With less than 6 months to go until the historical referendum on independence for South Sudan, tensions remain high throughout the region. Politicians in both the North and the South are reasserting their views regarding the proposed secession with increasing fervour, adding to the pressure on both sides to achieve their desired outcome.
In addition to the ongoing concern surrounding the result of the referendum, tensions continue at the community level, intensified by the approach of the dry season, when access to grazing land, water, and other resources becomes scarce. As a result, communities are brought into conflict with one another as they struggle to reconcile their shared need to access these vital resources with the demands of their distinct cultures and traditions. Widespread access to small arms and incursions by external armed actors, most notably the Ugandan-based Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), serve to further inflame an already strained situation.
NP Sudan has now commenced operations in the Greater Mundri area of Western Equatoria, and is rapidly becoming accepted, trusted and valued by the local community.
Summary of NPSD’s activities in July
The initial weeks of NP’s deployment in Mundri were largely taken up with logistical matters, as the international civilian peacekeepers set about recruiting local civilian peacekeepers (LCPs) and establishing an office and a team house. The local civilian peacekeepers underwent a rigorous training course which introduced them to NP’s ethos and mandate, and the methodology of unarmed civilian peacekeeping. There are currently 10 civilian peacekeepers employed in Mundri, six locals and four internationals, and as the project becomes more firmly established more peacekeepers will be recruited, both from local communities, and internationally.
The office in Mundri is now fully operational, as is the team house. The team has been fortunate to be warmly welcomed into the community and held an opening ceremony and celebrations to which the community was invited. Great fun was had, and the foundations were laid for warm relationships with those who live around the NP office.
Central to the work that NP does in South Sudan is relationship building with local government figures, including the County Commissioners, the police and the army. As a result, much of July has been taken up with calling upon these important people in order to introduce NP, its work, and individual team members. The team has already succeeded in building strong relationships with the Commissioners of Mundri East, Mundri West and Mvolo. This is, of course, an ongoing project, but at each of the meetings that the team attended the welcome was extremely warm, and the opportunities for mutual support and cooperation were stressed.
Building on the logistical set up, the team has also been extremely busy implementing the work that NP is in Western Equatoria to do; namely, facilitating dialogue, reducing violence and mitigating conflict between neighbouring tribal groups. In mid-July the NPSD team was informed that tension was building between the Moro and Mundari communities of the Kediba region. The Moro people are predominantly settled agriculturalists who keep a few cows. Their Mundari neighbours are semi-nomadic pastoralists who keep large herds. Both communities are closely linked, and share the market in Kediba village. This market is an important source of food for the Mundari, who do not cultivate, and of income for the Moro. In the weeks before NP’s intervention Mundari youths had raided up to 378 head of Moro cattle. Tensions came to a head in late July when 150 cows were taken in one raid. In the process several people were injured and two children were abducted. The government agents in the area informed the community that if they entered into conflict, the army would be deployed to settle the situation using force.
In response to the raid the Moro people armed themselves with bows and poison-tipped arrows and were preparing to cross over into Mundari land to retrieve their cattle. It was at this point that several local-government figures contacted NP’s Mundri-based team and asked them to intervene in a last-minute attempt to address the situation non-violently before the army was deployed to resolve the dispute.
In an agreement mediated by NP’s peacekeepers over 3 days, the Paramount Chiefs and elders of both communities agreed to meet to discuss a peaceful resolution to the conflict. A church half way between the two communities was designated as the meeting point, and representatives from both sides gathered there.
Following a long and difficult discussion requiring sustained input and support from NP’s team, a resolution was reached. The Mundari Paramount Chief and elders agreed to oversee the return the raided cattle, and with the guidance of the NP team, both sides undertook to form a joint Peace Committee to continue the dialogue process and to ensure a mechanism for nonviolent dispute resolution in the future.
Following NP’s intervention, the Moro Paramount Chief thanked NP for its rapid and effective intervention and said, “if the NP team from Mundri had not come we would have killed each other, but God brought them in time and we were able to settle things with the Mundari peacefully. We think now that God is truly watching over us, and we encourage strong relations between NP and our society.”
The Greater Mundri area in which NP works is made up of three counties, Mundri West, where the team is based, Mundri East, and Mvolo. Following the successful start of operations in Mundri East and West, the team has begun to concentrate on Mvolo County. Mvolo is situated on the border between Western Equatoria State and Lakes State and as such is regularly caught up in conflict when nomadic cattle herders from Lakes State cross over into the county in search of fresh grazing during the dry season. As a result, levels of inter-tribal tension in the region are extremely high.
The border conflict has severe implications for the secondary school in the area. A teacher based in Mvolo town contacted the NP team to explain that the high levels of violence in the region were preventing the children and young people from accessing proper education. He was also concerned that many of the older boys were staying away from school in an attempt to avoid forcible recruitment into armed groups.
The NP team travelled to the school to meet the teachers, and has already taken the first steps towards setting up a Peace Committee composed of students and teachers representing all the tribal groups. This Peace Committee aims to engage students in dialogue with the goal of preventing new outbreaks of violence, and mitigating the effect that ongoing violence has on those students who are trying to continue their education.
The team is also providing protective accompaniment to local partner organization Lanyi Youth Development Association (LYDA). As the local actor, LYDA is working directly to support reconciliation in another school following on the heels of a school strike where property was destroyed and students arrested. Due to the extremely high tensions, LYDA has requested the NP team to be present to deter potential violence and to support the creation and protection of a nonviolent conflict resolution process.
NP’s intervention in Western Equatoria is still in the early stages of implementation however initial indications suggest that NP’s methodology can be applied successfully in the region, and that the local communities welcome the involvement of the NP teams.