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“So long as you are here you become part of us”: Dialogue for Peace in Lelo 

Date: March 29, 2024

Against the backdrop of South Sudan's borderlands, the communities of Lelo Payam strive to work together to bridge divides and foster mutual understanding. 

Conflict and violence prevention training. Kuok Boma, Lelo Payam, Malakal County, Upper Nile, South Sudan, January 2023. ©NP

“So long as you are here you become part of us,” affirmed a Payam Chief from South Sudan.  

The majority of his community are Shilluk people who are farmers and depend on their produce. For years, the Chief and his people have dealt with destroyed crops when the cattle and goats of Arab nomads come into the area. Frustrations over lost food and land bubble over into violent confrontations and multiple people are killed each year.  

The Chief lives in Lelo Payam, close to the border with Sudan, where a civil war has been raging for almost one year. In the past year, even more people are arriving in border areas like Lelo Payam. With more people come more frustrations and more violence.  

But NP knows that violence is not inevitable—and even if tensions can turn violent quickly, interrupting cycles of violence sometimes takes time.  

Fostering Understanding and Trust 

Our team had been working with both the Chief’s Shilluk community and the Arab nomad community since early 2023—listening to their concerns, working with neighbors to build trust, and holding trainings that build on the communities’ skills in nonviolent communication and de-escalation.  

In March 2024, NP was able to bring together representatives from the local community and Arab nomads, facilitating a space for both communities to establish clear parameters for peaceful coexistence in Lelo Payam. In this pivotal dialogue, representatives shared their concerns, made plans for change, and reaffirmed their commitment to peace. 

The Chief highlighted that he saw this dialogue as an opportunity to address all these problems and continue with peaceful coexistence. He highlighted the importance of all the people to live in peace: “whether you are Arab or from which background; so long as you are here you become part of us. If there is no peace in the side of Lelo there would not be movement of your cattle or goats here,” the chief went on to emphasize.  

The Chief underscored that their relationships with Arab nomads have been peaceful for years, and that the Shilluk people have longstanding ties with the Arab community, stemming from intermarriages that have occurred for decades. Today, some Shilluk individuals still have descendants of Arab origin, fostering resource-sharing and exchange between the two communities.  

A representative from the Arab community emphasized that it is not all the Arabs moving with their cattle and goats in Lelo that are causing the problem, but only a few culprits, stressing the importance of not blaming the entire community. He said they will continue to work together to identify the few culprits. Representatives of Arab nomads also raised the issue of heavy taxes imposed on them by local authorities in Lelo.  

Navigating Challenges for Peaceful Coexistence 

The dialogue concluded with an agreement: local community members will continue to cooperate with Arab nomad representatives to resolve any outstanding issues with cattle keepers. It was also agreed that the high taxes imposed on Arab cattle keepers by local authorities would be reviewed and revised. And, Arab nomads, especially their leaders, pledged to identify wrongdoers who commit offenses such as theft or property damage, ensuring they are warned or disciplined accordingly. 

All the participants in the dialogue appreciated NP for facilitating this dialogue and they assured NP that they will keep in touch and cooperate whenever there are any conflicts or issues between their communities. But most importantly, this cycle of violence was broken by the Chief and Arab nomad leaders – who continue to remain committed to keeping their communities safe.  

* * * 

These activities are a part of our project with Solidarités International (SI) to support community resilience and nonviolent conflict management in conflict and flood-affected areas of Upper Nile and Jonglei States, South Sudan, which is funded by the European Union and supporters like you. 

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