudan are armed to the teeth, including their women! And it is precisely because of that reason that we strongly recommend all those who feel threaten to acquire their own weapons for protection of lives and properties.

A prove that individual gun ownership works in our current type of society can be seen in the fact that cattle keepers and land grabbers do not take their animals to those areas where the local people are known historically to have well-armed communities. For example, up to date cattle owners have not made any attempt to disturb the Mundara (Mundari) community because they too are equally armed and lethal. Cattle keepers will not trespass with their animals into Latuko, Buya, Didinga, Toposa or Murle farm lands. Because they know these communities will not simply allow any cattle to step on their farm lands as they watch, since they are armed with their own individual deadly AK47s.

This proposition is therefore, mainly intended to those communities that are traditionally known to own no guns. These include but not limited to the Achuoli, Zande, Moru, Kukwön (Kuku), Kikwaa (Kakwa), Ma’di, Pojulio (Pojulu), Lokoya, Jur, Maban, Abukaya, Yangwara, Anyuak, Balanda, Koliko, Shilluk, Makaraka, Kölikö, Bongo, Baka, Keresh, Bari etc who remain unarmed. These communities will be susceptible to land grabbing, and maybe subjected to violence, if they continue to dwell in the past when weapons were the preserve of a legitimate authority. These are new times and every individual or groups must adapt or least they all perish in the hands of those are already equipped with Weapons of Land Acquisition (WLA).

In consideration to all these arguments, it becomes imperative to advocate for individual gun ownership, especially given the fact that we in South Sudan live in a backward brutal primitive society where killing a fellow human being is not only celebrated but, indeed, encouraged as a sign of bravery; and a licence to fame. This behaviour has created a rampant sense of insecurity that is pervasive in every corner of the country. Moreover, there is a sweeping cultural shift in South Sudanese mindset today, that ‘might is right’. The bigger the gun you carry (M16) the better. Owning a weapon also increases status in society as a symbol of honour as it generates fear among rivals and invites respect and dignity to those who have it in society.

Finally, your individual or community land is sacrosanct, and to lose it, implies that your community has ceased to exist. It is therefore, everyone’s responsibility to own a gun, and defend what is rightfully, historically, traditionally theirs, until there is a government in place that can bring sanity into the South Sudanese society.

The author is the Chief Coordinator of the Centre for Citizen Interface in South Sudan (CISS) and can be reached via: lemilomuro@gmail.com

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